posted by William Birdthistle
If you have small children you are going to see, you must sacrifice gracious living.
That pithy epigram was the answer of one recently tenured professor and parent of two young children to my question about balancing a successful family and scholarly life. Living graciously appears to have involved, inter alia, hosting dinner parties, writing thank-you notes, reading (not just subscribing) to the New York Review of Books, &c.
She noted further, in response to my question about a fitness regime, that the children have also taken that away.
Having a family, of course, might just be the single greatest challenge to producing scholarship while meeting the other obligations of being a professor. And waiting until after tenure to start a family can be a very risky business, particularly for women, as it will almost certainly require postponing things until what might turn out to be the twilight of fertility.
So what suggestions are there for junior professors hoping to balance work and family? Not many easy ones, I’m afraid:
1. Learn to embrace travel: Several parents told me that they have become incredibly efficient while on the road for conferences and talks, away from their children for a few days in a quiet hotel room with a well-behaved laptop.
2. Cut out the electronic indulgences: One parent told me that she had reduced her web consumption to a diet of “seven blogs in seven minutes” each morning – and applied a similarly ruthless trimming to email checking, headline refreshing, and other electronic twitches.
3. Accept help: If you’re lucky enough to live within striking distance of family, by all means grasp hold of their polite offers to babysit.
Unfortunately, these suggestions aren’t much better than the ones dieters most hate to hear: eat less, exercise more. Here we have the professorial equivalent: dawdle less, concentrate more.
Where is our academic Dr. Atkins who can promise us scholarly success on a buffet of intellectual cheeseburgers?