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The Search for Sanity in a World Full of Chaos

According to a report released this week, tenure-track faculty members in the physical sciences at research universities are happier with their jobs than their tenure-track faculty peers are, an article in The Chronicle says. Tenure-track humanities professors also gave their jobs high marks, found the study, by the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education, or Coache, a research project at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education that is supported by the Ford Foundation. Those in education and the visual and performing arts said they were least satisfied with their jobs, the report said.

The survey, which was based on responses from 9,512 tenure-track faculty members at 63 institutions, also examined satisfaction levels along gender lines, with women reporting less satisfaction than men when it came to the tenure process, hours worked, amount of time for research, work-life balance, and the compatibility of the tenure track with raising children, wrote Kelly Truong, a reporter for The Chronicle. She quoted Shelley Correll, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University, as saying that gender expections at home were largely to blame:

“Almost any university survey you look at, women have a harder time coordinating work and family, women end up doing more work at home, more work at child care, and this makes the work of being a faculty member harder,” she said.

The latest Coache findings on gender are consistent with those of another new study by researchers at the Center for Toddler Development at Barnard College, which was featured in The Washington Post this week. The study by Tovah Klein, the center’s director, and Danielle Auriemma, a research assistant there, suggests that the tenure track is not so hospitable to mothers or would-be mothers, despite the flexible hours. The reason? “The average female doctorate is awarded at 34, an age when many college-educated women are starting families,” while tenure, “a defining moment in a professor’s career, is decided roughly seven years later, just as the parenting window is closing,” the newspaper notes. 

That may explain why, according to a 2009-10 survey by the American Association of University Professors, even though the proportion of women in academe has more than doubled in the past 20 years, tenured men still vastly outnumber tenured women—61 percent to 43 percent, the Post adds.

The Barnard study findings, which were presented last month at an AAUP conference, are based on interviews with 20 female faculty members at seven different institutions with children between 1 1/2 and 3 years old. While many of those interviewed said the flexible hours of the job were a big plus, they cited the “never-ending nature of the job” as a major minus and hindrance to striking that elusive work-life balance.

On a related note, several academic bloggers recently had a little something to say about the division of labor at home.

Share your thoughts and academic-parenting tales of woe or success.

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