Women in Academia: Life Planning

This post doesn’t have any answers or suggestions or anything like that. It talks about a topic that’s been discussed time and time again. So why even bring it up? Because I wanted to know what you did. These waters are difficult to navigate, and it’s hard to get too much information.

In the summer, there’s an inevitable onslaught of weddings. It’s great to see two people get hitched and share that moment with their friends and family. But when I talk to people in academia before the wedding, especially women, I hear some interesting comments about when they had planned to get married.

Many of the women I talked to said they were waiting until they finished a PhD or their first post-doc before they got married. Others decided to jump into matrimony when it felt right. There are no real negative effects to marrying earlier or later, but since marriage and especially weddings can be stressful (happy events, but hell, even stress tests list weddings as a big stressor), they just might not work at any time. These conversations happen in every field, but when both partners are expecting a future filled with moves, uncertain long-distance situations, and the stress of filing a dissertation, getting married can be extra-stressful.

Part of the reason I think I hear about weddings/marriage more from women is because the onus of the planning falls on them. I’ve talked about this stuff before ““ due to certain societal expectations, joint personal ventures (like marriage) in a hetero relationship may fall more on the woman’s shoulders. Unlike discussions about children, there isn’t necessarily a career versus personal life trade-off to worry about, but there are still stressors.

I don’t know. This summer was one full of joyous occasions, but I can’t help looking at the weddings and marriages and just think, awed, “How the hell do they manage to do all that?” That work-life balance that gets dissected time and time again still feels elusive.

3 replies on “Women in Academia: Life Planning”

I’m trying to submit my PhD in the next two weeks, because I’m getting married in three weeks (and more importantly, buggering off on holiday for a month). This would have probably been OK, except that I also unexpectedly started a postdoc a little while ago, so I have a real job too. Basically, my life is terrible. I can barely eat, live on coffee and gin, and I’m exhausted 100% of the time because I grind my teeth all night in my sleep. I use industrial strength concealer to hide the huge bags under my eyes. I’m actually worried that RahBoy’s parents think I’m some kind of crazy basket case because they send me so many supportive messages.

Our solution? He’s done practically everything for the wedding. My job is to come up with ideas, sign off on them after he implements them, and show up looking half-decent on the day. I like him.

I think some would disagree that “there are no real negative effects to marrying earlier or later”. All the reasons you identified make it tough.

Marrying in grad school can be hard if one party is working while the other is in school. Two poor students brings stress in a marriage too. Of course one academic in the marriage always means that the other has to be open to moving (or fake it in order to get counter offers) every few years (3rd yr review, tenure year, mid-career associate, promo to full). And, if an academic is tied to someone with career opportunities outside of university-ville, the same trade-off job questions arise.

Still, people go for it because they think life will be better together. There are less-often discussed reasons for getting and staying married that have little to do with romance and love: two incomes makes a lot easier in life, logistics with kids and home, sharing domestic duties with a reliable housemate. Those are life planning decisions too.

One thing I will say from my own experience — preferences change. What I wanted in a spouse and career have changed over time. Make life plans around what works best for you and the rest will work itself out. If thoughts of wedding planning and married life are not appealing, then maybe marriage is not for you, at least not now.

Luckily, I am done with my education for the time being and am waiting until after the wedding to start the next degree program, but I have a friend who is smack-dab in the middle of a Master’s Program and got married this summer. In a different state from the one she lives in. Her way to make it work? Her mom did all the planning for her. (I’d rather die, myself.)

I do know that, even at a fairly progressive liberal arts school, a friend of mine who is committed to Not Getting Married, all caps, and Never Having Kids, often faces the rather disappointing continuation of traditional, conservative assumptions about women who make those choices: she is frigid, out of control, not-to-be-taken-seriously, immature, illogical, bitchy, heartless, and probably a dyke. (She’s none of these things, not that it would be particularly problematic to me if she was.) She has reported to me that many of her (male AND female) colleagues, including bachelor men, treat her this way, and she wonders if having made different life choices would have made her academic career more welcoming. (She hasn’t noticed a significant effect on her professional success, just a distinct coolness when it comes to personal conversations in the academy.)

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