Science Leadership Conference

Women pursuing tenure in the academic world of psychological science face a dilemma: The same years spent earning their doctorates and researching, publishing and teaching are also often the best years for them to have a child, said former APA president Diane Halpern, PhD, at a 2006 Science Leadership Conference session on nurturing careers in psychological science.

"Tenure clocks and biological clocks run in the same time zone," said Halpern, noting that typical course of preparing for and beginning an academic career, if everything goes smoothly, leads to tenure by about age 36.

Halpern, director of the Berger Institute for Work, Family and Children at Claremont McKenna College, was one of six panelists at the session.

Other panelists at the session addressed the need for comprehensive mentoring, "pipeline" issues in training, the need for diversity, challenges in pursuing an interdisciplinary career and research careers outside the academic world.

Halpern stressed that the problem of juggling multiple family responsibilities and the demands of work isn't just a women's issue, as one of every six single parents is a father, and one in three adults expect to be caring for an elderly parent within five years.

Despite the fact that there are many more single parents and families where both parents work full time, many employers think it's still a "Father Knows Best" world where Dad goes off to work in the morning and Mom's at home taking care of the kids, Halpern said.

"Families didn't look like that then, and they increasingly don't look like that now," she said.

Balancing family obligations and work demands is even more problematic for women in academe, she said, because the academic research career path assumes that an academic has endless hours to spend at the lab, while his spouse stays home and runs the household.

Studies have shown that men who have a family with a child born within five years of receiving a doctorate, an "early" baby, by Halpern's definition, achieve tenure at a higher rate then men without children. But, for women, having an early baby means they're 20 to 24 percent less likely to achieve tenure 12 to 14 years after their doctorate compared with women without children and men without children, she said.

And even though half of all graduate students are women, the percentage of women faculty is similar to what it was in 1975, and the gap between men and women's salaries widened in the last 30 years, Halpern said.

To help parents compete for tenure, Halpern said colleges could give new parents up to one semester of reduced duties, and stop the tenure clock temporarily, allowing time to care for a newborn or a newly adopted child age 5 and under.

"We really can do better," she said.

Along with helping young academics balance the demands of family life and work, participants also spoke about helping younger research scientists advance their careers through mentoring.

Speaking about mentoring in the same session, Jessica Henderson Daniel, PhD, offered a twist on the familiar saying, "It takes a village to raise a child."

"It takes a village of mentors to raise a scientist, because different scientists mentor for different skills," said Daniel, director of psychology training at Children's Hospital in Boston and an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Psychologists involved in scientific research need to serve as role models and coaches for students entering the "subculture" of psychological science, and communicate the passion, drive and competitiveness needed to pursue research and secure funding, Daniel said.

Studies of mentoring in business environments show that informal mentoring networks work best, and that employees who are actively mentored advance faster then those who aren't, she said.

In the psychological science world, mentors also need to remember that they're preparing mentees to be colleagues and future researchers, who will work in the field several decades after the mentor has retired.

"It's so important to develop the careers of people to be separate from you, not as an appendage to you," she said.

-C. Munsey