-by Dr. Sarah Hamylton
Over the last week I have been on three different university interview panels and considered 118 job applications. Many thoughts of scholarship, work ethic, attitude, pedagogy and teamwork have crossed my mind, but one comment has stayed with me:
“I would question her research productivity because she has children”
Hearing this remark reminded me of the diverse array of responses within a room when an academic acknowledges the existence of their children.
So often children are presented in a negative light with respect to the influence they have on their parents’ capacity to succeed in an academic career (and, specifically, to do research). Child rearing is often blamed for the “scissor effect” that sees women drop out of the academic workforce at higher levels of appointment. But I think the influence of children can also be a positive one, in ways that are often overlooked.
Here are some reasons why becoming a parent has made me a better researcher:
- I have learned the value of reflective time at my desk and make efficient use of it.
- My thoughts have more time to gestate before I put pen to paper, meaning that first drafts of written work have a better developed argument that is more structured and focused.
- Mindful of the way that children respond to the world, I have increased empathy in the way that I construct an argument and I am more inclined to consider alternative points of view.
- Answering my three year old’s questions (“do sharks exist in real life, mummy?”) has given me a greater appreciation of the value of explaining concepts fully and accessibly.
- The everyday activities of childcare that take you away from immediate distraction are highly generative. All sorts of ideas have popped into my head while I have walked along the beach with a baby strapped to my front, or pushed a pram to the park!
- Children have added an energy, enthusiasm and maturity to my life that has flowed into my scholarly work.
- Thanks to living by the sea, swimming lessons, numerous story books and the Octonauts, I am investing in my future fieldwork productivity by raising two energetic and curious research assistants.
- I have renewed hope for a world with a better environmental future, which has brought an optimism to my lines of scientific inquiry.
- I work harder to cultivate intellectual rigour in the students that I teach, particularly the postgraduate students I supervise and mentor.
- After maternity leave, the University of Wollongong gave me a return to work grant that I used to become a coxswain, pay a babysitter on a remote island and charter a sail boat (this was not an escape plan).
Early morning training session for the next generation of fieldwork assistants
Sarah is a Founding Committee member of WICGE. Find out more about her here.