a few thoughts on work-life balance, academia, and Kim Clijsters

Kim Clijsters - tennis star and mother

Kim Clijsters - tennis star and mother

I was really jazzed when new mother Kim Clijsters won the US Open this weekend, the first mother to win a Grand Slam since 1980.  The Guardian posted an article about work-life balance for tennis stars.  They write the following:

Clijsters is far from the first sportswoman to excel after having a child – Paula Radcliffe won the New York marathon in 2007 10 months after having a child, the Kenyan runner Catherine Ndereba broke the world records at 5k and 15k in 1998 a year after giving birth, and last month, the golfer Catriona Matthew won the British Open when her second daughter was just 10 weeks old.

But success in tennis has broadly eluded mothers, a comparative paucity perhaps explained by the punishing tournament schedule that requires players to travel the globe amassing points to qualify for the major championships. [Boldface added]

This issue resonates with me.  Perhaps tenure has broadly eluded mothers in academia because of conferences  and networking that require academics to travel the globe in order to amass a national research reputation?  Not that I am likening myself to an international tennis star, of course.  I enjoy going to conferences, discussing my research, and getting new research ideas.  However, I am anxious about the upcoming INFORMS Annual Meeting, since I will be away from my family for six days (four days of conference plus a day of travel on either end, since I am presenting talks in the first and last sessions of the conference and have to travel 3000 miles each way).

I’ve found that the downside to academic freedom is that it’s hard to hand off my work when I need time off.  When I had my first child as a graduate student, my advisor took over while I was on unofficial leave.  When I had my second child, I found it essentially impossible to hand off work (such as handling paper revisions, advising graduate students, and organizing sessions for conferences), despite receiving an excellent maternity leave.  I was caught off guard by this, and in retrospect, I should have put a better system in place before baby arrived.  I try not to dwell on these issues too much, because motherhood is challenging for everyone, and somehow we all manage.  The little ones make the challenges worthwhile.

Link:  watch an interview with Clijsters on work-life balance here.

Other athlete mothers that inspire me include Lindsey Davenport and Candace Parker (whose appearance on the cover of ESPN Magazine while pregnant resulted in a huge buzz among working mothers).

This isn’t entirely an issue for women.  Last month, I read an interesting article in the Washington Post that indicates that work-life balance issues for high school football coaches ultimately keep many from taking college coaching jobs that are necessary to make the leap to the pros.

“I’ve had opportunities in the past to go to college and the main reason why I decided to stay was, years ago when I did have the opportunity, my children were young and I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to make the jump or didn’t want to make the jump,” said longtime DeMatha Coach Bill McGregor, who has compiled a 259-36-3 record during his 27 years as head coach at the Hyattsville school. “It sounds glamorous and looks glamorous and it’s better pay, but you don’t have an awful lot of security. . . . I know a lot of assistant [college] coaches right now and they’ve been at five, six, seven, eight schools. That’s a lot of uprooting and moving. I think it’s a tough life.”

What challenges do working parents in the field of operations research face?

What working parents inspire you?

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One response to “a few thoughts on work-life balance, academia, and Kim Clijsters

  • Anonymous

    Good post.

    Part of what I found surprising were the stats on Britain’s gender differences on work patterns, and the stark impact of small kids on women’s participation even today. We’re 3+ decades removed from the revolution of the 1970’s that invited people like your Mom’s generation to join the workforce, yet even in a more “progressive” environment like that of GB (where they already have nationalized healthcare) things are divided along gender lines. Only 4% of men with kids work part-time, 36% of women.

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