Career Disruption

I was filling out a very long and arduous electronic database about my research career today, a necessity to apply for certain competitive research grants.

One of the tabs on the database was titled “career disruption”. Basically,  in that section of the database  you outline reasons why your career may have come to a halt at some previous point in time, which may have  consequently impacted on your track record (in plain speak: periods of time translated onto a CV when  you appear unproductive in terms of obtaining grant money and publishing outputs).

Interestingly, on a variety of research grant websites maternity leave is cited as an example of career disruption. Clearly, illness or the like also qualify, however maternity leave seems to top the list of examples. The very fact that the word “disruption” is used  (not  for example “pause”) to me, raises question about the value that the research/academic community place on the role of women who choose to take time out to have children. I firmly believe in a level playing field and that the research careers of women should not be marginalised because they fulfil a role that society ultimately demands (motherhood). But can we still really allude to or refer to having a child as a ‘disruption’? Women seem to be caught in a Catch-22 situation.  On one hand, there is a pervasive social narrative that you need to have children to be a legitimate member of society (or at least not some sort of weird, highly career driven, responsibility shirking owner of a healthy set of ovaries, who will eventually regret her decision not to have children when it’s all too late). Yet on the other hand, if you do fulfil your maternal instincts and obligations, you will, if you are a researcher, be suffering from “career disruption”.

Reflecting on this, even if I did have children, on principle I wouldn’t fill in this section on the database. However I do wonder, in the absence of me having children that would ‘disrupt’ my productivity, whether I could explain my few years of very lean outputs (basically no productivity) in that same section on the database as “life”. I wonder if this would be considered ‘legitimate’?

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