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on the challenges of international research for mothers

28 October 2013

This summer I wrote a popular post on taking children to an African country while you conduct research. After a conversation with (and a blog post comment by) Aili Tripp, I learned a political scientist had actually weighed in on this issue previously. Though Tripp’s article [gated] was published more than ten years ago, I found myself nodding in agreement throughout. Here’s just one bit:

Even for those who manage to arrange such research trips, one still has to contend with the fact that generally no one—not one’s colleagues, not even one’s best friends—is going to be terribly supportive or encouraging, mostly because they do not really understand what such an endeavor entails. They also might have a hard time visualizing the country and conditions under which one will be living and therefore cannot imagine the difficulties one might encounter, let alone with children. Except for three academic mothers in my two departments who did international research (I have a joint appointment in political science and women’s studies), I have the impression that most colleagues in my two departments did not have any idea how difficult this was to arrange and pull off. No one asked, and I had little opportunity to explain. It certainly never featured in any way in my annual departmental reviews as an assistant professor even though the life skills it took to arrange something such as this were considerable. Moreover, most of my friends thought I was nuts, and my family was not thrilled with my plans. The moral of the story is that one should not expect any special support from the people around one, even those who love and care about one deeply.

A more recent piece [gated, ungated here] published in PS: Political Science and Politics citing Tripp’s article, “Embodied Researchers: Gendered Bodies, Research Activity, and Pregnancy in the Field,” shares experiences and insights of two women in political science who have conducted research abroad. From the introduction:

Drawing largely from our experiences from dissertation-stage fieldwork in Spain (Candice Ortbals, CO) and Poland (Meg Rincker, MR), we explain how women’s bodies do not always easily fit the requirements of fieldwork. We first discuss practical physical and appearance-related concerns having to do with women’s bodies, and in doing so, run the risk of de-glamorizing the research process by discussing the mundane: building strong biceps, choosing the proper attire, and eating healthy food. Second, we debate the gendered appearance and representation of motherhood in the field from the perspectives of the expectant mother and mother-daughter relationships. In both discussions, we examine what it means to be a young woman conducting research abroad, arguing that interviewees often do not expect researchers to be young women, especially not young pregnant women. While our arguments pertain initially more to young women, we pose suggestions for field researchers regardless of gender, race, age, sexual orientation, and disability.

I appreciated in particular this sentence in the conclusion:

Professors, students, and funding agencies alike should consider the connectedness of scholars, and consider financial support to bring family members, children, or caretakers into the field.

Both pieces have helpful strategies for moms (and dads) navigating the challenges of conducting research away from home. If haba na haba readers know of other articles that would be useful, please post cites and/or links in the comments!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. 28 October 2013 11:03 am

    Don’t just limit this to the academic mother. Academic fathers, and in particular those of us that are single fathers, can also face important challenges. In my case, the challenges often begin with something even simpler than conducting research abroad. Traveling to conferences with a young one involves extra costs and logistical hurdles.

    • 28 October 2013 11:45 am

      You are right, Mike. I had spoken with a friend about what this doesn’t cover, including the challenges of single parents.

      Traveling to conferences is another ball of wax altogether. I had friends who took their kids with them to conferences. One person remarked how nice it must be to be married to someone in your field, going to the same conference — but this meant they HAD to take their kids with them nearly every time. It was also complicated if they had panels scheduled at the same time. Not to mention parenting while at a conference is tough — especially if one of the goals of attending conferences is to network. Should we bring our kids to the YouGov happy hour? The APCG social?

      Thanks for adding your perspective.

      And for the record, I’m all for APCG socials being kid-friendly.

  2. 25 February 2015 1:09 am

    I arrive late to this, but what a great post! If only I had came across it on february/march 2014! I´ve done both: go alone abroad for fieldwork and bring family abroad for fieldwork. Different strategies are never enough!

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