June 21, 2024

motherhood and science

motherhood and science

Double Burden: University mothers have a hard time.
Photo: Getty

Female researchers with children are a rarity, and many do not talk about their motherhood in the workplace. The newly founded Motherhood and Science network wants to change that. As the scientific community promotes workaholics, network representatives say, it requires complete dedication and flexibility. This is hardly in keeping with being a mother.

aWhen I first became a mother, Sarah Cherny had a fairly straight forward scientific career. She studied European media culture in Weimar, Lyon and Krakow and did her PhD in Frankfurt in 2018 – she was pregnant at the time. Cherny, a highly educated and highly qualified scientist, wanted to stay in the sciences even as a mother. There was no doubt for either of them that she and her boyfriend would share the care work equally. But their first baby is a break. Cherny painfully discovered how motherhood changed her: literally on her body. “Whereas I used to be a self-limiting mind in scientific and feminist circles, now with this little creature in my arms, I was basically a body that someone else basically depended on,” she says. “I wasn’t prepared for how much the ideal of a mother would conflict with a scholarly model in our society.”

Because for many, science still means being completely absorbed in your work, standing in the lab day and night and just living for the research – just being a workaholic. “As in many male-dominated fields, science is judging people who work without borders,” says Lena Eckert, Physician for Gender Research and a staff member at the Center for Teaching and Learning at European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder). Researchers must work internationally, change their place of work and research quickly, and be available at all times. “This puts mothers at a disadvantage, because no one expects male scientists to do the same balancing act when it comes to compatibility,” Eckert says. “The role of the father easily falls behind the role of the world,” says the gender researcher. “On the other hand, women are expected to do both roles 100 percent.” The accusation is often raised that she is a bad mother or that children are more important than research.

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