My long research trip in Great Britain has made me start thinking about the difficulties that academic life presents to those with families. Because my research is as much about Britain and its colonies as it is the United States, a significant portion of my research has to be done abroad. I have been in Britain doing the preliminary stages of research since May and I plan to be here till September. The problem: I’m married, and my husband has a job that keeps him in the States and more specifically in Michigan. We skype and chat on the internet, but it’s still tough. When I told my husband I was doing a panel called Complicating Domesticities and Sexuality in the Empire, he laughed and suggested I do a presentation on how academic life and research has complicated my own domesticity. Unfortunately, it won’t get much better when I return to the States. I’ll be in Michigan for a few months and then off to Utah. Again, without my husband.
I try to keep in mind, though, that my research is a privilege. I’m luck. I also remember that this would be nearly impossible with kids. One of the reasons why I haven’t had children yet is I knew I was going to graduate school, that I would have to do research, and that my husband’s career path combined with mine would make it difficult to have a baby until I had finished the research portion of my degree. I can’t imagine having a baby by myself while trying to do research of leaving my child in Michigan while I traipse across the country.
All of this has made me wonder about graduate school and the Mormon family. On the one hand, there seems to be plenty of male Mormon graduate students with families. On the other hand, I know few married Mormon women who are also graduate students. I wonder if the fact that many Mormon women chose to stay at home makes it easier for their husbands to be graduate students AND to have families. There’s someone to take care of the kids and the fact that their wives stay at home means that it is easier for them to follow their husbands when research takes them to Utah, to Britain, to California, to wherever. Mormon women, however, rarely have stay-at-home spouses. They would be in the situation which I can’t imagine — forced to leave their kids or their husband or to switch the focus of their research so it demanded no travel.
I’m wondering what are the experiences of married female Mormon graduate students. Is the situation as dire as I have painted it? What is the ratio of female to male married graduate students? How could we change the expectations of graduate school to accommodate more married women with kids? I realize that my comments are confined to graduate work that requires travel and extensive archival or field research, but it still seems relevant.