Flourish: An Electronic Newsletter for Scholarly Writers
October 2007

vol. 3, no. 9

Being a college student is learning to master the art of sprinting–many tasks can be finished in short bursts. Being a graduate student is learning to master the art of the marathon–you can’t get out until you develop the stamina to do the long-distance running of a dissertation. Being a professor is learning to master the art of the triathlon–you don’t succeed until you can complete in a single day the necessary teaching, writing, and administering.

Part of developing these skills at the right stages is learning the importance of rest. Hard work enables you to become a marathoner, but without learning how to take breaks and allow for recovery time you can’t become a triathlete. The potential for injury is too high. Yet breaks are tricky things. You need to find the kind of breaks that work for you, that don’t derail you or make you sick. So, it’s worth thinking a bit about how and when you take breaks. Sometimes the key is doing things that are appealing but not too appealing. Perhaps you are the kind of person who can take a break by watching ten minutes of some cooking show and then getting back to work. Perhaps trying to watch ten minutes of Entourage turns into a different kind of all-day marathon. So, being a scholar is also learning to master the art of the break.

Family and Productivity

If you wondered whether your family was helping or hindering your scholarship, new research suggests that academics who are married or have children do fine in terms of productivity (J. Price 2006). A couple of years ago, some scary studies were published about how women with young children were less likely to get tenure or be promoted than anyone else, while men with children were more likely to get tenure and be promoted (National Science Foundation 2004). But another large study found that having a family has very little effect on the actual productivity of either female or male faculty (Sax, Hagedorn, Arredondo, Dicrisi 2002). Women with families are just as productive as women without families.

In other words, the gender gap in publication rates, which has steadily been closing, is not explained by the weight of domestic responsibilities. Rather, this slightly lower rate seems to have more to do with women’s not prioritizing advancement and field recognition at this time in their lives (Sax, Hagedorn, Arredondo, Dicrisi 2002).

This isn’t to imply that male and female faculty experience family responsibilities in the same way. Among men and women with the same publication rates, female faculty did more work around the home and spent fewer hours per week on writing and research than male faculty. This is really interesting to me. Women seemed to be more efficient, producing the same amount of writing in less time. This reflects another finding about women, that women faculty at research universities seemed to do better at publishing steadily, rather than falling into the extremes of no publications or a very high number of publications (Sax, Hagedorn, Arredondo, Dicrisi 2002).

Another useful article on this topic is one by Mary Frank Fox, who is a reader of Flourish. She looks at the relationships among marriage, parental status, and publication productivity for tenured men and women in academic science. She does an excellent job of teasing out the way that these factors affect academics in different ways at different points in their lives. For instance, for women, being married to another academic often correlates with less productivity on a first marriage but more productivity on a second marriage (Fox 2005).

Of course, all of these studies have to be considered in light of their definitions of gender and family, and many contradict each other. But the lesson I take away is, having a balanced life is okay. Enjoying the fullness of what it means to be an academic and a human being is important to real success.


I don’t know if any of you have used any of the coaching services out there, such as Academic Ladder, but if you have, send me your thoughts. People often ask me for recommendations, but I haven’t used them myself. Yet!

News from the Editor

It’s a long story, but today I become a produced playwright. A short I wrote titled “Telling the Truth” is being produced by a tiny local theater in their production “Return of the Play of the Dead.” I have no idea how it will turn out, but I’m intrigued to observe what happens when words that I wrote become flesh. I’ll let you know what happens next month.