Fifth Anniversary Update: Megan Pincus Kajitani

December 31st, 2013

“The other day I was at a theater in San Diego seeing a musical, and in the restroom during intermission I ran into a former colleague from the university career center where I’d worked as a counselor for graduate students after I left my doctoral program. As I described in my Mama, PhD essay, I had loved that job, but chose to leave it after having my first child and being denied a job-share (by a department head who denied job-shares across-the-board).

The colleague in the restroom was thrilled to see me (and I her), and she told me she couldn’t believe she had bumped into me, as they were currently (rather desperately) searching for someone to fill my old job! They had been through two people since I left. It was such a specialized job — counseling doctoral students — and hard to find some who, like me, was a good fit for it. She looked at me with expectant eyes.

“Still only full-timers in the department?” I asked. She made a face, and her shoulders slumped. “Yeahhh,” she said glumly. “Oh well!” I said, and smiled at her. “I hope someday they rethink that one. And I hope you find someone good; the grad students deserve it.” I gave her a hug, and went back to the show.

It only took a few minutes to think about the encounter afterwards (and marvel at the timing), to realize it was simply a validation that I am going in the right direction — which, for me, is not back toward academia. I have plenty of friends from my academic days now on the tenure track, or working as adjuncts, or “between jobs,” or in university staff jobs, and I wish them all well, and I honor their commitment to staying on their career paths within the academy.

For me, though, the flexibility and freedom and creativity I have as a work-at-home mom simply fits me better than even that job I loved. Since Mama, PhD, I’ve had a second child, we’ve had some health crises with our kids, and my husband and I decided to homeschool them, as well as launch our own online education businesses. It’s a full and busy life, and I’m pretty happy with it.

When I talk with my academic friends, I feel the familiar strain I remember in myself from being a research university doctoral student, and from counseling them for two years. I wish things were getting easier for them all, but I’m not sure I see much difference from out here at this point. They’re still struggling to find good, tenure-track jobs, to keep up with rigorous research and teaching demands, to negotiate for better salaries and benefits and childcare options on campus, to resist discrimination for their gender and/or color. There are, of course, many rewards of the academic life, but I must admit I still see a good deal of struggle as well.

As I launch into the world of online education myself (from outside of the academy), I hope for my academic sisters that the evolution toward more flexible, online courses in all levels of education creates more opportunities for them inside academia as well.

My mom, still a research university professor and currently the president of a large academic professional association, has spent her year’s presidency speaking on the platform that academia-as-its-been is changing quickly, and it’s important to see that as an opportunity, and to be a part of that change, rather than resist it. She talks about MOOCS and budgets, and a system that needs to change with the times. I can only hope that part of that change is that “Mama PhDs” have more options, and more opportunities to balance their priorities and achieve their multi-faceted goals.

Many things have changed for me personally in the five years since Mama, PhD was released, but too much has stayed the same in academia for women in particular. Seeing my former colleague in the theater restroom was a reminder of that for me. I hope all of us Mama PhDs (or not-quite-PhDs, or former PhD-seekers) keep pushing for more change, in a positive direction, from wherever we happen to be.”

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