How is your pandemic parenting going? "The Faculty Parent" series chronicles the highs and lows of juggling parenting, teaching, research, and writing in uncertain times.
“A researcher requests support for caregiving while researching or writing.” I had to read this line more than once to believe it was real. It was listed, quite casually, along with other more familiar research-related expenses for a fellowship from a major research library--things like travel, special equipment, photo duplication, or permissions--hidden amongst them as if to suggest that it weren’t an earth-shatteringly unusual sight, like a little green Martian in a shiny, silver saucer.
Perhaps it’s been a while since you’ve gone hunting for funding, perhaps because you’ve all but given up on the possibility that parenting can coincide with extended research projects, especially those that require residency, long distance commuting, or extensive travel. With this I can surely relate. I did finally take up a long-term residency at a research library a couple of years ago and it was a breeze, let me tell you. All I had to do was sell my apartment, rent another apartment sight-unseen in my destination city, pack up everything I owned, drive five hours, and then unpack everything I owned. I also had to ask my co-parent to uproot and move his own career and life, place my three-year old on waiting lists and in lotteries for a dozen different preschools, settle her in at new school and in a new bed in a new apartment, and rapidly rebuild an entire network of pediatricians, playmates, babysitters, dentists and, last but not least, an OBGYN, since I was also newly pregnant with a second child. EASY AS PIE. Actually, the pay-off made it all (just about) worth it: nine months at a research library with access to every archival resource I could ever want or need. But though I waddled through the stacks right up until my due date, thrilled at the opportunity to do so, the strain on family both financially and otherwise was certainly very real.
And, of course, it isn’t just library residencies that produce this strain on faculty parents and faculty families. It’s conferences that require week-long hotel stays, elaborate and often inadequate childcare arrangements, and (for me anyway) red-eye flights to make it back in time for breakfast, hugs, and drop-off on Monday morning. It’s short-term fellowships and visiting research or teaching positions that require residency. It’s faculty seminars and symposia that meet once a week in some sadly inconvenient location and offer no accommodation for those commuting long distances (even though school lets out—without fail—at 3:15pm). It’s easy enough to say, “there will be time for all that when the kids are older,” but in fact for most faculty-parents, our years of intensive parenting are also some of the most productive and active years of our scholarly careers.
I want to suggest something that I’ve been thinking a lot about as I’ve been juggling work with childcare over these past really difficult months. What if those fabulous faculty seminars that meet once a week offered the opportunity for a remote gathering if not every year then perhaps ever other or ever third year? If nothing else, our 2020 experience has shown us that this is certainly doable and perhaps even preferable (and cheaper) in some ways. If I’d known how many such opportunities would end up “going remote” in 2020, I would surely have applied! What is lost when residency or in-person participation is a requirement for workshops, seminars, and conferences (and fellowships, visiting jobs, and so on)? What is to be gained by sacrificing the supposed “intimacy” of in-person conversations for not all, but some such opportunities? What could be more intimate than meeting in our respective living rooms! These past months have demonstrated how much scholarly conversation can continue and be productive without traveling or moving temporarily to a new location. It would be so wonderful if at least some of this newly accessible approach could remain even after the pandemic ends. I am happy to report that some fellowships have already begun to change policies and offer more flexible schedules, remote options, and to include caregiving costs among the list of expenses recognized as research-related (such as the Folger Shakespeare Library fellowship quoted above, and ACMRS’s flexible Short Term Residencies). This is a welcome shift that I hope to see continue.
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Parenting-Related Resources: Scholarly Conferences
Some scholarly organizations and societies offer financial or logistical support for childcare and eldercare during conferences. If yours do not, you might point them toward these examples.
MLA (Modern Language Association) offers childcare funding of up to $400
ASCB (American Society for Cell Biology) offers travel and childcare grants
AHA (American Historical Association) offers childcare grants of up to $250
ACNP (American College of Neuropsychopharmacology) offers travel awards that include up to $80/day for childcare costs
Finding Funding: Where to Start
If you’re headed back to the well to look for funding after some time away from the search, here are some easy places to get started.
Pivot: All Rutgers faculty have free access to this “database of funding opportunities for all disciplines and project types” via our library system.
Foundation Directory Online: Also available through Rutgers libraries, this database focuses on “foundations, corporate giving programs, and grant making public charities.”
Academia.edu: A lesser-known feature of Academia.edu is their searchable database of grants, fellowships, awards and prizes. Note that this database is available only with paid premium account, but you can upgrade, look around, and then get a full refund with their “30-day money back guarantee.”
Swann, Nicole. “Scientist and Parent: Are We There Yet?” eLife (Jun 14, 2019)
Early, Jessica, and Trisalyn Nelson. “3 Ways to Survive Academe with Kids” The Chronicle of Higher Education (Nov 21, 2019)
Bos, Angela L., Jennie Sweet-Cushman and Monica Schneider. “Family-Friendly Conferences,” InsideHigherEd (Feb 7, 2018)
Calisi, Rebecca. “The Special Challenges of Being Both a Scientist and a Mom,” Scientific American (Mar 30, 2018)
Calisi, Rebecca and a Working Group of Mothers in Science. “How to Tackle the Childcare–Conference Conundrum,” PNAS (Mar 20, 2018)
Patricia Akhimie is a 2020-2021 Chancellor’s Scholar-in-Residence with the P3 Collaboratory. She is Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University-Newark, where she teaches Shakespeare, Renaissance drama, and early modern women’s travel writing.