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Motherhood, the Elephant in the Laboratory

Last night, I went to a panel discussion sponsored by the Association for Women in Science featuring some of the authors from the recent released book Motherhood, the Elephant in the Laboratory: Women Scientists Speak Out (I linked to amazon, use your bookseller of choice) by Emily Monosson. I bought this book several months ago, but hadn’t yet had the time to read it.  After last night’s discussion, the book has moved to the stop of my stack.

The discussion was both informative and reassuring.  The women on the panel–Anne Douglass of NASA, Katherine Douglass of The George Washington University, Marla McIntosh of the University of Maryland, and Catherine O’Riordan of the American Institute of Physics–have all found ways to combine their professional lives with motherhood. Several times, the women pointed out how important their partners’ support was in finding ways to do this.  They argued that the issue needs to be framed as a parenting issue rather than as a women’s issue because men with children (especially those with working wives) are in the same boat.  McIntosh said something I hadn’t thought of: motherhood, she said, hasn’t stopped just because her kids are off at college.  When her son called and her phone rang during the discussion, it was a clear reminder of that.

If you’re interested in becoming a parent–or just interested in the issue–you might want to pick up the book. Also, Emily Monosson has established an accompanying website and online community to discuss issues of motherhood in science, which can be found at

2 comments on “Motherhood, the Elephant in the Laboratory”

  1. Ed says:

    Have you seen Also useful for job seekers for graduate jobs, etc.

  2. Ric weibl says:

    I attended the same session … it was excellent. Two thoughts that lingered for me. First the unanticipated benefit of hearing that others shared similar experiences – the writers all commented on the good feelings that came from reading the experiences of the others. Seems to suggest that getting topics like this into the open would be of great benefit (thanks for blogging about it here).
    The second thought – the role of men (married or not, breeders or not) in helping to make institutions more family/mother friendly. It seems that we could do more to make these issue central to the hiring and promotion process by asking about them too during the hiring and promotions processes. If only the women ask, they remain “women’s issues”. Motherhood is also a men’s issue and we too need to ask about how we, our spouses, and our female co-workers are going to be treated (and act on eliminating unfair practices or outing institutions/departments that act unfairly).

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