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Careers Café

What do you say about the kids?


Recently a woman contacted me with a question that was clearly causing her some distress. She’s applying for academic jobs. And she’s a mother.

Being a mother has had an impact on her publishing record and means her career trajectory doesn’t look quite like the ideal. And yet she doesn’t want to engage in any special pleading. She wants her accomplishments to be judged for themselves. She wants to be hired. And to be hired based on the quality of her work and her potential contribution to a department.

I agree. When you apply for a job, you are never asking someone to hire a less well qualified candidate.
What is the impact of having children on your publication record?
The whole point of looking at past performance is to try to predict future performance. You are giving the selection committee a guide to interpreting the publication record you have.

You want the search committee to see the following:

  • you are doing work of publishable quality
  • you are likely to continue publishing about x articles per year

A key issue here is to be clear (in your own mind) what the impact of those kids has really been.  Chances are, it was temporary. You had a maternity leave (or some kind of reduced productivity following the birth) followed by a period of severe sleep deprivation. You probably didn’t write much. Then you started writing again and got back in a publishing groove.

The impact of the kids was a few years where you didn’t publish anything or you published fewer than x articles per year. You want to communicate that those periods of your record are atypical and do not give a good indication of future performance and guide the committee in the direction of the pattern that is more likely to be indicative.

Indicating the times when you were on maternity leave (or equivalent) is a way of signalling “Read this period differently than this other period.”

Don’t overplay it
You cannot control how people interpret your CV and other application materials.

You have no idea who else has applied for the job.

You are trying to communicate your achievements clearly so that you can be compared fairly to your competitors for this job.

Some perspective

Keep in mind that the “ideal” candidate is probably a myth. You are probably not the only candidate with kids, or with some other life event that has affected your publication record.

Also remember that lots of people are working within universities to eliminate systemic biases like privileging linear careers and early peaks. And that cultural change is slow.

Hiring is never an exact science in any field. There are lots of great candidates out there.

Applying for jobs is hard. The academic labour market is very competitive. You did not make a mistake by having those kids.

P.S. the same principle applies to “special circumstances” in a grant application.

Jo VanEvery is a career coach who specializes in helping academics. Find her at
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