Recently a university science major asked me some questions. “Do you recommend a young woman pursue a Ph.D. in science if she hopes to raise a family? Can she do both?” I had just finished speaking about my decision to leave my career and stay home with my “most important inorganic-organic composite material productions” (i.e. children). I have five daughters, so I’ve thought about these questions already.
I think the questions have to be asked with ultimate goals in mind. If education is only a means to a career, then no, it won’t make sense to expend the effort to achieve a career you are going to quit. A career as a means to provide for your family is certainly one good reason to go to college though, but it’s not the most important reason. We are made in the image of God, to learn, to discover, and to innovate. We’re made for knowledge. Knowledge is an end unto itself. When you learn or discover something, you own the knowledge. It becomes part of who you are.
But all the way to a doctoral degree? Yes, if that’s your interest and even if eventually you hope to be a homemaker. Before a Ph.D. is conferred, you have to contribute new knowledge to your field. It is immensely satisfying to know you played a role in pushing into the scientific unknown. You appreciate nature more deeply because you are trained to see the physical world at the molecular level. On a practical note—I don’t get the impression this is widely known—in the sciences graduate work is often supported with an assistantship, which is a full tuition waiver and a stipend paid to the student for doing research. That is, you can be paid to earn a scientific degree. Google it.
What about re-entering the workforce as a researcher after you’ve left? Well, the paradigm is that once you leave your scientific career, you cannot re-enter because you cease to be current on the latest research. However, I think young women should challenge that paradigm. It is not hard to stay current on the latest research by reading scientific journals (you need something to do all those hours you spend nursing and rocking), nor is it hard to expand your knowledge beyond your field through reading. Besides, mothers learn anew what it’s like to experience nature through the eyes of a child full of awe and wonder, something easily forgotten in the anxieties of adulthood. Or you may not wish to even enter the workforce. My scientific background and my faith led me to an interest in systematic theology and the history of science. Now I write, edit, teach, and learn as a continuing student, all from home.
So my advice to a young person interested in science but hoping to raise a family is: Go for it. Your path is unique. Don’t think in terms of careers, but in terms of knowledge and developing yourself as a person. Time spent studying the Handiwork of God is not time wasted, not for research scientists nor for mothers. God only knows what you will discover.