Having babies as an academic archaeologist

Some people consider that having children while studying or before you have gained tenure is career suicide. I had my first baby while a PhD student and my second 9 years later after I had gained tenure. For me, while having my first baby was much more difficult financially, having a baby when I was younger was a lot easier in terms of my energy levels and perseverance, even with little sleep and other responsibilities.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a tough year or so finishing my PhD after having my first child. I used to joke that completing a PhD was like being pregnant and in labour – there is a lot of hard work to form your larger thesis (the gestation part) and at the end the harder you push the faster the agony would be over (active labour)!

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After I was back from my 12 weeks leave with my second child I faced the daunting task of an unusually heavy convening and teaching load. I do acknowledge that I am relatively privileged that there are many people in the US and other countries who do not have access to this leave, and I had some flexibility with work arrangements when my daughter was very young. I found expressing and dealing with infant sicknesses an almost full-time job. A vivid memory that has stuck with me was writing a large grant application when staying in hospital with my daughter when she was 3 months old while suffering from respiration issues. There were other real disruptions, e.g., I  missed a major fellowship deadline when my baby was a newborn, which could have been a career changer for me. Although I was working long hours and being successful and productive there was a ‘dip’ in my research.

As I am a (bio)archaeologist, having children poses some real difficulties for the logistics of my work, but this also provides my children with many opportunities (see my earlier post on this).

Some universities have acknowledged that parenting and parental leave impacts upon research momentum and that parents needed additional support to help get that going again when they return to work. E.g., as part of the Athena SWAN Charter, Durham University have introduced a policy whereby staff returning from maternity/parental/adoption leave are eligible for a term of research and study leave.

There also seems to be an increase in recognition in archaeology that there are gender equity issues. Here are a hand-full of resources in archaeology that seek to encourage participation and improve the status of women in our field. Check them out!

Trowelblazers runs outreach activities and events with the aim of “encouraging participation of women and underrepresented groups in archaeological, geological, and palaeontological science.”

The Gender Equity in Archaeology Project “examines the relationship between gender, author, and editorship in conference presentations and publications as a lens to examine current disciplinary sociopolitics and the relative contributions of men and women to archaeological research.”

There are also committees that focus of gender equity in archaeology in societies. For example, the Society for American Archaeology has a Committee on the Status of Women in Archaeology which “seeks to understand the current status of women in the profession through the gathering of data and to improve the position of women in archaeology.”

There is also a resource here that lists some women’s academic organisations, including anthropology.

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Children and Anthropology Conferences: Past and present

Instead of a negative and complaining post on conferences and parenting, I want to highlight the proactive approach the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) is taking to support caregivers as well as ECRs in general at their 2017 meeting in New Orleans. I look forward to attending this conference and will co-chair a session on Conceptualising the Child: Identity and health in bioarchaeology with Mary Lewis and Rebecca Gowland.

I was dismayed last year at both the SAAs (Society for American Archaeology) and the AAPA meetings at the lack of childcare and facilities available to carers attending the conference, or information in general about external childcare arrangements. After contacting numerous people in the associations over several weeks about childcare arrangements, I gave up hired private nannys. This was very difficult for my just turn two-year-old who had really bad separation anxiety and made it very expensive with transport costs to and from the venue to attend to my children.

This time around AAPA has been proactive and provided members with a survey for childcare requirements for the 2017 meeting, as I understand has also happened at some of these conferences in the past. I am optimistic this may mean that there are some on-site childcare facilities available.

Last year AAPA also provided the 2016 Family Care Award for Early Career Women scholars, a Committee on Diversity Women’s Initiative (COD-WIN) initiative to assist those who are caring for dependent family member/s at home. There is no sign of the award this year (yet) but we can only remain optimistic.

AAPA also supports student attendance at the annual meeting through various means, e.g. the Pollitzer Student Travel Award and professional development mentoring opportunities

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For those of you interested in our session at the AAPA, here is our abstract:

Conceptualising the Child: Identity and health in bioarchaeology

A child’s skeleton provides a rich repository of information relating to their physical and social worlds. This evidence, when properly contextualised, may be successfully harnessed by bioarchaeologists to explore such diverse aspects of childhood, including care and cultural constructions of the life course, the fluidity of gender and status identity with age, local disease ecologies, activities such as play and occupation, and even cases of physical abuse. Children have emerged as important social actors in the past, as individuals who exercise considerable agency, and whose presence and societal contributions are vital to properly consider when interpreting the archaeological record. Bioarchaeologists are increasingly aware of the importance of younger members of society to our understanding of past cultures and lifeways. Children, particularly perinates and infants, are now regarded as crucial to assessing maternal health, adult morbidity patterns and longevity. Exposure to malnutrition or infectious diseases during the early stages of our development are recognised to have a detrimental effect on health during adulthood, and for our offspring. As vulnerable members of a society, wholly dependent on the care of others, understanding the survival of infants has the potential to provide an accurate measure of a population’s ability to adapt to their particular environmental circumstances. Our questions are becoming ever more sophisticated as we broaden our focus away from issues of representation of children and mortality rates to questioning specific issues that surround a child’s identity, from infancy to adolescence, and the unique circumstances that influence their health and survival.

 

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At the 2016 AAPA meeting with her new France Casting hoodie, my name tags, and the flesh-eating bacteria (necrotizing fasciitis) soft toy I was given from one of our PPA session organisers 🙂

 

To Achieve the Impossible: Research and study leave with children

Recently, there has been a study published by researchers at my own University on the experience of Research and Study Leave (RSL) or sabbatical for men and women. It found  that families are negatively affected to taking RSL with international travel due to childcare requirements and associated costs.

I am lucky that I am in a permanent position and at a University that supports RSL. I am also ‘lucky’ that I have recently sold my house. The small proceeds from this have allowed me to pay for my 2- and 11-year-olds airfares and childcare, which has thus far cost over NZ$15,000, plus continued payment of daycare fees to keep the enrollment of my 2-year-old at our University childcare.

What I am truly lucky for is the child-centered cultures that I work in and the amazing colleagues and students I have who accommodate them. The best place in accommodating my children has been in Thailand and Laos where friends and my local nanny have been absolutely fabulous. I have tried to plan this stint of fieldwork so as my 11-year-old is away at a time that includes her school break and to work around a visiting fellowship to the UK at the end of the year. However, this timing has also meant that it is HOT and hard for my kids. My 11-year-old misses her friends, but she has been extraordinarily self-motivated at doing her schoolwork each day (even in the weekends) working on her maths, reading and writing. I actually have to tell her to stop doing it at times so she gets out of the house!

Research highlights thus far have been working on the human remains from the Plain of Jars site in Laos excavated under the direction of Dougald O’Reilly and Louise Shewan. This site is under consideration for World Heritage Status and has gained archaeological interest from researchers around the world. I have also been continuing with my data collection from the infants and children from a Thai Iron Age site (see my post from early this year). This season I have found several very pre-term infants. This is of significance in indicating poor maternal health in this past population, and further supports our developing model of health change during this turbulent time of agricultural and social change.

IMG_3259Our visit to the Plain of Jars site 1.

 

IMG_2969A 24-26 week old foetus from the Iron Age site of Non Ban Jak, Northeast Thailand.

 

IMG_2978Our “super-nanny”.

The most difficult place we have been this year for accommodating children was the US for two major conferences. Childcare was US$200 a day plus extra expenses. Neither of the conferences provided childcare services, which I would have been very happy to pay for. Thank goodness for two local moms at the first conference who traveled to the store to buy us some groceries while we were stuck in a food desert! Despite the expense, both conferences have been extremely beneficial for my research. I have established new collaborations, been invited to visit universities, and they were invaluable for me to keep up-to-date with recent research developments in my field. I was also able to support two of my students who attended the conferences.

I’m happy that my RSL so far has been possible with my children. Without the ability for international travel I can’t do my research or attend major conferences. However, next time I will try to be more realistic about my plans with the kids. They are enjoying their time in Southeast Asia but the logistics and financial issues are a lot of pressure.

We are off to the UK in September until December for my fellowship to work with colleagues in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Durham. Another place with supportive colleagues! I’m looking forward to the next adventure!

IMG_3315The two-year-old helping me re-box some archeological human remains.

IMG_2971.jpgThe 11-year-old hiding in our bedroom for some quiet space to do her school work under the mosquito net.

 

Is this really a 5,000 year old mother and baby?

A recent story of a 4,800-year-old ‘mother’ cradling a baby has been pulling at the heart strings of people worldwide with sensationalist headlines such as “Mother’s enduring love for baby revealed as 5000-year-old fossil found” and “Fossil of 5000-year-old mother cradling baby found in Taiwan”. But is this story everything it’s really cracked up to be?

An archeological team working at a Neolithic site near the city of Taichung since 2014 has unearthed “48 sets of remains”, presumably the number of individual graves, representing the earliest burial site in Taiwan. One of these burials has been described as a mother and baby. However, the news accounts provide little information as to why the researchers believe this to be the case, apart from the placement of the baby with the adult female and the turning of her head to be “looking at her baby” (Figure 1).

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 4.44.59 pmFigure 1: The 4800-year-old “mother and baby” found in Taiwan (source: Reuters)

It is likely that if a female and newborn baby is found in a burial context that they died during childbirth (see my earlier post on fetuses in archaeology). Childbirth is the most critical time for both a mother and baby. This has even led some archaeologists to argue that higher mortality rates of young adult females compared with males represent the hazards of childbirth in the past.

The baby has been described as a foot and a half (about 46 cms), which is about the size of a newborn baby. However, looking at the photos and the videos from the news stories the baby looks too big to be a newborn. The only bones present seem to be from the waist-up. Looking at the relative size of the hands of the archaeologist cleaning the bones and the upper body of the baby (Figure 2), it may be that the size cited is for the upper body, supporting that the infant is older than a newborn. It is difficult to see the cranial bones to assess their development to infer an age-at-death. The cranial bones look thicker than a newborn, but it is unclear as it appears there is some concreted soil adhering to the surface of the bones. Given that this infant seems older than a newborn it is unlikely that they were mother and child.

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 2.47.40 pmFigure 2: Archaeologist cleaning the ‘mother-baby’ burial (photo: Reuters video).

In a small Neolithic community there may have been some kind of relationship between the adult female and the infant, or they may have only been buried together because their deaths coincided. Using a cross cultural example, in the Anglican burial tradition babies were interred with non-maternal women in instances of coinciding death (Roberts and Cox 2003: 253).

To assess if there is a biological relationship between this purported mother-baby pair, ancient DNA analyses could be undertaken, but this is difficult with preservation issues in tropical contexts. We should also keep in mind that a mother-child relationship is not always biological.

The fact that the adult female had her head turned to her left may be the result of the burial environment, as some bones can shift in open spaces such as coffins, or from the weight of soil on the bones. Further research looking at the positions of the bone could give more insight on the mode of burial.

We will have to await the scientific presentation of the findings from this site to evaluate the likelihood for this purported mother and baby.

There needs to be a cultural shift to accommodate children at conferences, and here are some ways to achieve this

Why are children at conferences such an important issue?

It is well known that women are disadvantaged at conferences. Women are generally underrepresented at academic meetings, and research has shown that they are less likely to be invited speakers and in other positions of leadership such as chairing sessions, due to their inaccessibility into men’s research networks.

Recently I have seen an increasing number of stories and comments about the problems that caregivers face when going to academic meetings, and some suggestions to create opportunities for caregivers to attend local and international conferences. Clearly accessibility of conferences is an equity issue, with the ‘burden’ of childcare often falling on women. You may find that your parental leave is over (if you are in a country or institution that has maternity leave), however, it remains very difficult for caregivers to leave their infants and children until they are older. Being unable to attend conferences is extremely disadvantageous for women in their academic progression. Conferences are a way to promote your research, to get feedback on your work, to explore the latest advances in the field, and most importantly to engage with colleagues and form relationships that can often lead to collaborations and other research and service opportunities.

 

Although this equity issue is becoming more visible, in reality, we have a long way to go to break down the barriers for caregivers to attend conferences.

 

The best conference attendance with one of my children was a small Wenner-Gren supported workshop on Childhood in the Past held in Galway, Ireland. When I received the invitation to be a participant I told the organisers that I was expecting a baby in three months time and she would be 6 months old when the conference came around. This was no issue and the workshop organisers were very supportive.

 

Logistically and financially conferences are very difficult for caregivers. In my excitement on the invitation to the Wenner-Gren workshop I didn’t quite remember the challenges I had traveling with the first baby on my own. It was a total of 45 hours of travel from New Zealand to Ireland, with about 30 hours being in the air. Unfortunately, Emirates did not seem to give preference to babies being in the seats that bassinets can be attached, and for some reason unbeknown to me the travel agent had not requested that seat, and I was told at check-in that these were not available to me. At least I had a sling that my baby could sleep in on my front. Needless to say I am NEVER flying with Emirates again.

 

The conference was amazingly inclusive of me my baby. I think this worked for two main reasons: it was small and I could look after her while being in the workshop room with her, and the group of women were all very supportive.

 

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Our Wenner-Gren Workshop Attendees, Ireland, October 2014, Photo courtesy Jaime Koshyk

 

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The ‘grandmother’ of the Archaeology of Childhood, Kathryn Kamp, with my daughter at the Wenner-Gren Workshop, Ireland, October 2014, photo courtesy Jaime Koshyk

 

When my youngest daughter was about 12 weeks old I attended the inaugural Early Career Meeting and workshops organised by the New Zealand Royal Society in Wellington, about a 2 hour flight from my hometown. Personally I gained got a lot out of the conference through the interactive workshops and discussions. I must admit that during the keynotes and lectures when the baby was awake I spent a lot of time standing in the corridor peaking through the backdoor of the conference room swaying a windy and unsettled baby. Other than one well-known woman in the New Zealand science community who approached me and gave her form of ‘support’ by simply saying “well done” and walking off, what struck me was that during all the workshops we had on mentoring, research development, and the research journey, with prominent people talking about women in science and academia in general, it was only at the end of the second day that one of the speakers dared to talk about the “Elephant in the Room” and referred to the baby in the audience. This woman talked about her “broken career” with multiple maternity absences and childcare responsibilities and the obstacles that this posed for her, including the fact that she didn’t have a chance to attend many conferences for years.

 

Traveling and attending conferences is hard with children and it is a gender equity issue that isn’t recognised enough. Although inclusive conferences won’t cause an overall cultural shift in sexism within academia, there are certain ways to lessen this significant obstacle for women and caregivers. Here are some points that conference committees and organisers may consider:

 

  • Have your conference on weekdays. This has also recently been proposed by Victoria Bateman an economics historian using the #endweekendconference hashtag. Having a weekday conference means that for the local participants their normal childcare arrangements are available.
  • If you are organising a bigger conference look into offering free or user-pays childcare at or near the venue. Also make sure that the burden of other babysitting duties doesn’t fall on female graduate students. This is an equity issue in itself, with the burden of care and pastoral roles in academia being held by women. Also as a conference goer don’t be afraid to ask about childcare options.
  • As well as offering student awards and grants for conference attendance, offer family care grants to help researchers offset the cost of childcare. An excellent example of this has been instituted by the American Association of Physical Anthropology’s Committee on Diversity Women’s Initiative offering the Family Care Award Committee for Diversity for their 2016 conference.
  • Include in your advertising and programmes that you are a baby and family-friendly conference. This is a very simple, but effective way that you can encourage the attendance of caregivers.
  • Make sure that the accommodation you recommend is family friendly.

A couple of years ago, I was staying with my eldest daughter who was eight years old in Manchester, UK,  at the recommended conference accommodation, which was a Hall of Residence. After staying there for 2 nights I was told by management that I had to leave as they didn’t allow children in the building due to “safety issues”. I could only find alternative accommodation miles away from the University so I couldn’t interact with any of the other conference goers in the mornings or early evenings and ended up paying over 600 pounds for alternative accommodation and transport to and from the conference. I’ve have, however, had very good experiences at other University Halls. For example, Grey College at Durham University was very accommodating of my daughter and I when I stayed there while on a research visit.

  • When organising a conference venue consider their facilities for babies, e.g. are there baby changing facilities or separate areas that can be used for caregivers and babies?