Catholic women as college professors?


Hi all,

I am a university student seriously considering a career in academia. I am also in a very serious relationship with a wonderful, Catholic young man :) We plan to be married in about two and a half years, after I finish my Bachelor's Degree and he completes his Master's.

While I would truly love to be a college professor, I am concerned about the feasibility of balancing research and teaching with marriage and motherhood. I will be required to get a doctoral degree, which is four or five additional years of schooling before I can even get a job. We are reluctant to wait more than five years to have our first child, so I will in all likelihood have a very young son or daughter when I embark upon the job search - which, I fear, might make me undesirable to employers.

Even more, I worry that I will not be able to spend much time with my children during their earliest and most formative years.

I am the daughter of a working mother, so I know what it is like to balance a career and a family. I am mostly anxious about balancing both a young career and a young family.

Are any of you ladies employed in acadmia? Is anyone familiar with universities and their policies concerning maternity leave? I would love some input and advice!


It is illegal for a future employer to ask you about your family or marital status. I would never volunteer such information to a future employer, either. Of course, if you are already known to same future employer, they might already know this about you.

I am not in academia, so I can’t help you with anything practical there. Hopefully somebody will be able to give you some help :slight_smile:

I returned to school when my first four were very young, and it was actually quite doable. I was able to use nap times, etc, for studying. Once the kids were older, and it was time to start taxiing them to after-school activities and such, I think it would have been harder. Granted, we are not talking PhD here; I was in nursing school.

I would think that once you become a professor, your job would actually be fairly conducive to family life. I do realize if you want to advance in your career, you would need to research and be published and such, but perhaps advancing that way could be put on hold until the kids are a bit older? In other words, work on getting your PhD before kids are school-age, then work Professor’s hours while they are in the early stages of their school career, and save the heavy duty research, writing, publishing until they are a bit older? Not being in academia, I don’t know if that approach is workable career-wise, though.


It is illegal for employeers to ask the marital status, however, full-time college professors have rigorous and unpredictable schedules and during the school year often work longer than 40 hours. Then again, you have summers more or less to yourself. As someone who was recently in college I can stay that it is very disruptive to have a professor leave mid-semester.

I’ve also had professors who’ve had to drag their sick kids to class and have them sit in the back with crayons/quiet toy because it was impossible to get child care last minute and unlike an office worker no one could replace them.


I got married after I finished my BA, and then started Law school. I became pregnant on my honeymoon and had my baby 2 weeks before finals. It was actually pretty doable. The biggest problem I had was papers, because I found it difficult to sit for that long and concentrate while pregnant. My school had an ok policy. I could have taken up to 2 weeks off, and put my finals off for a month(?), law school is interesting because the ABA required a certain amount class hours.

I ended up missing one week and then took my finals on time, I did this because I didn’t have class in the summer and I just took it off. I do worry about spending enough time with my son, but so far we have worked it out so that my DH watches DS when I am in class, and I watch him when DH is working. One thing about homework, is that I find it more difficult to do my homework now that I have to watch a baby. He doesn’t let me do much, grabs the paper and books, wants attention. :shrug:
Another thing to think about is where you go to school. I moved 1000 miles away from my family to go to school, so Dh and I were all by ourselves when we had the baby. We plan on moving back after I graduate. Sometimes with graduate school, it is difficult to stay in a particular area.

I think your plan is doable, Once you actually become a professor, you have more leway and I think it is a good career to have when you have children. I hope it works for you, Prayers.


It would help a bit to know your intended field and that of your spouse to be. Maternity leave policies vary very widely. My institution permits an entire semester off but you must “pay back” by teaching overloads = to your semester teaching load. One can “bank” these courses as well. Many just permit 6 weeks off in which one’s colleagues must cover your classes or adjuncts may teach your classes until you return. Both are unsatisfactory from a student’s point of view. The more important issue is the scarcity of tenure track jobs. Because of the economy, many faculty have delayed retirement and many schools have cut back faculty or have put freezes on any new (some include replacement) faculty. And, if your spouse is an academic, it becomes all but impossible to find two tenure tracks in the same region. I know of one academic couple who combine one full time and one part time position with each teaching a 3/4 load. And the demands on a newly hired faculty member can be very intense when tenure is at stake. Once tenure is achieved, the pressure does ease off a bit but still you must have a on-going research agenda, serve on committees, etc., etc. if one wants promotion and pay raises. On the plus side, an academic schedule can be very flexible. Most schools make summer teaching optional (there are exceptions to this), there are frequent breaks fcor the holidays and (especially post tenure) you really don’t have a boss. I would strongly suggest that you complete your Ph.D. before entering the job market. The pressures of being ABD are really intense. All in all, an academic career is very compatible with raising a young family. I have serveral young women with families who are tenured in my department and all would agree that it many ways it is the ideal job to raise a family. One can take off easily if the children are sick, the environment is generally supportive and the job itself is very satisfying. And, there are sabbaticals and opportunities for unpaid leave. I hope this helps. Good luck in your studies.


In addition to knowing your area of study, it would be helpful to know if you want to teach at a Tier 1 (Ph.D. granting research institution) or at a university where teaching matters more than research.


An additional factor is the sort of institution you may be interested in. A large university may have greater requirements for its professors to publish scholarly works, i.e., “publish or perish,” than will a smaller college.


Generally, this field is parent-friendly. There is a lot of schedule flexibility, at least once you have a permanent position.

I’m not a woman, but I wouldn’t say put off kids until after the PhD. It doesn’t get easier (neither kids nor PhD).

It helps to have a supportive spouse who is okay taking care of the kids & house if you need time to write or research.

As someone else mentioned, much depends on the field you choose and the university you attend for graduate studies and where you ultimately want to teach. Institutions that focus primarily on teaching will require less research for tenure and promotion but you will find yourself teaching four courses a semester. Research-oriented institutions will give you less teaching but require publications. Depending on your field you may not have a choice–the academic job market is not good in many of them. (You can check for a sense of what your chosen field looks like at the moment, though this is a slow time of the year for hiring. It picks up in the late summer/fall.)

The other thing to consider if you are in a field in the social sciences or humanities is the level of secular/anti-Catholic/anti-religious bias you may encounter. You will encounter some. In some cases you may need to bite your tongue and not respond to some stupid remark especially if you are a grad student, adjunct, or junior faculty member. In some case you may experience overt discrimination. There are a lot of people of faith and a lot of good Catholics in academia, but they tend to keep their heads down. Strong faith and a certain tolerance for ignorant secular bigots is needed. Unless you are lucky enough to work for a strongly Catholic college.



Thank you everyone for the kind and helpful replies!

I am studying - and hope to teach - English literature. I have discussed this with some of my professors and understand that the job market is very difficult right now, but that it might possibly be better in six or seven years when I enter it; I also recognize that there is a great deal of anti-Christian bias in this field. That is partially what draws me to it - I feel that this will only change if greater numbers of learned Christians enter academia and challenge the prevailing, secular doctrines.

Both my boyfriend and I are currently attending a "Tier 1 school. He is a senior and I am a sophomore - he plans to earn his Master’s while I finish my BA, and will therefore be working a “real job” while I am earning my degree. He is a mechanical engineer.

As for the school I hope to attend - that depends a lot on where he can find a job and where I get accepted, but my hope would be to earn it from another institution of this caliber. My dream would be to teach at a Catholic university :slight_smile:

Happy Sunday!


Charlotte, something else to look into is childcare provided by the University. I did my BA in England and the Uni had very high quality childcare on campus available to students and staff. I did further study at two American universities but was not so aware of childcare there.

I hope you pursue your desired career. A note of caution. I abandoned my MA halfway through because after my first child my sleep deprivation was so bad I just could not get through the reading I needed to do. I continued for a year but my GPA fell from a 3.9 to 3.5 or something. I thought I would take a year or two off but had more babies instead! :wink: I’m now applying for an MSc at the University of London, England to start this fall. I also am hoping Fordham will accept some of the completed credits of my MA to complete with them long distance, so I think I’ll do that after the MSc.

I would not put off having babies when you’re young as you’ll have much more energy to care for them. It’s much easier to pick up further education at 35 and up than to leave conceiving your children until later (in terms of less chance of conception).

A compromise would be, do your Masters and begin your Phd and then start a family, so you are on track and if you do decide to take time off you will at least have a lot under your belt. Dissertations can take forever anyway so you have more time to complete a Phd.

Much of this will depend on how much help with the children you can expect. If your husband and family can help, if you can afford a mother’s helper and if there is childcare offered by the University it could be doable. Alot depends on your energy level and what kind of personality your child(ren) have! I would not compromise time with your children when they are three and under. These are crucial formative years for them to put down the essentials of a healthy personality. Their ability to trust, to feel secure, loved and wanted and to have confidence in themselves and others. If your children are happy and secure at 3 and above it is much easier for all concerned when they are separated from you to attend preschool and school.

I have kids who are 9, 6.5 and 3.5 and they will be 10,7 and 4 when I start studying again this fall. I have been out of paid work and education for 10 years (31-41). In my case my husband had an intense work schedule and often worked 7 days a week. We had no family within 1500 miles and we also moved 4-5 times. We also homeschooled for a while and built a new house. I guess I could’ve returned earlier but I wanted to have a parent available to the children when they were small and I personally could not take anymore stress than we already had.

Every family is different so there are many factors to take into consideration. If you have a lot of support in terms of practical help then you may be able to take minimal time off.

My mother was a school teacher and it was great to spend all of summer and all the school holidays with her. As well as the fact that she was at home relatively early each day. I know this is somewhat different and she still had plenty of work to mark at home but education as a field is generally friendly to working mothers.


Hey! Not going into academia (not yet, anyway, haha), but I’m looking into joint MBA/JD programs and the like. I plan on working for a few years before grad school, but I’m going into International Relations, so I know grad school is an inevitability (one year till I finish my BA!). I started college thinking I was going to medical school, but that didn’t work out.

There is no Church teaching stating women’s roles in the career world. Further, there are Catholic and Orthodox ladies on this site who do hold careers in a variety of fields and work out other arrangements. Sometimes, Daddy stays at home for a little while. Sometimes Mommy does. Sometimes you find a good daycare (and, despite what some may tell you, not all daycares are the spawn of Satan). Sometimes, it’s a relative or godparent who watches the child.

I’d say don’t worry about it yet, until you ARE actually getting married. You’ve got at least two years before you can. And you won’t know what will happen. Your career plans can change. Your relationship can change. And even so, you won’t know until you HAVE a baby what you want to do. So, while it’s good to have foresight, don’t become preoccupied with it. If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans…


One thing to consider is that for getting a job as a professor at a Tier 1 university, all that matters is your research. They aren’t going to care about whether you have children or not, but they aren’t also going to care about any excuses due to having children either.

You will be competing against childless women and men, who can devote 100% of their time to their research, and whoever is the best wins, regardless of what else they had going on in their lives. It’s a cut-throat world in academia.


Wanted to add, the professor that’s become a mentor to me is a Catholic:) She encouraged me to go to Guadalupe when I study in Mexico:) And she’s been married for over thirty years and has an adult son. Personally I love seeing professors like that. Young Catholic women in college need mentors. I think part of being a mother and having that vocation is making this world better for other children as well as your own. For some of us, that means having careers in academia, in government, medicine, law, business, or other places. Not all women are called to careers and not all women are called to be SAHM’s. God has a unique call for each of us.


We have different working conditions here in Serbia (veeery short hours for university teachers, long maternity leave, etc.), so it’s really the ideal career for a woman and mother.

One piece of advice that seems to be universal, though, is: don’t wait to have kids. If you have a supportive spouse, it’s easier to juggle young kids with research and writing, which is flexible, than with what comes later. I finished my M.Sc. thesis when my daughter was 18 months old, and am now working on my doctoral dissertation with another baby on the way (I’m insanely planning to write it while on maternity leave :shrug:).

If you wait for tenure, you might wait too long. :o

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