The Timing of Motherhood While Earning a PhD in Engineering

Veronika Paksi, Beata Nagy, Gábor Király
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 11  •  2016  •  pp. 285-304
In spite of tremendous efforts, women are still under-represented in the field of science. Post-graduate education and early tenure track employment are part of the academic career establishment in research and development during periods that usually overlap with family formation. Though women tend to leave science mainly after obtaining their PhD, and the timing of motherhood plays a vital role in a successful research career, qualitative data on this life period are scarce. Our paper focuses on how the normative and institutional contexts shape female PhD engineering students’ family plans. The research was based on intersections of life course and risk and uncertainty theories. Using qualitative interviews we explored how contradicting social norms of childbearing cause tensions in postgraduate students’ lives, and how the different uncertainties and risks permeate young researchers’ decisions on early life events. We concluded that, despite the general pattern of delaying motherhood among higher educated women, these students struggle against this postponement, and they hardly have any good options to avoid risk stemming from uncertainties and from some characteristics of studying and working in engineering. Find-ings of this research may call the attention of stakeholders to possible intervention points.
PhD, timing of motherhood childbearing, women, uncertainty, life course, engineering
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