"...when our baby was only three weeks old my husband was diagnosed with a near-fatal illness. His illness was life-altering for all of us, though fortunately he is fine now. We had a second child, which was a decision we had to make before we knew if he would recover. It was a difficult time."
In 2009, an administrator at Tufts who deals with faculty affairs had been hearing from female faculty members with young children that they were really struggling. Several women had spoken directly to her about quitting their tenure-track positions because they felt like it was all too much to handle. So she put these women in touch with each other, and organized a meeting for tenure-track women with young children. Elizabeth was among them.
"We all sat around and talked about our struggles with leaves, and stopping the tenure clock, and child care, and hostile departmental cultures. It was clear that there was a huge variation in the women’s experiences largely because the university’s policies were inadequate—so, depending on who you knew and which department you were in, you might get the support you needed, and the accommodations you were (perhaps) entitled to, or you might not."
Soon Elizabeth became the chair of the Work-Life task force and then formed a standing faculty committee on work-life. What started out as a group of mothers concerned mostly about child-related issues, quickly became a major force advocating for better policies and supports across the entire life course and career, “hire to retire,” for everyone. Based on the task force’s recommendations, the Deans completely re-wrote all of nonacademic leave policies and created several new ones.
"Parenthood and my husband’s illness have taught me that there’s a lot in life I can’t control, no matter how hard I try, no matter how much I want it, or no matter how driven I am. But I think I had to learn through experience how to let things go.
I’m not good at giving inspirational advice [about being a parent and having a successful career]. I guess I would say, it can be done, but it may not look the way you think it’s going to look. And it won’t be easy or pretty, and you’ll probably be mad a lot, and exhausted, and you’ll feel like a failure sometimes even when the reason things are so hard is because the cards are stacked against you, not because you’re doing anything wrong. But it’s worth it to fight to get the life you want. After all, you only get one shot at it, unless you believe in reincarnation. But that’s another story.