Looking Beyond "Having it All"

Fisher Professors Share their Perspectives on Balancing Family Lives with Academic Careers.

Being successful in academia is a long and difficult journey. Obtaining the doctorate degree necessary for an academic position takes a lot of time and effort. Even after obtaining a PhD, the balancing act only becomes more complicated! Being a professor requires a lot of time dedicated to students both in and out of the classroom as well time spent pursuing one’s own research. Now imagine balancing that with a family, particularly you’re a woman who, in addition to dealing with the pressure to perform at work, also faces societal expectations to bear the lion’s share of running the household.  

According to the American Association of University Women, women make up less than half of all tenure track faculty and 1/3 of all full professors in academic institutions and most advancement opportunities in higher education coincide with women’s child-bearing years.

Fisher professors, Drs. Michelle Miller-Groves (MMG) and Kathryn Shea (KS) describe how they navigate balancing highly successful academic careers with their family lives. Although their journeys are different, there are a lot of similarities between the two: both are the heads of their respective departments (Marketing for MMG and Sport Management for KS), both have recently given birth, and both shared insightful perspectives on being women in academia.

Q: What made you decide to pursue academia when there are so many industry opportunities in your fields?

MMG: I had my fair share of industry positions before entering academia. It was the right time for me. I wanted to leverage my skills sets in a different way that had a greater societal impact.

KS: My coaching and athletics administration experience motivated me to teach sport management. It was clear from my experience that there needed to be better trained sport managers in the industry. The way that sport is managed has an incredibly important impact on the experience of athletes, coaches, and fans.

Before the pandemic, Professor Shea would go to professional sports games with her students. (Photo taken Pre-COVID) 

Q: Society tells women in all fields that balancing raising a family and pursuing one’s career is “hard.” Do you think that’s any more true in academia? What are pressures you or other women you know have felt that are specific to academia?

MMG: Hard isn’t even the right word. It’s exhausting! To start from the top, I’m the youngest of five children. Everything was always about me. Then I became a mother and all of a sudden, I ended up last on my own list of priorities. And while American society glorifies this, it is quite detrimental to my family unit. If I’m not okay, then the family is not okay. Now, add any full-time career to motherhood, and a person is already overworked.

KS: The process of earning a doctorate (described above) is grueling and requires an enormous amount of time, attention, and energy. It is very difficult to have children and earn income to support a family while you are going through this process. Then, once you complete this process and secure an academic job, the job often requires you to move to wherever the job opportunity is. This is difficult to do with a family since all members of the family have to uproot their lives to move. Finally, once you have an academic position, you have the important responsibility of supporting the success of your students in and outside of the classroom, contributing to the goals of the college or university, and pursuing research and staying relevant in the field. Balancing these responsibilities, along with the responsibilities of having a family, is no easy task

Q: Do you feel supported at Fisher?

MMG: Life is already a balancing act, so it was important for me to be in a more flexible position to still be fully present at work, but also to do the same for my home life. That said, Fisher has been quite gracious towards me during my journey into motherhood and I’m almost certain I would not have found that familial aspect at any other corporate firm I worked for previously.

KS: The support and encouragement I have received has truly made the difference in my ability to have a fulfilling career and family life. I have been extremely lucky to work at a college that values its professors and supports their efforts to succeed both in and outside of the classroom.

Dr. Miller Groves, Director of the Marketing Department at Fisher College and seven students in badges

Dr. Miller Groves with a group of marketing students at Inbound, one of Boston's largest marketing networking events. (photo taken Pre-COVID) 

In our society, so much pressure is put on individual women to create the balance. What if any institutional changes do you think should be made (not at fisher, but in the academia industry in general) to create a more inclusive and encouraging environment for women?

KS: Wow, this is a tough question. Many of the changes that I would like to see are changes that need to be made across industries, not just academia. The United States pales in comparison to many countries when it comes to providing support for family medical leave after a child is born. Equity in pay is another change that needs to be made. Societal expectations create difficulty dynamics for women in and outside of the classroom and these dynamics will take generations to change. Institutions can offer childcare services, more support for family medical leave, and have processes in place to ensure there is equity in pay.

What do you hope your children (particularly daughters) learn from seeing not only your success, but your passion for what you do?

MMG: I hope my daughter learns the value of independence, creating space for herself in this world to show up as a whole person, and to push pass any internal doubts that she doesn’t deserve what’s in store for her. I hope when my daughter sees my work, she doesn’t just see the person who was first in her family’s lineage to earn a doctorate. I don’t just want her to see a grateful mother. I want her to see me, Michelle, the woman who existed first, before all the additional blessings came. I want her to know a strong sense of self, so that she is naturally intuitive to pursue what’s right for her, and to pass on things that are not. Ultimately, I just want her to have space in this world to simply be a happy person.

KS: I hope my children learn to set high goals for themselves and that they find joy in the process of achieving these goals. Ultimately, I hope they learn to define success for themselves and that they are happy in the life they choose to live.

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