Recently Galdralag and I had a discussion about our respective careers in academia and whether our choices were practical or not. Academic jobs pay fairly well, but they are really difficult to get. If you choose an academic field that doesn't have a practical application, and you are not able to get one of the few tenure track position, you don't have a lot of options. Also, they are definitely not 9 to 5 jobs. Academic jobs involve a lot of pressure to publish, and to obtain external funding in order to do your job which leads to long working hours. This conversation lead me to reflect on why I chose the career I did, and how men and women in the church decide on majors during college. Here are some examples that I have been thinking of:
1-I largely chose my field because it was something I was passionate about. I didn't think much about the practical side of things like the marketability of my skill set or the job placement rates of the school programs I entered. For a long time I had the idea in the back of mind that either I would not get married and would use my field to support myself, or I would get married and not use my field to support myself. I thought very little about whether my career could support a spouse or a family. It was always something that I could do if I wanted to if I got married.
2-As an undergrad, my husband started out as an art major. He was very interested in photography and thought that he would like to pursue that professionally. After his mission, he decided that it would be hard to support a family with that type of career so he switched to plant sciences.
3-My sister overheard some women at church talking about the majors they had picked as undergrads. They concluded that they picked something practical because at the time they weren't sure if they would be getting married or not. One woman lamented, "If I would have know that I was going to get married I would have just studied something fun like piano performance."
4-At a family wedding my uncle, who is a engineering professor at BYU, asked me how I thought they could get more BYU women interested in engineering. As we continued to talk about this I asked him what the job placement rate was for their graduates. He said that it was very good, one of the highest at BYU. I commented that fields like that may be more practical for women who want marketable skills after only getting an undergrad degree. Fields that are commonly chosen by women (like the Humanities), often require an advanced degree to be marketable.
Overall, I think that men in the church have the tendency to think about marketability, while women tend to choose fields more based on their interests. I think that part of this arises from the way that we in the LDS church talk about working women. We focus on working women who want extra money for luxuries or work so they can get a lot of praise. We talk less often about working women who earn money to support themselves or their families.
Recently on the Exponent, Caroline wrote an excellent post about how women and men can support each other in their roles. One question that was raised is how women could support men in the providing role. While I was reading her words, I was thinking "Wouldn't it be incredible if every young woman and young man in the church was encouraged to train in a field that was both marketable and something that they enjoyed?" For individuals who are lucky enough to go to college, wouldn't it make sense to encourage all of them to come away with a marketable skill set? I can see so many advantages to this. Women would have more of the option to work if they needed or wanted to. Men and women who marry would have more options and flexibility in their choices if they both had marketable skills. Some of the pressure to provide would be taken off men and they may feel more freedom to explore fields they enjoy instead of just ones that are practical. So, when we talk to YW who go to college I think we need to take the focus away from how their chosen field might help them be a better SAHM. Instead, I think we should be helping them think about what they might enjoy but also what will allow them to provide for themselves and their families.