Happy Mother’s Day to Scientist Moms Everywhere
A career in science is hard enough, but stacking motherhood on top of that takes it to another dimension. This Mother’s Day, we’re thinking about all the great moms who are also great scientists, starting with the woman and outstanding scientist who led the way.
Mother, Scientist, Two-Time Nobel Winner: Marie Curie
Reconciling family life with a scientific career was not easy, physicist and chemist Marie Curie wrote in her biography of her husband and scientific partner Pierre Curie. When the couple’s daughters were born, “I had, of course, to interrupt my work in the laboratory for a while.” But Curie made do, working doggedly in the converted shed that the couple used as a laboratory.
By the time her second daughter was born in 1904, Curie had already won the first of what would eventually be two Nobel Prizes. Tenacity was her watchword. “I never had any other ambition than to be able to work freely for science,” Curie wrote. Her passion was reflected in her daughters; the oldest, Irene Joliot-Curie, followed in her mother’s footsteps, including the reception of a Nobel Prize in 1935.
Mother, Evolutionary Anthropologist, Investigator of Einstein’s Brain: Dean Falk
Florida State University anthropologist Dean Falk was a single mom throughout most of her academic career. Aside from supportive mentors, Falk says one particularly helpful group that helped her as a student was a small group of other single parents at the University of Michigan that got together, cooked food for each other, and went on outings.
She also credits her “very strong work ethic” for helping her manage motherhood and academic work—she still works seven days a week and gets up at 3 or 4 in the morning most days. And her research on human brain evolution has taken an interesting turn thanks to grandmotherhood. After her granddaughter Eve was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, Falk started studying the condition.
When her daughters were young, “I thought at the time that I wanted my girls to go on and become scientists,” Falk says. “But as they got older and decided what they would do they were like, ‘Mom, you work too hard!’” Instead of science, they opted for the relatively relaxing careers of banking and law.
Dean Falk will talk about the evolution of human uniqueness in the 2015 World Science Festival program Planet of the Humans: The Leap to the Top, on Friday May 29 at the NYU Skirball Center. BUY TICKETS »
Mother, Developmental Psychologist, Childhood Development Researcher: Tamar Kushnir
The culture does seem to be getting a bit better for scientists who have children. Tamar Kushnir, a developmental psychologist at Cornell University with two kids, says she’s lucky to have a very supportive academic department. Given that most of her supervisors and mentors write about parenthood, they “understand the demands of caregiving at that age, so they’re pretty understanding,” she says. Also, after attaining tenure, she says, she’s been able to adjust her work schedule to nontraditional hours that fit the demands of childrearing.
Motherhood, Kushnir says, “is no question, the best thing I’ve ever done in my life, but I wouldn’t call it another job. It’s part of my identity. When kids are very little, there are definitely some job aspects to raising them. But it gets more manageable and you get used to it. I can’t imagine these people not in my life.”