Interview with Grace Alenoma on Parenting & Academia in Ghana

By: Daniel D. Cooper
Everyone’s story is a little bit different. Here at aKIDemic Life we are keen to share some of that diversity in experiences to help build awareness of what other parents and carers are going through, their working conditions, and their aspirations. Here, we interview Dr Grace Alenoma, an academic working at University for Development Studies in northern Ghana about her experiences as a mother and as a researcher.

Q1. Tell us a bit about your career and family.

My career in academia started in October 2007. I was employed as a lecturer with an M.Phil. degree. However, soon after my engagement, it became necessary for me to study for a PhD degree. This involved working out admission and a scholarship and this required a lot of work. My career entails both teaching, supervision of students’ projects and research. For the first seven years as a lecturer, I handled very large classes and therefore high numbers of scripts were often on my table for marking. As a mother and an African wife, there is always too much to do at the family level due to gender role stereotyping and social expectations of women, wives and mothers. Caught in all these, the research aspect of my career suffered. As a mother academic in my institution, work is allocated without any consideration of a mother having extra responsibility at home. It is the same for men and women; the promotion requirements in the institution, at which published research output is paramount, is the same for women (mothers) and men. The challenges notwithstanding, I obtained my PhD a little over a year ago having studied abroad with a scholarship, and have also just applied for promotion having met the promotion requirements.

My family until recently comprised of my children, a niece, my half sibling, my husband and myself. Only my husband and I were adults and all the others were children. The 1st and 2nd born of my children are female and the last two are males. The female children are in tertiary and secondary education now, and so, join us when they are on vacation. The boys 12 and 2 years, currently live with me and their father.

Q2. Tell us a bit about the university where you work.

The University for Development Studies is a public University located in northern Ghana. It has four campuses spread across the three northern regions. Unlike most universities in Ghana and in the world, it runs a trimester system where the third trimester is used for Field Practicals.

Q3. How did having children affect your career path and trajectory?

At all stages of an academic career, having children puts stress on a woman and can cause a delay in the completion of studies and promotions, if the mother is not willing to sacrifice a lot of other things including sleep and friends. Certainly, having children has delayed my career progression. The requirements for promotions require a lot of work, which I was unable to meet earlier, due to my multiple roles. But, there is the advantage that as the children grow, they become resources that can offer help to the mother in both her academic and family life

Q4. What are the major challenges of ‘planning’ a career as an academic in Ghana around children?

  • No institutional support
  • No extended family support
  • There appears to be an assumption of equal opportunities for the mother academic, for example work is planned and shared without the mother academic in mind. E.g. you may be assigned teaching in the early hours such as at 7:00 am or late in the day such as at 5:00 pm
  • When there is work available from which an academic could earn extra money, women are often excluded either using their gender or role as a mother as an excuse

    Q5. How do you a believe a parent’s or future parent’s personal or financial situation impact on their ability to have a successful career and have children?

    A parent or future parent’s financial situation can impact on her career positively if she has enough funds or money and negatively if she has limited funds or money. With enough money she can employ someone to help her in domestic activities and mind the baby or children at home so that the mother can concentrate on her work. This can contribute to the mother’s effectiveness and improve upon her output e.g research which can then earn her promotion early. With limited funds the mother does almost everything at the career level as well as the family level. As a result she is overwhelmed and her progress in her career is slowed.

    If you are interested in Grace’s research, check out her article: Parental Perspectives on Children Streetism in Tamale in Ghana