The new issue of Research Magazine, full of great stories about Franklin College faculty, features a refreshed story we have highlighted in the past: archeologist Suzanne Pilaar Birch on the intersection of pregancy and fieldwork
In March 2017, Suzanne Pilaar Birch turned to Twitter for help. The archaeologist and UGA assistant professor was considering an invitation to go on a dig in Cyprus, an offer that seemed irresistible—except that she would be six months pregnant. She wanted some reassurance that she wasn’t crazy, so she tweeted: “Anyone else #pregnantinthefield? How far along were you, how far did you travel, how long was fieldwork? (Maybe even, what did you wear?)”
Pilaar Birch (who tweets as @suzie_birch) had a built-in audience through TrowelBlazers, an online community she co-founded that celebrates women in archaeology, geology and paleontology. The response was overwhelming, with women posting photos and details about their gestational fieldwork such as “living in a van … and digging holes across Iceland” at five months, and “7+ months along while sampling in Death Valley.” The photos were taken in locations including Argentina, China, Belize, Kenya, Oman, Kazakhstan and Australia, and some dated as far back as the ’70s.
With those examples in mind, Pilaar Birch made her decision, tweeting: “On my way to Cyprus for two weeks of fieldwork! Bring it on! #pregnantinthefield.”
“It was nice to have the reassurance that for years women have been doing fieldwork while pregnant, even if it was not being talked about,” she says.
In December, #pregnantinthefield was named one of the top 10 hashtags for 2017 by LiveScience.com, a science and technology news site. Pilaar Birch hopes it will help women who find themselves debating the questions she faced last year. She also sees it as part of a larger conversation about what it’s like to be a woman in science, especially in light of the #MeToo movement.
“We need to talk about things that affect women if we want women to be more equal,” she says.
Hear, hear! This is one of the most important stories to emerge from this or any university: Women scientists pursuing professional ambitions and building families at the same time. We want you to have it all, and believe these experiences can be mutually reinforcing. But it takes leaders, extraordinary people at the forefront of living by example, and Dr. Pilaar Birch is definitey one of those.
Image: Photo of Suzanne Pilaar Birch by Terry Allen