Researcher’s tweet on balancing demands of academia with importance of family goes viral

When social scientist Rebecca Gruby decided to tweet on March 25, she had no idea her post would go viral, reaching more than 1 million people, with nearly 19,000 likes and more than 1,200 retweets to date. Her followers doubled overnight, too.

Gruby’s post featured a photo of her, smiling as she held not only her tenure and promotion letter from the Colorado State University provost but also her young daughter. She also shared the news that she has a baby on the way.

Gruby, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources, recently sat down with SOURCE to discuss the tweet heard ’round the world and to offer her thoughts on how to strike a balance between the workplace and family life.

What was your response, when you saw the outpouring of support for this tweet?

It’s pretty inspiring at the end of the day. Hopefully, it will make a difference for someone and will change their trajectory or influence them to think a different way.

John Hayes, the dean of the Warner College of Natural Resources, hand-delivered the tenure and promotion letter to me. That was a really nice moment. It was meaningful and signified the importance of the achievement.

How active are you on social media, and why choose Twitter to share this big news?

I tend to read more than I post. When I do post, I’ve typically been more of a retweet-er. This is the most personal tweet I’ve ever made. I’ll typically tweet my papers or other people’s research.

This took some thought, posting a photo of me and my daughter. It was a deliberate message. It’s important, particularly for other female scholars and aspiring scholars, to see examples like this, especially when there’s still so much advice out there about how you can’t have a family and pursue an academic career at the same time.

Rebecca Gruby, daughter Adina and husband Matthew Bowers
Researcher Rebecca Gruby, daughter Adina and husband Matthew Bowers, who also works at CSU. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Gruby

I’m part of a Facebook group called Academic Mamas, which has around 16,000 members. I’m not unique in striking this balance between work and raising a family. There are plenty of posts within that group like the one that I wrote. But I decided that it was important that a broader audience saw stories like ours,  which is why I decided to post it initially on Twitter.

I thought my post would be for a small-ish but broader audience. I only had 530 followers on Twitter at the time. Now, I have almost 1,450 followers. I was watching the numbers increase with complete and utter surprise.

Looking back, how do you feel about that advice you got (which you didn’t follow)?

It was discouraging but it never discouraged me. I always knew I wanted a family and an academic career.

I was extremely lucky to have rock star female mentors and role models throughout my doctoral degree and junior faculty years. They modeled the lifestyle I wanted and showed me how it was possible to have children and an academic career at the same time.

Having said that, I don’t want my post to give the impression that it’s easy or that there are no barriers. That’s certainly not the case. I’ve been lucky to have amazing mentors and a family that has supported me.

My mom came with me to do fieldwork in Palau when my daughter was four months old. We were there for 10 days during a severe drought. It was difficult, but also a great privilege. There’s no way I could have done that without my family.Rebecca Gruby and daughter Adina, in a carrier in Palau

I’ll be taking my new baby back to Palau when she’s three or four months old, and my mom will be coming with me, again.

My husband, Matthew Bowers, who works in the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, has also been incredibly supportive of my career and our family, by being a hands-on father.  He has been a huge part of my success. My department has been supportive. It’s not just about me.

What’s the reaction been like, in terms of comments? Any favorite replies or responses that you’d like to share?

There were a lot of comments like: I really needed to see this. Thank you for sharing this because I’m just starting my Ph.D. I’ve been told something similar. I needed to see this was possible.

Other women have said, “I’ve done it, too.”

The comments I was really glad to see were the ones from people who had received the same advice I had received but didn’t seem to have an alternative model. So, my post showed them that there’s another possibility.

What would you like people to know about your research?

My research focuses on understanding and informing marine conservation.

There was a comment from someone who saw what my research focus was and said, “How appropriate that a mother is working in this field and thinking about the future of our environment for future generations.”

It’s definitely true that having children has increased my passion for my work.  The goal of my research is to increase sustainability and social well-being, ultimately.

Learn more about Gruby’s research in an article she wrote for The Conversation.