Academic careers have traditionally been conceptualized as pipelines, through which young scholars move seamlessly from graduate school to tenure-track positions. This model often fails to capture the experiences of female Ph.D. recipients, who become tenure-track assistant professors at lower rates than do their male counterparts. What do these women do instead? We use panel data from the 1983-1995 Surveys of Doctorate Recipients to explore the early careers of Ph.D. recipients. Our results show that female doctorate recipients are disproportionately likely to be employed as adjunct faculty or exit the paid labor force, especially if they have young children. Contrary to conventional wisdom, adjunct professorships provide a better opportunity for getting a tenure-track job down the road than do non-teaching positions inside or outside of academia. Collectively these findings show that the academic life course is both complex and permeable.

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