Well, it’s Fall again. It’s getting cooler, time to start new classes, and the time of year for academic applications of varying kinds. As you may be aware, academia’s clock is typically a 9 month affair. All transitions start with Fall-time applications: high school → college, college → graduate school, postdoc → faculty. The ability to put together your application, get an interview, and make it to the next level is essential to a successful academic career. Being that it is the application time of year, I thought we could have some posts on how to apply. That being said, I need your help! I cannot remember what it was like to be a high school student applying to college. I vaguely remember applying to graduate school. I remember through cloudy lenses what it was like to apply for tenure track jobs, but I only applied once to one kind of place, and there are so many options. So, send a post or a comment!
Here is one more story on kids. Enjoy!
Both of my children were the result of unplanned pregnancies. How two biologists had two unplanned pregnancies I cannot explain. But in retrospect, we couldn’t have planned it any better.
I got pregnant with my first child about 4 months into my postdoc. I was terrified to tell my IvyLeagueWorldFamousAdvisor. But he and everyone else were very supportive. One MaleFaculty told me he liked having pregnant women/mothers work in his lab – they were focused and driven and got more done in 8 hours than many graduate students did in 16 hours. Three years later I had my second child. Yes, having children put a dent in my work output and my postdoc years were longer than the current average. But I wouldn’t do it any other way.
What does it take to be a scientist (or lawyer or Google executive or …) with children? First, you must have a good support system. This includes your spouse or partner, your advisor/boss, and your lab mates. And day care providers. We shared a nanny with another family, and I realized after one week of her caring for my first born that he was much better off with her during the day than he would be with me. She was (still is) a saint. Second, you must be focused and driven. I didn’t have time to hang out chatting in the lunch room. When asked “how do you do it?” I would say “you just put on the blinders and take it one day at a time.” Third, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I often asked my lab mates to fix cells, change the antibody on my western blot, or start overnight bacterial cultures for me. Fourth, take my Mother’s advice: Don’t worry about how clean your house is (play with your kids rather than fuss about such frivolous things). And don’t make a battle out of food (choose your battles).
When my kids were toddlers, I was shocked when our pediatrician said she was quitting her job to stay home with her pre-teen and teenaged children. She told me they needed her more now than when they were toddlers. I did not and could not understand. I said “But the hardest years are behind you. How could you quit your job now?” Ten or so years later, I totally understand. When they hit middle school, they need you in a different way. It’s not “sit on the floor and color with me” kind of needing you, it’s “be near (but not too near) me and/or drive me to soccer” kind of needing you. You can’t just hire a babysitter anymore. And that time driving in the car is so important for conversations! So the really good thing about having kids as a postdoc is that when your kids hit middle school, you will be post-tenure and able to set your work load and schedule. I say no to a lot of things. I often leave before 3 pm to be home after school. I now get a lot of work done sitting at the kitchen table after school or sitting on the sidelines at soccer practice.
Is this a XX thing? My husband does not feel the same need to be there for our kids in their teen years. He also works in industry and his job is much less flexible than mine. So is it that he can’t leave work at 3 pm and thus doesn’t even entertain the possibility of being home for our kids after school or is it that his XY makeup prevents him from feeling that he needs to be home for our kids after school? Maybe we’ll have time to talk about it when the kids are off to college.
How about your story? Post or leave a comment!
Here is another very successful WomanOfScience’s story about how she decided to have kids in GradSchool.
Being half Mormon (other half Jewish–crazy mix I know), I decided to get knocked up at the tender young age of 30 when I was in graduate school at MajorMedicalSchoolinCA. Why? I went in for a general check up to obtain more birth control pills and the nurse, a non-native English speaker, asked me if I was planning to have children. I said the usual, “yes, eventually.” Her response: “Well, I wouldn’t wait too long or you will have mongrels,” (Yes, mongrels!) I think she meant mongoloid, as in Down-Syndrome, but that scared me into action. I thought about it on my way home: I had been with my boyfriend for ten years, I did eventually want to have kids, we weren’t getting any younger, and probably there was a lot less pressure in grad school than in the later steps of my career. In Utah, where I was from, I would be a grandma by now, whereas in San Francisco, I was a virtual teenager. The other thing that my women friends in school and I were noticing is that all of the women faculty that we knew at MajorMedicalSchoolinCA never had kids and many of them didn’t even have a significant other. While we looked up to these magnificent women, we thought it was time to push the process a little further and try to ‘have it all’. Damn the torpedos full speed ahead! See if it works, at least! I also had two other important graduate student role models in this respect, who also had kids in grad school.
Despite birthing the kids under the auspices of Student Health, which I am afraid we nearly bankrupt, I had a wonderful experience having my babies as a student. My boss, BigFancyProfessor, who was also starting a family at that time, was incredibly supportive and my lab was fantastic–bringing me in smoothies when I was pregnant and dinners after the baby was born. With my first daughter, my now husband had just finished his PhD and got to take care of her for around a year. I really wish that I got to do the same with our other child–putting her into a large daycare at six months felt too young. I did try to plan parenthood strategically–the first while writing up a publication and the second at the end of my PhD, so I could have more time off (while writing the thesis and fellowships). The other benefit I had was that I had worked in labs and industry for ~three years before and had money and stocks saved to help afford taking time off. Really, though, I think having kids as a scientist can work pretty well at any stage, as our jobs are more flexible than most. The main thing is having a supportive partner in crime, and I have been blessed that my girls have a great dad.
What is your story? Comment or post.
Another story of how to have it all in academic science from another WomanOfScience. Thanks!
I chose to have a child as I came up for tenure (at age 35). I didn’t start “trying” until all the scholarly work that was going to be part of my tenure packages was done and I was pretty sure my case was strong.
I chose this time for a few reasons. First, I didn’t meet my partner until the end of my postdoc (when I was 29). Second, I was so overwhelmed with responsibilities of starting a lab that I couldn’t have imagined having kids earlier. Third, a close friend of mine tried very hard to have kids in her early 40s and was unsuccessful and warned me that, if I wanted kids, I should start trying. So I did.
This timing alleviates a huge amount of work-related stress. For instance, I had a functional lab with senior postdocs and advanced graduate students so research was uninterrupted and papers were submitted throughout pregnancy and the first months after my child was born. Because I was reasonably well known in my community, I could say “no” to nearly all travel for the first year after my child was born. My department was incredibly generous and relieved me of all teaching and committee assignments so all I had to do was focus on keeping my lab running for the first 7 months after my child was born.
I worked from home for the first several months and then started going in on a part time basis. My child didn’t enter day care until 7 months.
Being a tenured professor provides an incredible amount of flexibility for one to be able to *choose* how to do work-life balance. I actually didn’t appreciate this until having my child (and getting tenure). I am (mostly) my own boss so I flexibility over my hours, can rearrange 50% of my meetings if necessary, can work from home when I want to, and can choose how much I commit to in terms of travel and “extra” things like reviewing manuscripts. I can even choose to make my lab smaller so that I have less responsibility with my science and mentees. I didn’t have to fill out FMLA paperwork and have my pay taken away when I took maternity leave.
The downsides of this timing are that many women are old by the time they get tenure. Despite what we see on the news, fertility drops DRAMATICALLY after age 35. Besides fertility, I bet the 27 year old me would have had a bunch more energy to get everything she needed to get done with her job and family if it had been an option – I have much less energy now and infants are EXHAUSTING!
We hear a lot of talk about how uncompromising the academic clock is but the truth is that there are times when we can “pause” in our careers to take care of a baby – late grad school, middle of postdoc and post-tenure seem to be common and successful times. My personal opinion is that the common theme for success at any of these times is to have a kid when your experiment/science is going well and results are coming in. If you have a kid as a new graduate student, new postdoc or assistant professor, you can’t “go on autopilot” for a short time and the “distraction” of having a baby won’t be helpful for you in troubleshooting experiments and/or learning how to be a PI.
What do you think? Send a post or write a comment!
A story from another WomanOfScience. They are all different and illuminating. Why not share yours?
For me it worked well to have my children as a professor, one before tenure and one after tenure.
My HusbandOfScience and I lived together while I was in graduate school and he was a postdoc. Then he accepted a tenure-track position in a location where it was not possible for me to find a competitive postdoc, so I accepted a postdoc in another city and we lived separately for two years. If we had already had a child at that point (which we had considered doing), this would have reduced my postdoc options and limited my career (we would not have chosen to live separately after having a child). After two years of living apart, I started a tenure-track position in the same department as my husband.
It was difficult to decide when to have a child. I was already concerned about being viewed as a trailing spouse (I was the first woman hired into a tenure-track position by my department in 15 years). I waited a couple of years until I had a few students on track in my lab and I had been very successful at getting some grants and awards. I remember worrying about whether I would have morning sickness, since I was teaching an 8 am class, but luckily I had a very smooth pregnancy. At the time there was no maternity leave policy. My department head did not offer any help if the baby came before the end of the semester, and I was not confident enough to ask. I juggled childcare with my husband for the first few months, which reduced my research productivity for the summer. It would have been better for my career (and therefore for my department) to instead take this time from teaching, by giving me a teaching release in the following semester. My baby started fulltime in a great daycare center at 4 months, which was a huge relief from juggling too many responsibilities. An unexpected additional benefit was how much we enjoyed and learned from connecting with a community of young families.
I did not wait until after tenure to start trying to have a second child, but that’s how it turned out because it took a very long time to get pregnant. Since I almost did not succeed in having a second child, I think it’s important to tell people not to wait too long. Unfortunately, as far as I know, it’s impossible to predict how quickly your fertility will decline with age. There was still no maternity policy when my second child was born, but I had more confidence and a more understanding department head, so I negotiated a teaching release. I’m pleased to report that my institution now has a generous maternity/paternity leave policy.
The disadvantage of having babies after being a professor was that the initial months before fulltime daycare were stressful, since I had professional responsibilities that could not stop (graduate students to mentor, etc). But there were great advantages – being able to afford high quality daycare that our babies/toddlers enjoyed, having a private office for breastfeeding and pumping, and having many job duties (writing grants or papers, preparing lectures) that could be scheduled at a time and place convenient for me.
Having children has certainly reduced the total time that I could spend on my career, but it has also been surprisingly compatible with being a professor. Perhaps I could have been more successful without this loss of time – or perhaps not, since I would not have been nearly as happy. I have no regrets about choosing to have children as a WomanOfScience.
Have a story to share?? Post or comment!
From another WomanOfScience:
For me, it worked best to give birth partway into a three-year postdoc because:
– Postdoc salaries are high enough to support child care expenses. My husband and I couldn’t afford childcare on our meager graduate stipends.
– Postdocs can often arrange flexible work hours. Plus, if you can only work 40 hours/week as a postdoc, they are all research hours and you can maintain excellent scholarly productivity if you manage your time well. As an assistant professor I had so many other duties–teaching, faculty meetings, grant proposals–that if could only work 40 hours/week, my research productivity would have been much smaller.
– That third year gave both of us time to adjust to life as working parents before entering the job market again. And for the first few months after I came back to work postpartum, I was allowed to bring the baby to the office Tuesdays and Thursdays, leaving him in the care of a neighbor on MWF. It was a great arrangement to help me through the transition, roughly from age 3 months to 8 months.
Job interviews during pregnancy and breastfeeding were a real challenge for me. I found morning sickness and job interview stress to be a bad combination, and in the early stages of pregnancy it made me nervous not knowing whether I was “showing” yet. As for job-interviews during breastfeeding, leaving the baby at home for more than a day or so becomes a challenge; plus, I didn’t have the maturity to ask for a pumping break during a full-day interview, so was uncomfortable and risked leaking through my nursing pads.
I am a firm believer that postdocs who are new parents should be able to convert a 2 year full-time postdoc into a 3-year, 66% time postdoc. Has anyone tried that?
How about your story?? Comment or post!