Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

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!

Comments on: "Flexibility in Academia Makes Work-Life Balance Possible" (1)

  1. […] work-life issues on this blog. For example: When should you have kids (see these blog posts: flexibility, grad school, pre/post tenure, postdoc)?  Should you take a job when you don’t have one for […]

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