Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Archive for September, 2013

Two Kids: One Pre-Tenure, One Post-Tenure

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.

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A case for kids during your postdoc

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?

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