Helping the Minoritized Achieve in Academic Science

Archive for the ‘Kids’ Category

Maternity Leave Considerations

Yawning-1I was recently having an email conversation with another WomanOfScience. She was describing her concerns about getting a tenure-track faculty position. She has a HusbandOfScience, and a one-year-old BabyOfScience, and they will all be on the job market very soon. She relayed a story about how, two weeks after giving birth, she was on the phone with a program officer at a FederalFundingAgency. The baby cried, and she was embarrassed and had her HusbandOfScience move the screaming baby to another room. She felt that the PO might think she wasn’t serious because she had a baby. This made me think of several things:

Would a man with a kid crying in the background have been as anxious about the sound?

People have all kinds of noises in the background of phone conversations. What if a dog had barked? That is annoying, but does owning a dog make you less serious of a candidate?

She was worried that having a baby would make her seem less dedicated, but she was having a phone conversation with a program officer 2 weeks after giving birth! What could be more dedicated?

I think we need to discuss that maternity leave is partially a medical leave! It isn’t just women being hard on themselves. When I was prego as a postdoc, I had two advisors. One was a WomanOfScience who had two kids, and knew that having kids can actually make many dedicated WomenOfScience more efficient and productive. The other was an OldWhiteMaleProfessor who had a stay-at-home wife while his kids were young. When I told him I was pregnant, he was happy. And he said how I was lucky that I had such a supportive advisor like him. This, as I know now, was a red flag.  Anyone who says they are super supportive is probably trying to convince themselves. As the end of my pregnancy loomed closer and my belly loomed larger, he started driving me harder. He would make me stay late – until 9pm to meet with him on a couple of occasions. My belly became too big to actually work on parts of my project. In particular, I was aligning optics, and I noticed the beam shoot across the room because my belly had accidentally moved the mirrors in the front of the optics table. I decided it was getting dangerous to be a fat prego in the optics lab. There was plenty other stuff to do, so I decided to work on other stuff.

One of the other things I was working on was a manuscript. My WomanAdvisor was reading drafts, making edits, and pushing it forward. My OWMP Advisor would not read it. WA said it would be best if I got it submitted before the baby came. I agreed. OWMPA still wouldn’t read it.  He finally read it and said it was ready to submit AFTER I gave birth!

One night I was working late, OWMPA asked me, “What are you doing on your vacation?” I said, “What vacation?” He said, “You know, when you are away.” I said, “That’s not a vacation, its maternity leave.” I was flabbergast. He said that he just wanted to check that I would be working while I was away. This was pretty ridiculous because up to this point, I have had one paper published in a high profile journal, a second that he wouldn’t read, and I already had a job waiting for me at UState, which I was postponing for a year to stay in the lab. In what world would I not come back to work? How could I possibly quit and give it all up just when I was getting everything I wanted?

Further, I have something to say else: MATERNITY LEAVE IS NOT A VACATION! It is a not a leave for fun. VACATIONS DO NOT START BY HAVING YOUR WHOOHA BLOWN OUT OR BEING CUT IN HALF LIKE A MAGICIAN’S ASSISTANT! Maternity leave is a medical leave because you have had a traumatic event destroy your body. It feels like you got hit by a truck, and you can barely move the next day. And, it takes you 6 weeks to physically recover from the experience. So, I hate when people act like maternity leave is anything but what it really is – a medical leave!

Let’s put it in terms an OWLP can understand: If you have surgery for, let’s say, a kidney transplant which cannot be done laparoscopically, and requires you to be cut in half, you would not expect that person to be reading papers and coming into work before the doctor-prescribed recovery time, right? It would be insensitive to expect that person to work, so why is to cool to ask that person to, say, submit a manuscript 6 days after giving birth?

So, let’s get real.

Women: don’t put so much pressure on yourself to act like everything is totally normal right after giving birth. Your husband may be able to go back to work right away, but you cannot because your body needs to HEAL. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Take your leave, get some sleep, and figure out being a mom. The time is really very short, and will not harm your career to be away for 6 weeks. What if you were in a car accident? and had to recover for 6 weeks?

Men: don’t act like maternity leave is not a real, medical leave. Women need time to recover, and it doesn’t mean they aren’t dedicated. It doesn’t mean they aren’t going to come back. Give them time to adjust. It will be alright.

I hope my description of the post-birth experience didn’t swear anyone off of having kids. Post or comment. Push the +Follow button to get an email every time I post.

Working Mommy Equals Great Mommy

Mother holds Child

Mother holds Child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was just visiting a nearby IvyLeageUniversity to give a seminar. I was asked to have lunch with students and sorta do a women’s mentoring lunch thing. I know some people find being asked to do these mentoring lunches strange or somehow unfair, but I don’t. There is no better way to change the social views of people than to convert the younger generations. We can talk more about this in other posts… but this post is about something that was brought up at the lunch.

Two of the lunchers were female postdocs who had children. They lamented that, even though they have husbands who could, and did, stay at home with their kids (awesome!) and/or their kids go to daycare, they feel *bad* about leaving their kids. I know exactly how they feel. In fact, just that morning, my child had a fever. I had already scheduled for several months to drive to IvyLeagueU, so I was not going to cancel. My HusbandOfScience took off the day to stay with our child – canceling all his meetings and getting someone to cover his class. My child was very sad when I left out the door. He was crying and wanted to hug me – a rare event since this child prefers Daddy. I felt very bad about having to leave and go to give this talk. Further, I also felt guilty about making my husband stay at home. I ended up leaving early to get back home – missing the opportunity to dine with my colleagues at ILU. This was an extreme circumstance, and has happened to male colleagues – in fact the man from ILU who invited me also left early when he came up to visit me at UofState. But, did he feel guilty about leaving early? Probably not.

In this post, I want to talk about why you should not feel bad about leaving your kids to have a career. In other posts, we can talk about the circumstances of having to stay home with sick kids and how you make those choices.

On a normal, daily basis, I don’t usually feel bad. I have several reasons or rationalizations to support my choice:

1. Daycare is better for my kids, personally. Just because you have kids and you are a smart person, say a Ph.D.-level scientist, does not mean you will be a good mother. Kids need different things at different stages of their development. I am not able to determine what I should be doing to educate my child at each of these stages. But, I send my child to a great daycare with awesome early-childhood educators that DO know what my child should be learning and working on. Thus, I feel like my children are better in the care of professional childcare experts, which I am not. Basically, the ability to have a child does not give you the power to be a great mom.

2. It is important to set an example. My mom worked full-time when I was a kid. I went to daycare, and I still knew my mom loved me and we had a lot of fun together. I know my mother felt guilty and bad about leaving us kids, but it turns out that she set a really great example for us. Because I knew she loved me and gave me a lot of attention, and was still able to have a career, I know I will be able to also be there for my children and also still have a career. In general, I feel like setting the example as a Career-Driven Mom is  important – especially for my own kids. I have a girl and a boy. For the girl, I hope to serve as an example for her personally. For the boy, I am hoping he brings home a significant other who is also a whole person.

3. Working moms are better for kids, in general. Recent studies have shown that children of working moms are just as emotionally healthy and capable as kids whose moms stay at home – if not more so (publicity with initial source material linked can be found here). I think these types of studies are important for women, who like my mom, felt a huge guilt about having a job. My mom made a lot more money than my dad and was in a technical field, although not an academic, so her working was essential for our family to have a good life – a house, cars that run, and the ability to move to neighborhoods that set us in good schools. By increasing the income level for our family, she set me up to have a better life – better access to education, which I fully utilized.

All choices in life require a cost-benefit analysis. For me, being a mom and having a career has way more benefits for my kids than costs. I spend time with my kids every day (as long as I am not traveling) and all weekend. The time is fun because I try to pay a lot of attention to them – and not work and especially not cleaning the house, etc… I hire people to clean the house and do the gardening, so I have more time with the family. We have more money to go on vacations and have a nice house in a good school district. I follow the principles set forth my by parents that the kids school and well-being takes precedent over my comfort. If I had to, I would drive 1 hour to work in order to live in a good school district. Luckily, I don’t have to.

So how do you feel? Do you feel guilty? Do you feel liberated? How can we all feel liberated? Post or comment.

Back in the Saddle Again

Saddle

Saddle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All of us, for some reason or another, have to take a hiatus from traveling, networking, or some of the other parts of our jobs. Coming back can be a challenge. I think many women, especially if they have tenure, take a big reduction in traveling once they have kids. Sometimes it can be difficult to get back in the saddle of long-distance traveling after a long time away. Plus, being away from kids can be sad if it you haven’t been away from them much.

Here is one woman’s story of getting back in the saddle. Enjoy!

I was really divided over whether or not to come to an international meeting, because I didn’t know that many people on the schedule, and honestly I was a little scared. I think everyone thinks I am good at schmoozing, but I had cut down travel so much the last few years that I am out of practice. I haven’t been out of the US/Canada since 2005 — I forgot to bring a European power adapter, felt very stupid and had to buy one at the airport. I was tired and jet-lagged the whole time I was there. I was also feeling really shy — I feel that I look so much rounder in all my business clothes after having kids. I didn’t know that many people at the meeting, and it was mostly really old guard white guys. Many of the participants were from Europe and were used to a more hierarchical academic system, and I forgot that many of those kinds of guys treat me like an infant.

Even worse, I was missing the kids so much that I didn’t feel like talking about science much. I ended up talking about the kids a lot whenever I tried to schmooze.  One of the few people I knew at the conference was a guy of whom I think as a mid-career mover and shaker. I just assumed that he was very well-connected — he’s done well in his career, he’s very friendly and gregarious, he’s gotten some awards, and he’s already on some editorial boards. We ended up eating many meals together, and surprisingly, he told me that he does not like travel much. He usually just goes to society meetings, and has never been to a Gordon Conference. He also told me that he is not good with strangers, and that he was missing his family a lot, also.

So it got me thinking. Maybe not everyone is traveling and schmoozing as much as we imagine they are, while we stay at home turning down invitations and cleaning up baby vomit. And maybe things have changed enough that, once we are done cleaning up baby vomit and are ready to get back in the saddle again, we’ll find that people are more accepting than we think.

Another good thing came from this meeting. I got an invitation to be on an editorial board from the trip, and I think we will have an invited article out of it, also. So it’s been a real positive, even beyond the “international invited talk” on the CV.

My impression is that this WomanOfScience is very brave and good things resulted, so congratulations to her! Any stories of getting back out there? Fears, concerns, or stories of bravery and success? Comment or post.

The Trouble with Teens

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!

Having Kids in Grad School

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.

Flexibility in Academia Makes Work-Life Balance Possible

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!

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.

Have a story to share?? Post or comment!

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?

How about your story?? Comment or post!

One WomanOfScience’s Story

Although I hope that multiple WomenOfScience will write up about how they decided to have kids, and how they managed after actually having them, I will start off with my own story. I had my first as a postdoc and my second as an Assistant Professor just before submitting my tenure packet. I will discuss the decision to have the first one, which is the big leap of faith in yourself and your career.

Deciding when: For me, and my HusbandOfScience, there were two big pieces to deciding when to have kids. First, was personal: we had both gone through health scares that turned out to be better than we feared, but got us to thinking. If this chronic heath problem or possible reproductive issue was a major problem, than waiting to have kids could be, at best, a huge burden, and at worst, impossible. We became very motivated to have kids at a young age. The second consideration was when, within our career trajectories, could we have kids so that it would be least disruptive to us. We decided that, for us, it would be easiest after we were in our postdocs and had things “working.” For us that meant that we each had new work in publication format. We knew how to get the data and write it up working with our new advisors. For us, that seemed to be a good time. In a sense, the ball was rolling, so it was easier to keep it rolling.

Life with belly: Most of my pregnancy was fine. At some point I felt huge, and was huge as evidenced by the number of people who asked if I was having twins (no). At the very end, within the last 1-2 months of my pregnancy, my belly became an obstruction to my work. I was literally sterically hindered from accessing regions of my experiment, and had to call it quits on a number of specific tasks. I was a frustrated at the time, because I didn’t realize how short a time 1-2 months is in the trajectory of your career path. Yes, I could not bend over that thing to adjust that knob, but I could take data, I could analyze data, I could write papers. Many parts of my job were fine. In fact, I felt pressure to get many loose ends tied up before the big day. I was actually especially productive. Looking back, I realize that this period, which was frustrating at the time because I needed help on certain tasks, was not slow in any way. Another unique thing that happened while I was pregnant was that I went on the job market. If anyone suspected my condition during the interview, they did not mention it. I think that it is more likely that many scientists are too oblivious to notice the way people look. They either saw me as fat or didn’t notice at all. When I had offers, I was pleasantly surprised that several chairs were happy that I was having kids. My field is full of mostly men who are breeders, and they used the same criteria for me as for men with kids, which is having kids would make me more stable, less likely to pick up and take a different job. I realize that this might be atypical, but gives me hope that the world is changing.

Life with baby: When my baby came, everything was healthy and normal. I was in a lot of pain with mild postpartum depression, like many other women. At first, I felt like I didn’t want to be apart from my baby. But, within a month of being tied to the baby and the house, I was ready to get the hell out of there. After 4 weeks, I went back one day. That day was amazing! I could check my email, have adult, science conversations, and felt more normal and myself. After 5 weeks, I went back 2 days. After 6 weeks, I was back 4 days a week. I kept that schedule for several months, working extra on the other days so that I could feel that I was getting enough done while still taking a day to be with baby. After 3 months, I went back 5 days per week. Again, all these times were not, necessarily low productivity. I learned how to be efficient with the short time I had. This schedule was facilitated by having a nearby grandma, but many daycares will let you do this type of easing into care, too. Another specific issue that men never have to deal with is pumping. I breastfed and pumped after returning to work. I was lucky that another WomanGraduateStudent in the lab had her baby about 6 months before I had mine, and had blazed the trail on how we would pump. There was a small, windowless equipment room that we would use. Although it had important equipment for the lab, we would ask to use it for 15-20 minutes when we needed to pump. We would lock the door and put up a sign. Although this was less than ideal, I did not have an office to myself to pump. I also did not want to pump in the bathroom (yuck!) or in my advisor’s office (awkward!). Again, this relatively short time in your life is annoying, but brief. After 6 months, I stopped pumping and got a lot of my life back in the lab.

Pre-tenure with baby: I went to my tenure-track job with an 11-month old baby. I never knew anything different because I always had a child while in my job. We had good infant / pre-school care that was open almost everyday (even many university holidays) and opened from 7:30am until 5:30pm. We had to leave at 5pm everyday to pick-up baby, but that was fine. Maybe a bit early compared to my colleagues, but we also go in several hours earlier than them. I continued to be very efficient, but the new job had about a million more aspects than the old job. I tried to make sure that I was spending the time I needed on certain aspects. I set a timer to write for an hour before taking a break. Another really great aspect about having a kid was that a bunch of other professors had babies around the same age and were at the same daycare. That made an automatic group of academics who I had many things in common with. I used daycare to network for science.

Adding a second: Being the breeder type, we knew we wanted more than one, but when to have the second? Again, we waited until the ball was rolling in our new jobs. This was the best time for us. We had new people working well in our new research labs. Shocking – it was so much harder the second time. We didn’t get pregnant right away. It was harder. We were more stressed. We were older. We had less time to try. We were always traveling when the time was right. And then, when I did get pregnant, I had a miscarriage. It wasn’t devastating, just scary at the time. As a logical sort of person, I understand the statistics of miscarriage, and that it meant the fetus was not viable (an attitude my Ob/Gyn was pleasantly surprised at). So, we waited a little longer and tried again with success. Having a second baby was easier. Being a faculty member in academic science is very flexible. I had my own office to bring in baby or to pump. People were supportive and both my HusbandOfScience and I got semester-long leaves.

So, that is my story. Do you have a story of figuring out when and how to fit kids into your academic career? If so, guest post, or write a comment!

You can do it!

I hope to have a number of posts on the topic of having children while in academic science, but before we begin, I just want to take the time to psyche you up and act the part of the cheerleader for a bit. Here is some wisdom about having kids that will hopefully help  you.

Being pregnant or a mother of a small child doesn’t last forever, so it doesn’t define you. You have been working on your career for years, and yes, you will be a mother for many many years, too. But, kids change, they change very fast. Being pregnant is different from having a baby. Having a baby is different from a toddler. A toddler is different from a pre-schooler. Yes, they will need different things from you, so you can’t let these phases define you. You define yourself by your career, the science you do, and the mentoring you impart.

There is no good time, ergo there is no bad time to have kids. Interestingly, this was told to me by a man first, but I have heard it repeated numerous times. It is pretty true. There are probably times that are better or worse for you personally, but there is no specific time you can or cannot have children within your trajectory of academic science. I know “successful” academic WomenOfScience who had children as graduate students, as postdocs, as assistant professors, and after tenure. It is very personal for you, and there is no one trajectory. i hope to have a couple different stories from a variety of women who will say how they decided.

Your career, your lab, your job will still be there. This is scary because your research group is also like a child. You start it, you nurture it, you guide it. But, unlike a child, your research group is made of adults. Even undergraduates are technically adults, and they can make decisions and do work on their own volition. This also harkens back to the first point that these times don’t last forever.

So, my advise is to talk with your self, your family, your partner and decide if it is the right time. This advise is fairly stupid because that is what family planning is all about, right? You may have to plan. You may have to think ahead, but how is that any different from what you do daily in the lab and in your career? You are good at being organized and planning, so apply it to this situation.

I am hoping a number of you will write comments and guest posts to describe your personal experiences? Please do!

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