Monday, July 27, 2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Baby Gaps and Paying for Maternity Leave

A couple of interesting posts recently over at Female Science Professor which are very relevant here at present since 2/3 authors (not me!) are out on Maternity Leave.

In the first Baby Gap FSP muses on the impact a noticeable "baby gap" can have on your career. At some level this was something I worked quite hard to avoid when I had little one (early 2007). I managed to get both 2007 and 2008 first author papers out (2008 - just under the wire!). One of the comments mentioned the issue of a delayed baby gap, which I may be facing in 2009 (despite 2 first author papers *so close* to being submitted - the referee process can be so long I may miss the end of the year). FSP's post itself doesn't bother me, although her comment that
The lack of a baby gap on my CV is more owing to luck than to anything superhuman that I did

followed by a list of several superhuman things (in my opinion) including being organised enough to have projects close to finishing up, being able to persuade someone to give her a light teaching load, and finding ways to work while the baby was sleeping (instead of sleeping herself, which might have been my choice!).

But some of the comments (as uaual) are truly depressing reading. I do not explain that I had a baby in my CV, however I have recently put in several fellowship applications that ask for the number of years of full time research positions (excluding breaks) that I have worked since getting my PhD. In this case I can take off 3 months (oh lucky me) for the birth of little one making me eligible for some of the fellowships which have strict time limits for 3 months longer. I'm not sure what the right way to deal with it is. On the one hand I had a baby and I continued to be productive afterwards, which surely shows that I'm dedicated to this profession. On the other hand I had a baby - which clearly shows (see below) that I don't care about this profession....

In her second post, Paying for It, FSP debates the issue of who should be paying for maternity leave, particularly for students and postdocs payed (in the US) directly from research grants. In my opinion this is not at all tricky to determine. Society benefits when people have children, therefore society should pay. I truly believe the US is scandalous in having a "laugh in your face" 12 weeks of mandatory *unpaid* maternity leave. That's it. I was lucky when I had little one in the US that at my place of work I was considered a university employee, despite being a postdoc, so I did get 12 weeks at something like 75% pay (although a close friend in slightly different circumstances did not count and therefore got 12 weeks upaid - or nothing). I did later learn to my surprise that my maternity pay came out of the research grant, which ran out before the end of my contract resulting in a 3 month unpaid gap (some of which I filled) between jobs. So ultimately I paid for it later.

Again the post itself is pretty mild, but the comments get quite wild. This one is very eye-opening:
I would say that postdocs shouldn't get babies in the first place: they should work very hard in order to be able to compete to get that sought after job at a good university. Taking a maternity/paternity break as a postcdoc (or PhD student for that matter) is essentially saying that you don't really care much about your research.

Later he explains he's a 45 year old father of a toddler, and he appears to be based in the UK. I really hope he's not an astronomer. What an attitude.

I hear a lot that during the postdoc years is a bad time to have kids, but I've never seen it put so bluntly that clearly some people see it as not taking the job seriously. I really hope this guy is in the minority.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Stomach Flu and a Well Deserved Break (not at the same time!)

Well it's been an exciting couple of weeks in the "Astronomum" household. Little one got an unprecedented 12 1/2 days off daycare! It started with some vomiting - resulting in the classic 48 hour ban from the nursery. Little one clearly was sick, although not seriously, so I decided that we'd just make the most of it, and we actually had a lovely day out visiting our city sponsored bunnies (still makes me smile!).

This "ban" of course ended on a Friday afternoon - the weekend before a (completely planned) week long break in another city. Little one and I hung out together (and some of the time with her grandparents) while my husband attended a scientific conference. It was a truly lovely break, and I enjoyed spending a lot of time with little one and seeing all the funny things she gets up to.

Now it's back to work, and serious paper writing. Unfortunately I have to be on the job market for serious yet again this year and I need to deal with my "poor" publication record (instead of griping about it). So I really shouldn't be sitting her writing this!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"But Aren't you on Maternity Leave?"

I recently submitted a proposal for a substantial amount of time on a telescope that I've never used before - so it took me awhile to put together. Combined with caring for Little One, it meant for some very busy days. My husband and family were supportive during the process, but somewhat puzzled at the whole thing; when I explained what I was doing, I got a nod and then the question:

"But aren't you on maternity leave?"

Then I explained that I was, but that one can only ask for time to look at this part of the sky once a year. "But why not wait until next year?" Then I explained that the people I was working with could work best on this together in the coming year. "So let me get this straight. You're writing a proposal on your maternity leave that will give you more work to do during your maternity leave?"

To this, I could only answer "yes".

I see two reasons why I keep having this conversation: either I am going about my maternity leave all wrong, or maternity leaves in academia are very different from those in the rest of society. I think it's a bit of both.

What would happen if I did wait a year to propose? I could go on about how the scientific community doesn't take a break when I do, or about how I'll need more publications to get that next grant... but all in all, not much would happen. So why did I do it? Part of me really does think that the sky will fall if I don't stay connected to my research. But part of me also craves the intellectual stimulation and community that were a big part of my pre-motherhood routine. I like being on maternity leave, but I miss my old life sometimes...

I think that I still need to work on balancing astronomy and motherhood.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Congratulations "AstroMaman"!

Congratulations to AstroMaman, who welcomed her second child recently. We wish her and her family all the best. Enjoy you new arrival, AstroMaman, and we hope that you'll share your experiences balancing astronomy and two little ones with us!