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.


Mrs. CH said...

Wow - it's comments like those that have influenced my decision to not continue in academia. Having a family should never be considered a detriment to one's career.

I've actually heard that having children during grad school or a post-doc is actually "the best" time if you can swing it. But, usually the timing doesn't work out that way.

Astronomum said...

I've heard many times that graduate school is a good time (AstroMaman can comment on that) since in many ways the "clock" doesn't start until you graduate, so an extra year in grad school - if you can afford it - isn't too bad. On the other hand that neglects the poor maternity provisions for most graduate students.

Almost all comments about babies during postdoc are negative (bear in mind I had one too!). Postdocs are often included in maternity leave benefits (as I was), but there is always that ticking clock, and the 2-3 year fixed term contracts don't leave a lot of room for error. So I do understand the warning, even if I chose to ignore it. I do also know I work many less hours than postdocs without children, but I hope I work much more efficiently.

Moving further up the academic ladder I am aware that staff and faculty generally have a lot more responsibilities than postdocs so may find it harder to take a break. And the longer you wait to have children the more likely it is that there will be fertility issues. This seems to be a more and more recognised problem.

So basically there's no good time to have a baby, but I think that's true of any job. I take the opinion that you just have to do it when it's right for you, and the other things will sort themselves out, one way or another!

Mrs. CH said...

I take the opinion that you just have to do it when it's right for you...

Yup, I totally agree. It's tough to ignore the mean/ignorant comments, but I guess we have to in order to have what we want in our lives. It also greatly depends on the department environment - definitely not all people are like the commenter you mentioned in your post. I also believe that the younger generation of professors are much more understanding about this kind of thing than, say, those that are emeritus right now.

Astronomum said...

the younger generation of professors are much more understanding about this kind of thing than, say, those that are emeritus right now

In fact I'd go further and say that those kinds of opinions are quite rare amongst almost every age group now. I just posted them as an example that (amazingly) they do still exist.