Tenure Clock Stoppages and Productivity: Re-post

I have previously posted about tenure clock stoppages and the fact that there is no concurrent NIH productivity clock stoppage (then there was a follow up post as well)… I thought that in light of the discussion about gender over at Drugmonkey, which in recent comments seems to have shifted back around to tenure clocks and the productivity gap… I would re-post my original thoughts on the matter here for anyone who missed it the first time or would like to continue the discussion we were having at that time – see below for the text of the original post.

I see that Drugmonkey has also posted a round-up of all the posts on other sites driven by the conversation that’s been going on around the blogosphere about this in the last few days.

Ok, here’s what I wrote the first time:

The P word: P for Productivity.

I’m thinking a lot about this right now… and I want to put this in the context of tenure clocks. Many places allow their women faculty to ’stop’ the tenure clock when they have a child (or adopt one, I presume). Ok, we don’t have very modern maternity leave policies in this country- you can take 3 UNPAID months by law without losing your job- outside of this things vary from institution to institution, but that’s a whole different soapbox. But it’s the tenure clock stoppage and whether or not that really helps anything, that is my particular sore point right now. These tenure clock stoppages are supposed to be a good idea because generally, when a baby is born, it takes a big chunk out of the mother’s life- pretty much full time for the first 12 weeks, and at least 6 months of sleeplessness to immediately follow (in my own experience w littleDrA#2 this took a good year out of my life- can you say 8 ear infections in one year?). The idea is to keep women moving up the ranks by allowing for this lapse in productivity. Presumably, it is not inappropriate to let your chair (or whoever) know that you are expecting… and do whatever protocol is necessary in order to achieve said tenure clock stoppage, right? That would mean that whoever is in charge would have to know your own particular ‘family’ circumstances- and I wouldn’t think that is inappropriate information.

But here is the thing- I don’t really think it makes a bit of difference if the tenure clock is stopped… if you are in a must-get-grant type faculty position. NIH has got a clock too- and it is a productivity clock… run by good-old-boys (and some good-younger-boys, and some good-old-girls that didn’t have kids… and yes there are exceptions to everything), that doesn’t take into account lapses in productivity due to childbearing (or any other kind of family obligation… like elder care etc). I suppose this bugs me because this will always be a problem for young women who have children either during their postdoctoral years or early in their faculty positions. These are times when productivity can just cease completely when the birth of a child happens- many postdocs and many young faculty may not have staff/students etc. working for them immediately. Just depends on the circumstances.

And, although it is considered perfectly appropriate to talk about this within the institution- where tenure-clock extensions are granted…my sense is that there isn’t a place for this consideration where federal grants are concerned. Just doesn’t seem like stopping the tenure clock makes that much difference without stopping the NIH clock,…. What do y’all think?

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6 thoughts on “Tenure Clock Stoppages and Productivity: Re-post

  1. “this will always be a problem for young women who have children either during their postdoctoral years or early in their faculty positions.”

    I have seen a few postdoctoral fellowships available specifically as on-ramps for individuals who have taken time out for family reasons, allowing a postdoctoral scientist who has taken time away to reestablish a track record of productivity. Programs like this could be expanded, and could include opportunities for young women who have not necessarily taken a formal hiatus, but who have been in more of a “slow lane” for several years, due to family responsibilities. This could provide more choices for grad students and postdocs, potentially enabling them to delay rather than abandon an independent research career.

    On the other hand, I have a hard time envisioning how a program instituted by either universities or funding agencies could really be helpful to parents of young children once they have already obtained a junior faculty position. With 1 in 10 (or fewer) grants getting funded, it’s no wonder that investigator productivity is a very big deal to study sections. Furthermore, the push by NIH to support earlier transitions to independence will in my opinion magnify the collision between the pre-tenure period in which you need to build and establish your research program, and the child-bearing years of young women. The decision of NIH to limit some of their help for new investigators to “early-stage investigators” within 10 years of the terminal degree will also penalize many (mostly female?) investigators who may have used the postdoctoral years to take a slower track concurrent with having a family. I would be very curious to see the gender breakdown of New Investigator applications that do not meet the ESI criteria.

  2. Yeah- Crystaldoc- I got that (see below) as well. I’m worried about it.

    ‘The decision of NIH to limit some of their help for new investigators to “early-stage investigators” within 10 years of the terminal degree will also penalize many (mostly female?) investigators who may have used the postdoctoral years to take a slower track concurrent with having a family.’

  3. I think that’s why I chose to have my kids before I was on the tenure track. My PhD program has a similar dissertation clock stoppage. For me, it has been nothing but beneficial. I could be wrong, but I don’t think potential employers will bother themselves with wondering why I was slow in the beginning of my program as long as I maintain the rate of production I have now.

  4. Acmegirl- I think you are right and I somehow wish I had had both my daughters before I started my postdoc- that timing seems more forgiving. But then there are still a lot of PIs that heavily frown (although unofficially) on their graduate students having children while in the lab…. I found out I was pregnant the second time right after I started my postdoc- and I mean RIGHT after- and this has slowed my productivity, and took a year of my life in seriously lost sleep (as she was ill pretty much continuously).

  5. Ahh, a subject I can complain quite loudly about. I think this problem is what contributes to so many women dropping out of the Academic Rat Race… as if it wasn’t hard enough to manage the day to day juggle of work vs family, how do you factor in the very real affect it has on your productivity in the short term? I’m not sure I can recover from this apparent “Lack of productivity” that occurred in my postdoc. I say apparent because the reality is that I was being extremely productive… just see my two daughters for proof!

  6. Grumpy PhD-

    That paper productivity thing comes back to bite one on the behind when applying first grants, and I agree with you it’s a big problem for women who want to have families and stay in academia. Rather, its a huge problem.

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