I gave birth to two babies during my training (well…, 3 if you count the thesis as my baby in another sense). I was the first graduate student to become a parent in the lab where I did my thesis work (I’ve written about this before I’ll dig up the link for you), and only the second lab member to have a baby while in that particular lab. Despite my fear of how this might go with my thesis advisor- he/she handled the whole situation quite wonderfully, and since that time he/she has had multiple employees on maternity leave simultaneously. When you get a reputation for family friendliness…you get a reputation…
That seems to have rubbed off on me… All of the graduate students/postdocs in my lab were already parents when they joined the lab, and we’ve had two babies born to lab members since I started (< 5 yrs)… and there may yet be more soon. I seem to have gotten the reputation for family friendliness as well, and I like it that way.
How do I handle pregnancy among my employees? Well, first, I’m excited about it. Insanely excited. I know how it is to be someone’s mom- to hold that little perfect creature for the first time, to know all the joy that comes with this challenging responsibility. Second, I try to be flexible and prioritize- I know that those 9 months can have their ups and downs, and we will just try to work around them as best we can. As for maternity time (I don’t have experience giving paternity time yet… but I’m sure there will be a chance at some point)… I have 3 months off in my head. I usually ASK the expecting party… how much time they anticipate taking off after the baby comes… and we just work with that. But I’ve got 3 months off, in my head.
Now with that said – I was having a conversation with some science friends recently- about this crossroads of 1. maternity ‘down time’ = lost productivity for 3 month stretches with 2. labs with reputations for family friendliness. See, those labs with reputations for family friendliness – end up having way way more downtime, than those labs that don’t,….. because the ‘family friendly’ labs end up having whole runs of employees on maternity leave. In three month blocks. Take my own lab for example- let’s just say I’ve had a lab for 5 years (now I’m just making shit up)- and I’ve had 4 employees out on maternity leave… for three months each-… that’s an entire productive person year gone… during the most critical (pre-tenure) time of my career.
And that’s just for the maternity leave itself. When my younger daughter was born- she was ill for about the first year of her life. I slept at my desk, took her to the doctor, and wandered through my project, as only a person enduring a solid year of complete sleeplessness could. Poorly. I use this to illustrate that when your lab members become parents and the maternity leave is over, it may be back to business as usual- but ‘business as usual’ after the baby may be dramatically different than ‘business as usual’ AFTER the baby…and changes in productivity can stretch on beyond maternity leave. These changes in productivity are compounded in ‘family friendly’ labs that carry the weight for the rest of academic science.
So- what to do- we want to promote ‘family friendliness’ and encourage young women (especially), and also young men who someday want to have families and actually participate in them, to stay in academic science. Yet- actually becoming that ‘family friendly’ lab -… is bad for the productivity of your group… and your career!
How to reconcile.