This morning between unpleasant tasks I was engaged in, I noticed a comment from Maria on my last post (about dealing with pregnancies in one’s lab group) which went thusly:
My first postdoc was pregnant when I hired her, though she didn’t tell me at the time. I also freaked out with the door closed, and then also did all the right things–arranging for 3 months leave (she would not take less), keeping her project moving while she was on leave, and letting her work part time on return. Then, two weeks after returning, she quit because she couldn’t keep things together at home and in lab. I do know that keeping women in science is absolutely predicated on making it possible to combine family and academia, and keeping women in science is honestly very important to me. As such I know that I just have to swallow hard and move on. But the amount of time and money I wasted doing the right thing is really embittering and though I know I must, I am having trouble keeping things cool as I interview for new postdocs. I am only in my second year on the TT and this situation is really hard.
I whipped off a response- because it was so much more fun than what I was otherwise doing this morning- which succintly summarizes… said … Shit happens, regardless of the gender of the people you hire.
But Whimple- that commenter I love to hate, or hate to love… or WHATEVER… said not so fast:
Nevertheless, Maria has a valid point. She did the right thing and got badly burned because of it. This is an opportunity for her institution to step up to the plate and refund the lost startup cash to her and also to extend her tenure clock by a suitable amount as compensation. If institutions were willing to bear this risk instead of leaving it all on the backs of vulnerable (non-tenured) individuals, there’d be a lot less hesitation (the illegality of it notwithstanding) to hire women in prime childbearing years.
So- I started writing a response to Whimple, but it should just be a post. So here goes (and I know you are all going to hate me for this):
Whimple- To me there is ‘badly’ and there is ‘badly’- having some nutty AR person infiltrate your lab, burn it down- that’s being burned badly. Having a postdoc give confidential data to the direct competition- or making up data – that’s my definition of ‘badly’ burned. To me having a postdoc quit after 9 months…. sucks, yes…. but ‘badly’ burned… all depends on how that affects downstream events.
Ok, that was my knee-jerk response.
But then I thought about it for 2 seconds and realized that Whimple almost certainly has a point for the individual junior faculty member. If certain PIs are more likely to attract female postdocs who are going to require time off for childbearing- then perhaps this should be institutionally supported in order to reduce unstated discrimination in hiring those women in the first place (because of such experiences that happened in Maria’s case, that perhaps make her less likely to hire a woman again in the future) . Maybe the right thing to do is to be proactive for any faculty who hire a woman of childbearing age… should institutions provide some sort of incentive (in $$) for faculty who hire women … or women who become pregnant during their training? Should the institution pick up the employee’s salary/benefits for some period of time (6 months comes into my head) around childbearing- to keep them in the pipeline, to buffer the effect this has on individual PIs? Maybe there could be some special type of NIH support for this… if keeping women in basic science and academia is really a priority there…
But- one more thing- and this is specific advice for Maria- and Whimple’s got it dead right on this one- I’m generally in favor of asking for institutional support for good reasons like this (Whimple has kicked my ass on this more than once, and it has gotten me months of postdoc salary support). If you think this event has had a detrimental impact on your lab- then go ahead and ask for financial support, or increased time on your tenure clock. What’s the worst that can happen? I’ll tell ya, someone might tell you NO…. but goodness, you just never know when the powers that be might totally agree with you and say yes!
Oh god, enough procrastinating. I have to go back to doing all that paperwork nonsense that I despise.