NIH Supplements for Pregnancy Leave? Just a thought.

In my last serious post I suggested that institutions or maybe NIH should provide some financial support for PIs that hire women postdocs, students and what have you… when these employees are absent from the job, or perhaps have reduced effort on the job due to childbearing. I have to admit- I was secretly waiting for someone to make a comment like the one that follows, and FrauTech fell right into my trap:

That is very interesting. But if you pay PIs extra (or compensate in some non-monetary way) for every pregnant woman, do you do the same for young fathers? I agree more support on the institutional level is important here, along the lines of written maternity AND paternity leave policies that are fair to the PI and fair to those taking the policy. And if you are compensating for pregnancies, you’d of course want to do the same for adoption. But what other support would make sure it was fair, enough to inspire PIs to take the chance, but not so much that it’s a ridiculous amount of leeway?

Hmmm. Ok, I’m frustrated by two parts of this comment, I have to take them one at a time. First to this one:

That is very interesting. But if you pay PIs extra (or compensate in some non-monetary way) for every pregnant woman, do you do the same for young fathers?

I have *NEVER* in my 20 year academic training and career, heard of any incident or story where a man was told during an interview with a PI that he better not get pregnant or start a family during his graduate career or postdoc, because it might hurt the PI’s productivity. I have *NEVER* heard any stories about men being discriminated against in hiring for postdoctoral training because they might be planning a family. You know the kinds of comments that I mean- I’m not hiring him because his wife might pop out a couple of kids!. I’ve heard these stories more frequently than I care to remember about women.

That’s not to say that these incidents have not occurred on some low level- they may have, who knows. It’s just that usually I hear that a faculty member plans on only hiring men because then they won’t be saddled PAYING FOR  someone who is unproductive when a baby is born (ok, or a child is adopted), or who might quit when maternity leave is over. The idea of my comment was to prevent that discriminatory hiring of men over women by giving women an equal advantage from the outset- or in other words- take away or mitigate the perceived detriment, whether real or not, to the PI when the PI loses a lab member to time off after childbirth.

The only way, I think, to address this problem is with actual money. Perhaps a mechanism could be set up to allow NIH suppported researchers to apply for supplements to their NIH grant to cover the salary of an employee that is out on leave for childbirth (or adoption) – for a short period, say 6 months salary. Most of the time, this should apply to the primary caregiver for the child- which, after childbirth, us usually the mother of the child. If you think about this, it shouldn’t be that far out of the ballpark in terms of reality. After all, NIH funded PIs can currently apply for supplements to hire minorities to work in their lab- the idea being that this encourages diversity in hiring in academic science. Why can’t we set up a similar process to encourage fairness in hiring of women postdocs (0r at whatever rank)- ??  This seems like something the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health should be thinking about!!!

And as an aside- OF COURSE- I do see the point about being more family friendly in general,  as regular readers of this blog know very well- I’d love it if DrMrA could have taken 3 months off when our kids were born- but the sad fact of the matter is that men are generally not discriminated against in hiring because they *might* get pregnant.

But the second thing that is bugging me is the repetition of the word, and of the idea of, FAIRNESS. As a woman in academic science I just have to say-  where have we been and how far have things changed in ensuring things are fair for women in science in the last 30 years? I am so tired of citing the studies and statistics I could just spit. And I don’t want to hear all that nonsense about how men and women are now represented equally in graduate school. We’ve established many, many moons ago that this fact is true, and it doesn’t mean squat for how things change when you look up the ranks at tenure track faculty, at tenured faculty, at full professors, and at top administration. No matter how much we wish it not to be so, women are still the primary caregivers for children, they are the 50% of our species that give birth and that need time off to recover after giving birth- and no matter how much we wish that parental duties be shared equally- due to biology mothers will always have a role that is more consuming in almost every way (at least at the beginning), than fathers. We can chat on all we want about paternity leave (and I do think this is important and would be great), but I’m not fighting for it right now. I’m fighting for mothers not to be disadvantaged or discriminated against in their careers because they need to take some time off after giving birth.

Sometimes I can’t believe we are STILL talking about this. I challenge all of you, you guys are smart, you guys know your institutions and NIH, NSF etc etc… I challenge you to answer Frautech’s last question up there, because I think Frautech and I really have the same agenda:

But what other support would make sure it was fair, enough to inspire PIs to take the chance, but not so much that it’s a ridiculous amount of leeway?

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42 thoughts on “NIH Supplements for Pregnancy Leave? Just a thought.

  1. Pingback: Twitted by drugmonkeyblog

  2. “But the second thing that is bugging me is the repetition of the word, and of the idea of, FAIRNESS. “

    But you then go on to write about how things are still not “fair”, which implies that “fairness” is still a worthy goal; if fairness doesn’t take into account the biological reality, then it isn’t fair.

    BTW Frautech’s first question could have come just as easily from a wife who, because her husband is given no leeway for being a father, is forced to fill in and assume the old conventions of mother whether she likes it or not (which, of course, is exactly the problem we’re trying to reverse). As it is, my PI is very easy going – has his own kids – and I have the pleasure of being able to share the responsiblities that can be shared (looking after sick child&c), which in turn reduces the disruption to my wife’s career.

    “And I don’t want to hear all that nonsense about how men and women are now represented equally in graduate school”

    It’s almost 50/50 for postdocs, too. Do we still have compelling evidence that there is discrimination currently at play at the postdoc level? (that’s an earnest question, not a challenge.)

    Basically, I think “fairness” is utterly the way forward, regardless of how understandably irritating it must be to have that word presented by a member of the gender that’s been getting the free ride for several thousand years or more.

  3. Current NIH policy on parental leave is that men or women can be paid up to 60 days during parental leave from research project grants or fellowships, provided that similarly situated individuals at the institution being paid from non-Federal funds are afforded the same duration of paid leave.

  4. This reminds me of a colleague who was going to become the first male in an all-female pediatric private practice. He was negotiating his contract, and pointed out that he would not be taking “maternity leave.” The practice offered him an equal amount of paternity leave with pay, similar to what it provided the 3 females. He didn’t want this benefit; he wanted monetary compensation.
    He felt that his job in child rearing wasn’t to stay home and bond, but to bring home the bacon. This has been the traditional male view. In this respect, a wife popping out a couple of babies made male students/postdocs/etc more valuable; they often became more driven. This may change as we baby boomers have left the reproductive years.
    The real problem is the pressure PIs feel to get work out there so funding continues. Otherwise, would a few months delay be an issue?

  5. And I don’t want to hear all that nonsense about how men and women are now represented equally in graduate school.

    I’m pretty sure that DrDrA’s point is not that men and women aren’t represented equally in grad school (or post-doc), but rather that it is nonsense to claim that therefore everything is hunky fucking dory. She seems to be alluding to the fact that men and women are *FAR* from equally represented in independent faculty positions, and that inequality gets worse and worse as one ascends the academic rank ladder.

  6. A couple of years ago a friend of a friend reported back on her experience as a AAAS policy fellow working with the NIH Working Group on women in biomedical research. She said there was a proposed supplement for anyone who had active NIH funding to request administrative supplement support to hire a tech during family leave absence (for the PI at least) in order to carry on productivity for the work. I don’t know what came of that, and I can’t seem to find any specifics on it at the NIH website. But I don’t know if that would extend to absence of key personnel, or if it ever got implemented, or what is going on with it.

  7. DSKS- And your scenario is not right either, I quite agree- but what I am getting at is, what you said yourself: It is
    understandably irritating it must be to have that word presented by a member of the gender that’s been getting the free ride for several thousand years or more.

    As for the postdocs- Look at table 2-5 in ‘To Recruit and Advance’- Postdocs in science and engineering by gender. The most recent data available (from NSF) there are from 2002. Out of a total of 45,000 postdocs, just over 15,000 were women (so just over 30%), and this # may be tilted by engineering- impossible to tell by the table. A quick look at the internet gives on income disparity, and likelihood of postdoc having kids (by gender) this link, but I haven’t yet looked at the source data (the link doesn’t work). Fewer women as postdocs, check. Income disparity for women postdocs, check.

    But that wasn’t my point- my point was as C PP says- to look at the lower ranks, see 50/50 and claim problem solved- is just not reality.

    Pascale- Excellent point, that didn’t even occur to me.

    C PP- Yeah. sure. Current NIH policy on parental leave is that men or women can be paid up to 60 days during parental leave from research project grants or fellowships, provided that similarly situated individuals at the institution being paid from non-Federal funds are afforded the same duration of paid leave.
    Current NIH policy on parental leave is that men or women can be paid up to 60 days during parental leave from research project grants or fellowships, provided that similarly situated individuals at the institution being paid from non-Federal funds are afforded the same duration of paid leave.

    At my institution you take your vacation and/or sick days. There is NO maternity policy, other than the FMLA (which is unpaid). And you and I both know that whatever the current NIH policy is- the bias against hiring women who might pop out a kid during their postdoc still exists- because the PI could be using that money to pay someone else.

  8. Have any of you considered including it in your annual report to NSF/NIH? Seems like it should make a nice contribution to the broader impact statement.

    One of my colleagues tells all of her grad students, male and female, that they are not allowed to have kids while in grad school. The male students take it just as seriously as the female students. So it happens, just obviously much, much, much less frequently.

  9. One of my colleagues tells all of her grad students, male and female, that they are not allowed to have kids while in grad school. The male students take it just as seriously as the female students.

    As horrifying as that statement is, I have to say that it isn’t that much of a problem for a graduate student- only because I don’t know many graduate students who got pregnant, until they were just about ready to graduate, at which point it just provided a greater motivation to finish. (Similar to what Pascale said for men of the baby boomer generation I guess!) The problem is that you can’t tell that to a post-doc; if that is a requirement then you have off the bat eliminated so many of the women who don’t want to wait that long to have kids.

  10. In the UK, the state pays 90% of statutory maternity pay, which significantly reduces the burden on the grant, and allows the PI to hire somebody to stand in for you – at least partially. The biggest problem is that grants don’t get extended if the main employee on the grant takes maternity leave. This is a real problem if you are the main researcher. There is very little paternity leave, but in Germany, for example, couples only get the full allowance if the father takes at least three months. In my view, there needs to be a cultural change – government sponsored maternity AND paternity leave, so that a Y chromosome is no longera guarantee.

    While we’re on the subject of fairness, though, something similar to maternity leave and family leave should also be available to people who care for family. People can choose not to have children, but they cannot choose to have elderly parents, who might just need a lot of care, even if they no longer live with their children. See Zuska.

  11. But that wasn’t my point- my point was as C PP says- to look at the lower ranks, see 50/50 and claim problem solved- is just not reality.”

    Well, we won’t really know the degree to which the problem persists until the current crop of undergrads and postdocs start moving onto the next stage (DM’s 2006 .ppt thingy he posted about put a figure at ~40% for postdocs in life sciences). But these statistics do suggest that women are not being strongly discriminated against as candidates to work for other PIs, which I think was the main issue here. Whether parental concerns are causing women to be discriminated against at TT level is something worth looking into if the numbers don’t start reflecting those at the lower level in the next five years or so.

  12. “Not that much of a problem for graduate students”?!? Speak for yourself, please! I’m driving myself and Hubby absolutely crazy with how badly I want a baby right now (still a few years away from finishing grad school). It’s perfectly normal to start having kids in your late 20s, and whether or not a student chooses to should be a personal decision, not a mandate from above.

    I absolutely agree that NIH should provide supplements to cover a replacement worker while someone is out on maternity leave. It wouldn’t be perfect, since the mother’s skills may be highly specialized, but at least it would keep things moving along a bit.

    DSKS, we’ve had near equal representation in grad school for decades already, and tenure track is nowhere near catching up. This is not a simple time delay issue.

  13. Tina- I believe it is illegal for someone to tell a postdoc that she better not be planning to have children during her employment. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, and it is not something that is easy to gather statistics about.

    perceval- I’m all about family friendliness, I’ve got two aging parents too- so I get where you are coming from. I silently cry with Zuska every time I read one of her posts on this topic.

    DSKS- Ay ei ei. Grad student gender parity in the biological sciences has existed for nearly 20 years (that’s in Figure 2-2 of the same report, was like 47% female in 1991). So we’ve had some time to catch up in the upper echelons as well, but it hasn’t trickled up. Furthermore, those women that do reach the top by and large- gave something up… and what was that something… allow me to quote from the NYT article describing the relevant research:

    And lest all of this look like “personal choice,” when the researchers asked 8,700 faculty members in the University of California system about family and work issues, nearly 40 percent of the women agreed with the statement, “I had fewer children than I wanted,” compared with less than 20 percent of the men.

    You can review the whole post here,

  14. I agree with perceval. This needs cultural change from BOTH SIDES. I heard and experienced so many cases in which women gave up their career and educations for parental or family reasons. I was very disappointed when two cases happened in a short time. Why is it always women who compromise or sacrifice while their husbands do very little for them? This has to change. In the meantime, systematic supports such as NIH admin supplements for maternity leaves and parental reduced working time would be great. Companies hire temp staff to maintain the productivity of groups with such needs. Why don’t academic institutions do the same? And with such a support, even PIs with small labs should take a chance. But this cultural change should come from both sides.

  15. DSKS,
    Here’s my two cents about hiring discrimination of TT women. There seems to be a few things going on with departments/fields that systematically derail women hires:

    1) Young unmarried women with no kids and young married women with no kids are the biggest risk category. The department can’t control her baby-making adventures. A woman potentially could have many pregnancies up to age 40ish, leading to many faculty (particularly those whiny what-about-me men) throwing hissy fits over teaching and service duties when maternity leave(s) are taken by women who aren’t their wives, how dare she inconvenience them with her uterus. She’s got about 7 years from the day of hire and can extend the tenure clock with leaves. That’s a long time of unpredictability. Everyone yells “ILLEGAL QUESTION!! they can’t ask you that!” when a woman candidate says a search committee or faculty member asked her “are you married, got any kids?” but I swear to gawd, there has to be a helmet-wearing asshole with the most notches in every department for scoring the REAL job-related golden info about a candidate. Women would be smart to say that they don’t want kids when asked during hiring interviews. Don’t give anyone any reason to think you’ll be a problem, sigh, for the department. Get hired. Color me jaded. I wish future deadwood would let everyone know during their interviews that they won’t be teaching more than 1 class/year once they get tenure, will scrap together 1 unfunded grant/year, and only crank out 1 crap paper/year to get their yearly raise for doing less and being a bigger pain in the ass.

    2) Married women who still can get pregnant but aren’t spring chickens and might already have kids are medium risky. Again, inquiring minds wanna know (for control’s sake), but still not as risky as the young women. Picking up kids from daycare, sickness, school appointments are not maternity leave time lengths (weeks/months), and there’s the element of already “knowing what’s involved.” The likely male-dominated department thinks that they can manage her on a daily/weekly basis with the behave-yourself tenure carrot over her head. She’s not a total wild card.

    3) Older married women with no kids and older unmarried women with no kids are least risk for hiring. No maternity leaves needed. SCORE! She won’t have to pick up kids, or leave meetings early, or skip out on night events. She’s all yours. oh joy.

    This is my experience in a field that actively discriminates against women at the hiring and tenure steps. There’s 50% women grad students, but 10-20% faculty women, not for lack of trying. The atmospheres for women faculty are horrible, so much so that asst prof women put off kids until tenure because they don’t dare become the first untenured woman with hopes of tenure to take maternity leave. Maternity leave is available, just don’t be stupid enough to use it. You aren’t serious about your career then. sigh. Most women don’t have kids, and if they do (a seriously slim %), the women had one or two kids during grad school and postdoc with really super understanding advisors who are also a seriously slim %. I would love to see some funding for advisors who support maternity leaves for their students and postdocs. It would help women tremendously in my field.

    KT, universities do hire temps. Mostly women adjuncts. And they are paid low wages, they are lucky if there are benefits. It’s been yet another way of exploiting women. Now that the adjuncts were let go because of the budget, the deadwoods are being forced to earn their keep. The hope is that the deadwood get inspired to retire (to save the dept money), but the administration could have hired the adjunct women as TT faculty since all of them had extensive research records along with excellent teaching long before the budget crises. Why buy the cow when the milk is cheap and good? And I’m not sure how “productivity” is measured now that teaching loads are increased across the board, less graduate students were accepted, and postdocs are scarce.

  16. Have any of you considered including it in your annual report to NSF/NIH? Seems like it should make a nice contribution to the broader impact statement.

    This would be meaningless in the NIH annual report. Where it would be coming into play is in a competing renewal if you tried to explain why you didn’t have as much progress as one might expect. I expect this would be entirely ineffective to talk about your postdocs having children during the funding interval. You *might*, maybe, just possibly be able to have this work in your favor as PI. Evaluation of past performance is *supposed* to be predictive, not punitive, for the present request.

  17. What is the situation in countries like the UK and Canada where 6 months maternity leave is mandated by law and can be extended out for a year with no loss of job? They have a regular practice and system for hiring folks to fill such positions in the non-research world….is it the same in the research world? How are they funded?

    It might be a good place to start looking for a solution….I’m pretty sure they offer paternity leave as well…at least our neighbors to the north do.

  18. I think the money for a tech to continue the work would be a very sensible thing. It would mirror what happens in industry. I don’t actually get paid ANY maternity leave from my company. I get paid disability pay from the state and private insurance (that my company and I paid into- and we don’t get a choice about paying for the state disability insurance), and, since I live in CA, I get paid family leave from the state (again, an insurance scheme that my company was required to pay into).

    My company takes some of the money they AREN’T paying me in salary and hires a temporary worker or a consultant to keep important projects going while I’m on leave.

    My husband’s company actually gives him a couple of weeks paternity leave. He has access to the same family leave I do, as well.

    (BTW, I am just weeks from starting my second maternity leave- I’ll take 3 months followed by 1 month part time, just as I did the first time around.)

    Seems like you need a similar system in academia- the “tax” for the leave time pay hits everyone, regardless of who they hire, so there is no incentive (OK, one less incentive) to discriminate against women who might get pregnant.

    @KT- You assume that a mother who decides to take a break from her career and stay home for awhile is (1) making a compromise she doesn’t want to make and (2) abandoning her career. However, Sometimes mothers (or fathers) decide that they want to stay home with their kids for a few years rather than go back to work right away. This is a perfectly acceptable decision, and should not be seen as reflecting on what any other mother or father will decide to do. Every family is different. You don’t really know what you’ll want until you have the baby. The women I know who are taking “career breaks” while caring for their babies intend to go back to their careers.

    I understand your frustration about how all women get judged by the decisions some make- but the answer isn’t to stop women from making the decisions that are right for them and their families. The answer is to stop society from judging us all as one monolithic group.

    All in all, reading posts like these make me happy with my industry career. Becoming a mother doesn’t seem to have affected my career progress much, if at all- although I did decide to switch to a job that involved less travel. I hope academia can get this sorted out. Of course, I also waited until I was quite established in my career to have kids- but that was mostly because I hadn’t found the father earlier.

  19. Sometimes mothers (or fathers) decide that they want to stay home with their kids for a few years rather than go back to work right away. This is a perfectly acceptable decision, and should not be seen as reflecting on what any other mother or father will decide to do.

    Just for a reality check, taking a few years off for kids is UNACCEPTABLE in academic science. This is a one-way trip out of the academy.

  20. @whimple- I respectfully disagree. I personally know two people who have done it. One did it earlyish in her career, and went back to another postdoc. The other did it later, and had to take a step down the career ladder to return, but is now reasonably happy with her choice. The first is in America. The second is in New Zealand. Both are back on academic career paths, in the biosciences.

    I’m not saying it is easy or something I would attempt- a sample size of two is pretty poor. I would be a terrible stay at home mom and given the sort of work I do, I belong in industry. But it is clearly not impossible. In fact, I think there are special grants available to encourage “returning scientists”.

  21. I forgot to say- my real point in my original comment to KT was that IF a mother decides to ditch her career, permanently or temporarily, to stay home or IF she decides to redefine her career out of academia- we shouldn’t fault her and think that she is letting the side down. She is doing what is right for herself and her family. We should fault the society that judges all women by what some women decide.

    I apologize if that was unclear.

  22. Cloud- I could not take 2-3 years off from my tenure track position, and return to where I left off when I was ready to come back. I could see taking time between grad school and postdoc, perhaps. Or maybe even between two postdoc positions. But once you are in that tenure track position, I’m going to have to side with Whimple…. it would be a one way street out of academic science… with, perhaps, very very rare exceptions.

  23. whimple @ “This is a one-way trip out of the academy.”

    Yup, thanks for the one-way ticket d00ds. Pretty convenient for keeping women and their uteruses out of the d00dly rat wheel. You doods wouldn’t know what to do with yourselves if you couldn’t set the rules so you WIN!!! WIN!!!! WIN!!!!

    “Just for a reality check, taking a few years off for kids is UNACCEPTABLE in academic science.”

    DOOM. IMPENDING DOOM. TEH WURLD WIL ASPLOD.
    I can’t imagine why women change careers way more than men. lemme ponder that one. Oh, that’s Right – we’re fickle little creatures who have no clue what we wanna do with our pretty little selves.

  24. I wonder if a solution to this could be the way people find partners to have kids with. Kids are a full time job, at least initially, and the way many career-driven men deal with this is having partners who are happy without a career. Similarly, women who want a career could select for men who are happier being at home or in a not-so-driven environment. There’s plenty of men who do not care fr the rat race and would be fine not being the primary breadwinner. Instead, women who are career focused seem to find men who are even more career focused and this inevitably leads to clashes when kids arrive.

  25. drdrA- I think you and whimple misunderstood me. I’m not saying that you could take that much time off and return to a position at the same level. Frankly, I couldn’t do that either. If I dropped out of the job market for 2-3 years, I would almost certainly have to come back in at a position more junior than the one I hold now. The Kiwi I know who did this was a senior lecturer at the time she left, and came back in a few years later as a junior lecturer- so yes, definitely a “step back” in her career. The American I know left a post doc, and came back to do another post doc. I suspect taking time out would be much easier to do earlier in your career, but I don’t really know.

    My original point was that if someone decides to try this difficult path, or to change their career path to one they think fits their life better now that they have kids, or even to quit their career altogether, it is wrong to think that they are necessarily making a “compromise” they don’t want to make or to imply that they are somehow letting down other women- which is how I read KT’s comment. They may indeed feel like their choice is the best from bad options. Or they may feel like their choice represents the perfect thing for them, and not see it as a compromise at all. Some mothers (and some fathers) genuinely want to be at home with their kids, and I think any solution that expects otherwise is doomed to fail.

    For the record, I make similarly contrary comments to people who say things that imply that all working mothers would take 1+ years off if only they could afford to do so. I could have. I chose not to, and I am very happy with that decision. A year off after the birth of my daughter would probably have landed me under the care of a psychiatrist. I am not joking. Going back to work saved my sanity.

    I don’t think we advance the effort to improve the situation for women who want to combine career and motherhood by expecting all women, even all highly educated women, to want to do that. I also don’t think we do any good by saying that longer maternity leave will solve all the problems. Let’s work for genuine choices for women, not to replace one bad system with another.

    All that said- I agree that there should be some equitable system in place to allow academic scientists of all levels maternity leave. I don’t think you’re going to get 6 months paid leave, though, because almost no one working for a company gets that. We get 6 weeks, often at partial pay. I also get another 6 weeks at partial pay because I live in CA.

  26. Cloud- on this:

    it is wrong to think that they are necessarily making a “compromise” they don’t want to make or to imply that they are somehow letting down other women

    we quite agree.

  27. @Justin- I don’t think one partner has to be less career oriented to allow the other partner to continue working after the birth of a child. I think both partners have to realize that their lives are going to change, and make the appropriate adjustments. My husband and I are both reasonably career-oriented- not driven to be famous in our fields, but certainly driven to have meaningful careers. We both continued to work after having our first child, and both intend to continue working after the birth of our second.

    We both made some adjustments to how we arrange our days, and we both dropped ~90% of our non-work, non-child related activities. We gave up on the idea of keeping our house as clean as it used to be, and have prioritized household chores, which we split fairly equitably. We take turns taking sick days when our daughter is sick. We juggle our schedules when one person has an early or late meeting that messes with our usual routine.

    Neither of us think our careers have suffered noticeably since becoming parents. We have both gotten promoted and gotten raises post-child.

    I am not, however, a good example for women wondering about combining motherhood with an academic career, since I left academia long before my daughter was born. I’m gathering from this post and some others I’ve read from academic bloggers that things are harder in academia. I don’t know if the problems are harder, but they are certainly different.

  28. “We get 6 weeks, often at partial pay.”

    Jings. Women really need to unionize and seriously consider blowing some shit up.

  29. The following is not really what your post was about, but I strongly feel that, beyond the issue of incentives or supplements to reward PIs for doing the right thing when it comes to hiring and employee maternity leaves, postdocs as a group are sorely in need of some standardized policies and protections in this area. To illustrate with a personal anecdote, I had my first daughter during the 4th year of my postdoc at UC Berkeley. As at many institutions, there were many job classifications for postdocs depending upon the sources from which they were paid. I had been paid from my advisor’s grant for a year, then had won an individual NRSA fellowship for two years; several months before my daughter was born, the fellowship concluded and I was again paid from my advisor’s grant. At this change in status, I was considered to be a “new hire” by the university (and lost accumulated sick and vacation days), despite the fact that I had worked full time and continuously in one lab for over three years. At the time I needed maternity leave, I was formally within a 6-month new-hire probationary period, ineligible even for FMLA. I had had only 3 months since coming off my fellowship in which to accumulate sick and vacation days. I was completely at the mercy of whatever my advisor was willing to offer, which as it happens was 6 weeks off. He felt he was being very generous to let me have those 6 weeks with pay, by not reporting my time away from the lab as an official leave. I, on the other hand, felt angry and bitter, because I would have had 4 months unused sick and vacation had these days accumulated continuously while I was on my fellowship, and because the fellowship had been to my advisor’s benefit as he had not had to pay my salary for 2 years. Of course, it could have been worse– my advisor was under no obligation to pay me during my leave. Female academics often spend a considerable portion of their child-bearing years as postdocs, and the postdoc job classification really needs to come with better and more consistent protections for parental leaves.

  30. Crystaldoc- Thanks for your comment. This problem of change in status during postdoc years as one moves on and off grants/fellowships etc.- is quite real, and to my knowledge hasn’t improved since the time I was a student. And you are quite right, there is painfully little standardized proactice/policy for postdocs. This is something that can and should change.

  31. The idea of a “fellowship”, as something other than employment at the local institution should be scrapped. All other NIH-funded job categories treat the person as a real employee of their University. Scientists *are* workers, I don’t care if they are doing education and training, it should be treated as a real job right from day one of grad school.

  32. BM has it just right. The “fellowship” job category has been ritualistically abused by universities for years. Crystaldoc, that is a really egregious example. Berkeley should be ashamed of itself.

  33. I was almost in a similar situation to crystaldoc’s, also due to my funding switching sources recently (relative to my time in my postdoc lab). The timing was (fortuitously) slightly better, though, so the situation instead was quite odd: I was guaranteed six weeks of maternity leave, and then my advisor could, at his discretion, allow me up to another six weeks of paid leave.

    Fortunately my advisor told me to take as much time as I needed, so things are fine, but again, the non-standardized leave is really silly and leaves trainees totally at the mercy of their relationship with their advisors–as though there weren’t enough aspects of our lives dependent on that relationship.

    After Larry Summers’ inane comments about women in science, Harvard implemented a fund that allowed postdocs who needed time off for family reasons (primarily maternity leave) to apply for funds for a tech for 6 months (or maybe a year?) to help minimize the impact on the lab of their absence. One friend of mine took it, said it really saved her ass for keeping up with labwork during and after maternity leave. Sadly, the rest of us don’t have Harvard’s $$$.

  34. The idea of a “fellowship”, as something other than employment at the local institution should be scrapped. All other NIH-funded job categories treat the person as a real employee of their University.

    Blaming the universities for this is totally misguided. NIH pays no fringe or indirects on individual fellowships and only a pittance of indirects on insitutional training grants.

  35. PeePee your reading comp sucks ass lately. No blame was placed, the situation was lamented. I don’t care who scraps it, the fellowship thing leads to employee abuse

  36. And it needs to be fixed. Could be that both sides need to step up on this because the Uni’s and NIH both benefit from the scam

  37. I believe the “fix” would need to initiate with NIH. Currently the NIH does not allow trainees to be considered or treated as university employees. It may be that the intent of this was to provide fully protected time to the trainee for their own professional development, and to give them greater autonomy in formulating their training plans. However, it really backfires as NIH fellowships do not provide sufficient funding for benefits like adequate health insurance, and federal regulations limit or prohibit the ability to supplement trainee stipends from other federal grants. Some universities pay part of the gap from institutional, nonfederal sources, but this is far from universal.

    Even beyond rules for fellowships, I think NIH is pretty backwards in its view of what is “adequate” for postdoc benefits generally, considering the proportion of postdocs that are people in their 30’s with families. At my current institution, the NIH-negotiated fringe rates for a tech paid 45K off of an NIH grant is ~30%, while the negotiated fringe rate for a postdoc with the same salary is ~11%. My institution has decided to give postdocs the same medical and PTO benefits as techs, the only thing they don’t get is retirement benefits, but the 11% negotiated fringe rate does not come close to covering this level of benefits, so PIs have to make up the difference out of discretionary funds (ie the institutional money allocated for our own salaries). I imagine there are other institutions where the postdocs just do not get good benefits, period.

    Why couldn’t NIH first of all acknowledge that people in the postdoc phase of life are professionals, grown-ups, as likely as any other adults to want families, and to need and deserve full health plans and PTO? And then write these dollars into the budgets? The next step would be to put individual fellowship recipients in the same category, to change the rules to make them university employees just like postdocs paid off of R01s, eligible for all the same benefits; this would eliminate the bookkeeping problems and loss of accumulated benefits when postdocs transition on and off of fellowships. Would that be so hard? (I mean, aside from coming up with the dollars…)

  38. Blaming the universities for this is totally misguided. NIH pays no fringe or indirects on individual fellowships and only a pittance of indirects on insitutional training grants.

    Yeah, it’s such a bad deal it’s hard to believe anyone ever applies for fellowships and institutional training grants. HAHAHAHAHAHA!

  39. That is very interesting. But if you pay PIs extra (or compensate in some non-monetary way) for every pregnant woman, do you do the same for young fathers?

    I have never known a father to be discriminated against that does anything more than inconvenience him let alone challenge his career, why are we even talking about paternity when maternity is still proving to be a challenge and is still beyond satisfactory.

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