Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Postdoc Parenting Work-Life Balance

There's a koan in academia for when is the best time to have a kid:
No time is the right time, all times are equally good (bad?)
My husband is also a postdoc. We have a 9 month old. This is a glass half full kind of post, about how we've taken advantage of the flexible hours, the autonomy, and a few supportive policies to pursue parenting and work on our own(-ish) terms. 

The short of it is that at least one of us was home with our daughter full time until she turned 4 months old and at least one of us continues to be home with her four days a week. Here's how we do it:

Family leave:

I took 6 weeks paid maternity leave + vacation/holiday time to reach 3 months paid leave total. My husband took 2 months paid leave (whoohoo NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship paternity leave!). We offset our leave so that one of us could be home with our daughter until she turned 4 months old (i.e., I took months 1, 2, and 4, my husband took months 1 and 3).  Granted, other countries are way ahead of us on this, but we feel so lucky to have had this option here in the U.S.


At least one of us is home with our daughter Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday we have a nanny who has a 2 year old. They're both wonderful. I work on Saturdays and am home on Mondays. We split Fridays. Fridays take discipline, and we've only managed at best a 7-hour workday each on that day (we each take one of the following shifts as our work hours: 7am-2pm or 2pm-9pm). I also pause to nurse and we both pause to put her to bed. 

The upside of my working on Saturdays:
  • Fewer distractions at work since few people are in. 
  • We each get 1-on-1 time with our daughter -- great for bonding. 
  • Missed interactions with colleagues on Mondays.
  • We only get one weekend day together as a family.

- Yes, these choices have impacted our productivity.
- Yes, decreased productivity has repercussions for this transient postdoc phase.
- Yes, as a community we need to be thinking about 'stop the clock' type policies for postdocs given the coincidence in timing with childbearing years and the increase in the number of postdocs we go through before accessing tenure positions (if we remain in academia). 

All career routes face this issue of reconciling early career progress with starting a family. I thought it might be useful to share our approach and highlight the perks of flexible schedules, autonomy, and a few supportive policies.

Finally, a question for you all: At the 2008 winter AAS the CSWA hosted a panel discussion, "When is a good time to have kids?" Although 'all times are equally good - have kids when the time is right for you' was the refrain, there was the sense that if you have all your ducks in a row, during grad school may be best. 

Is this still the consensus 7 years later? If you have the choice/option, is grad school still considered the timing that has the least negative impact on career trajectories?

A few relevant posts / literature:
Please add more in the comments. 


Anonymous said...

check out the discussion in the Facebook 'Astronomers' group.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. As a parent of two young kids during my time as postdoc I can say this:

1. While having kids (and life beyond work in general) come on the expense of work time, we should keep in mind that academia, and in particular the post doc stage, is probably the most flexible job one can have. At least it gives us more room to control our time and spend it with the kids (on the expense of sleeping time and vacations...).

2. Having kids highly limits the option to travel. I have a full time working spouse and I haven't been to a full meeting since my first child was born.

3. There is never a "good time" to have a child, it is more a matter of personal properness. If you feel ready, just have them and everyone will manage. Career wise, no one should have kids but that isn't what matters.

stephenn richardsonn said...

Work life balance is a concept including proper prioritizing between "work" (career and ambition) and "lifestyle".