Tuesday, June 18, 2013

ADVICE: When to Raise a Family

CSWA convened a panel at the January 2008 AAS meeting in Austin where astronomers at various stages in their careers described the way in which they made their decisions about when to raise a family and how their choices have had an impact on their careers. The panel was organized by then CSWA Chair, Geoff Clayton (Louisiana State University). Panel members were: Hannah Jang-Condell (University of Maryland & GSFC), Margaret Hanson (University of Cincinnati), Orsola De Marco (American Museum of Natural History), Charles Liu (CUNY) and John Debes (DTM).

One of the most difficult decisions facing professional women is whether to have children and, if so, when. In practice women in astronomy have chosen a variety of solutions, ranging from delaying or interrupting graduate school or postdoctoral fellowships, delaying child rearing until after tenure, or even abandoning the idea of having children. These decisions usually have a considerable impact on the career path of a professional woman. The following points summarize the views of the panelists and members of the audience: When is the best time to have kids?

1. All times are equally good, meaning that you need to have kids when the time is right for you. Women cannot always count on waiting until 'the time is right' to get pregnant. Nature doesn't always oblige on a schedule and if you wait too long into your late 30's or early 40's, it may be too late.

2. If you have a choice in the matter, then having kids during grad school might have the least impact on your career because it is easier to take some time off. When you are a postdoc you are usually on a two-year clock and when you are tenure track, you usually on a five-year clock.

3. Finding a daycare situation you really trust and that your child loves is critical to your peace of mind that they are well taken care of and you are not a 'bad parent' for not raising them yourself.

4. Men need to be proactive and ask about benefits and policies with regard to parental leave, delay of tenure, etc., and make use of these opportunities themselves, so it is not always associated with female astronomers (to reduce biases), and to become a more fully engaged new parent.

5. During the hiring process you may want to be open about your two-body (or N-body) problem during job interviews. But the best time to bring it up, whether at the beginning of the process or when on the short list, will vary with the situation. It would be nice to get hired at places that are family friendly in order to pressure institutions to change, but most people don't have the luxury of choosing between multiple offers.

6. Don't listen too much to anyone's advice (including ours!). Everyone's kid is different; everyone's personal circumstances are different; everyone's parenting style is different. You know what's best for your family, and don't let anyone else tell you differently.

7. A supportive partner and/or a circle of support from friends and family is extremely helpful.

8. Having kids is really hard, let alone trying to work at the same time, but it may be the most rewarding thing you ever do.