A Forced Career Gap? Pregnancy Between Positions

I’m writing about both happy news and … other news. The happy news is that the partner and I are expecting Kid #2. It’s something we’re hopeful and excited about, especially after an uncomfortable miscarriage. Maybe if I lived in a different place (I’m in the US) or a different time (please, I hope the next generation of academics and workers will have different working conditions), the news would end there. Yay for (planned) parenthood for the folks who want to be parents. End of story.

But it’s not.

This potential Kid#2 has a probable due date of right after I’m PhinisheD. Yes, right after I officially graduate, AKA in theory when I would be starting a new position. This has made postdoc and job searching – and overall career planning – very, very difficult.

Yes, it was my* decision to have Kid#1 and to try for Kid#2 *. Yes, technically it would be illegal for potential employers to refuse to hire me on the basis of me being a pregnant person ***. Yes, technically it would be illegal for potential employers to even ask me about a pregnancy or marriage or kids ****.


In the US, the (unpaid) family leave doesn’t apply for folks who are just starting jobs. You must have worked at least 20 hrs a week for a full year before you are eligible for FMLA (again, UNPAID) leave*****. So I have zero protections in the workplace in practice. Even if an employer chose to hire me, we’re talking about having to give birth on one TBD day and returning to work the next. Unless I somehow already had access to sick leave, which is unlikely and would buy me a few days – which may not be enough to even get out of the hospital.

So. I’m sort of stuck at the moment. It doesn’t seem to make sense to even look at job or postdoc ads. Who is going to hire me and then let me delay for 2 or 3 months? That’s not realistic outside of the academy, as the non-academic job market has a much quicker application-to-start-date timeline. This doesn’t seem like a situation in which going alt-ac would actually help. Sure, some large companies have their own family leave policies (often, paid – yay!), but they often also have restrictions on how long you must have worked there before you can take such leave. And most employers in the US have no paid family leave at all for employees – some barely offer sick leave.

So yes, it’s my choice to have a kid, but the policies in place at institutional, state, and federal levels are stacked against me being employed and having that kid. While at least California has a state-level paid family leave program, I don’t live there. Other states are discussing the idea but it hasn’t passed yet, and I probably don’t live there either.

Within the academy, postdocs are often hired for a specific project funded by a specific grant. PIs often write these grants to funding agencies for a postdoc to carry out the work of an idea they’ve been thinking about, and then advertise those positions when the funds come through. These have short turn-around times (compared to say, the year-long application process to apply to be a faculty member). I don’t know anyone who was hired for this kind of postdoc close to their due date or immediately thereafter. Perhaps they too self-selected not to apply given the inability to have access to time off. Perhaps the PIs chose not to hire them. Often these grants have set timelines (only some funding agencies allow no-cost-extensions), so delaying a hire for a few months is a burden on their project. The academic system as is rewards PIs and postdocs who churn out publications – asking for needed time off doesn’t fit into that model. Tenure track PIs may get delays on the tenure clock and some (not all) get family leave, but most institutions have nothing for postdocs, male or female.

The other kind of postdoc, a more independent fellowship directly from funders, is far less common and more prestigious. But that doesn’t mean they have more progressive maternity leave policies^. For example, NIH allows NRSA fellows to use their 15 sick days to apply to maternity leave. How nice of them! Only if those fellows are at institutions that allow paid maternity leave for postdocs are they then allowed to access up to 30 days of paid leave. In practice, maybe people on these fellowships who have supportive PIs don’t even tell the funding agency about a gap in work of ~6 weeks. Again, these fellowships are more rare and very competitive. So while I can hope to get one, odds are against that.

In general, I’ve found that all of the advice and conversation about academic family leave is by and about people who are already in student or faculty positions trying to navigate the (broken) system. Here’s an anonymous article written by a postdoc who had 2 kids during her 4 year “prestigious” postdoc. Here’s another that portends to be “solutions for postdoc parenting problems.” And here’s the official-sounding “A Postdoc’s Guide to Pregnancy and Maternity Leave” from the National Postdoctoral Association. Those are great and important perspectives to add to the overall conversation about the need for family leave and family-friendly policies in the academy, especially for folks in non-faculty positions.


But the constraints and challenges of accessing leave and then balancing work + kids once you’re in a position are different. I don’t mean to undersell those challenges (I’ve been there!), but what about those of us between positions? The current rules and policies seem designed to kick more people, especially women, out of the pipeline. If you’ve been in a similar situation, hired postdocs or staff in similar positions, or otherwise have constructive thoughts to add to this conversation, I look forward to reading them in the comments.


UPDATE: Check out this brand new website developed by women lawyers with support from NSF about how Title IX should be applied to pregnant scholars as students, faculty + employees, + postdocs (basically depending on your institution, postdocs are seen as either students or employees):


They have postdoc specific resources, but again, those apply to people who are already in postdoctoral positions.

What laws protect postdocs?

How to find help



*and my partner’s decision. I hate how media references ‘women’ having babies as if we’re cloning ourselves. Not yet!

** there are conflicting figures on how many births are actually not planned, which varies widely depending on birth control use (or not). But the number of unplanned pregnancies is not inconsequential, so I could have been in this situation even if I hadn’t been ‘trying’ per se.

*** but the burden of proof in all EEOC matters on the applicant or employee to show that was the cause of not-hiring, not-promoting, or firing. That’s really tough if not often impossible.

**** but pregnancy is only invisible/a choice to disclose for so long

***** and work for an organization large enough for FLMA to apply. If I were to go work for a start up or small business or the like, they could very well be exempt – AKA it wouldn’t matter how long I had worked there. No right to even unpaid leave to keep the job.

^ or paternity leave.

49 thoughts on “A Forced Career Gap? Pregnancy Between Positions

  1. I think it’s challenging for any female who is in between jobs and pregnant; regardless of whether you’re an academic or not. Most private companies require that you work a certain number of days/months to accrue sick time and get access to the maternity leave program. However, I happen to know for a fact that a prestigious state University system with a postdoc union gives you all of your annual sick time the minute you begin your postdoc. It would have been a wonderful time for me to have a child, if I made that decision.

    Have you asked your PhD advisor if there might be some funding for you to stay on there as a postdoc for a few months? If you could take leave (unpaid), then continue doing some research/publishing (at least in my field many people get at least a few months of salary to publish after they officially graduate) for a few months, that could provide you with health insurance, at least. And no employment gap when you’re writing your CV and applying for other positions. If you haven’t yet had that discussion, I recommend doing so with your PI. Good luck!

    • Yes, I agree that these challenges are true for all women in between job opportunities (I included 1 paragraph on the private sector).

      My PhD advisor would not approve that workaround, alas. I know him well enough not to even ask. He has refused to allow any of his graduating students to stay on as postdocs for any reason, even for a few months, to avoid CV gaps or unemployment. Previous graduates of my lab have moved back home while job searching for this reason. For that reason and many others, I want a clean break from this lab group when I graduate.

      In terms of CV continuity, I have a honorary title/position (aka no $$) with an external university. So on paper I could choose to look employed (or at least have academic affiliation) for the next while while continuing to apply to things. But that title-only set-up only works for folks who have insurance, etc through a partner (if they have a partner) – it’s not a solution to family leave challenges in the academy or elsewhere.

  2. “It doesn’t seem to make sense to even look at job or postdoc ads.”

    Completely disagree. The downsides to academic research are many (and you do a great job of outlining the unique vulnerabilities of your situation), but one of its many upsides is flexibility. Some PIs need to fill postdoc positions on tight funding schedules, but not all. Junior faculty with startup funds don’t, and if you are a competitive candidate a new prof might be overjoyed to get someone like you and be willing to make atypical accommodations. Why are you waiting around for ads anyway? Contact PIs you’d like to work with and propose working with them starting when you would like to return from maternity leave. (Maybe they’d find a way to support you with an earlier start date and true leave as well… seems like a fairy tale but I would absolutely be willing to work hard for a solution for a candidate I wanted.)

    Of course none of this is helpful in the main problem you describe (no formal support for maternity in between positions), but there is absolutely no reason why you can’t start planning a postdoctoral career months in advance, assuming that’s what you want. This can also give you plenty of time to write for fellowships or grants or otherwise plan the project once you commit. I’m currently interviewing someone who contacted me six months ago about starting a postdoc six months from today. I guarantee you that showing that kind of initiative and academic independence / ambition will offset the “liability” of your maternity at least a little with prospective faculty mentors.

    • Great points, yes.

      I should have added somewhere that yes, in practice that’s what I’m attempting to do [the title said gap! not leaving forever, I hope] is applying for things that start 3+ months out from the due date. So I will definitely have a CV gap and, in the ‘real world,’ more importantly, a very real $$$+benefits gap. If I was not partnered or was the main breadwinner (as I have been in the past), that wouldn’t fly to be unemployed for an unknown number of months, especially if I was uninsured. But yes, I am hoping that I can choose to only disclose the info I want and frame the situation as ‘I will be available in/am looking for a start date of XXXX.’ Let’s hope PIs are as flexible – and funding is as available – as you believe. I will report back in the future.

        • as you pointed out earlier, that’s the minimum. I have no idea how long it will take to find something, I only know the window in which I couldn’t take a position (I’m estimating that to be a 3 month window, which is presuming that I and potential kid#2 are both healthy). The overall point still stands, regardless of how many months the gap is. Plus, current research from outside the academy shows very poor employment statistics for job seekers with employment gaps of larger than 6 months – I don’t think there is a similar study on academics, but if you know of one, please share.

      • Agree with anon–the “CV gap” is a total nonissue: a) if you list your positions on your CV by year and the gap is within a calendar year it is invisible; b) as said, people understand funding gaps; c) every university has affiliation positions; you could, for example, commit to doing a postdoc starting June 1, but receive affiliation status (which is little more than a university ID card) on March 1, if that sits better with you… perhaps you will find a way to skype in to lab meetings or submit fellowships during that interim anyway.

        I think a very serious issue you face is what and when to disclose. Some PIs will hold it against you if you don’t disclose and show up later with a baby; others will never consider you if you do disclose in the beginning. The choices you make now to shore up your career options, with long range planning in terms of projects, funding, collaborations, and overall vision, have a huge impact on how prospective postdoc mentors will perceive you and your “riskiness” as a hire.

        • “others will never consider you if you do disclose in the beginning.” <- for the record, that is illegal. It should NOT be framed as my choice to disclose and how whether I do is on me.

          Title VII. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against sex discrimination, including pregnancy-related discrimination. Under Title VII, employers must treat pregnancy like any other temporary disability and cannot discriminate on the basis of pregnancy during hiring/firing decisions.

          Not all postdocs, however, will qualify as "employees" for the purposes of this law. (from the postdoc pregnancy doc from National Postdoc group) . THAT to me sounds like one of the real problems. That postdocs are somehow (depending on institution + funding) not real employees who aren't protected from hiring discrimination. To be clear, that problem is academia specific. I hope funding agencies ensure that the postdocs they fund get equal protections (because they claim to care about Title IX) but I bet they don't.

          • Of course it’s illegal/unethical. But you need to make decisions that serve you and your family best, and you will evaluate reality (not the law) to make those decisions… which is exactly why you stated above: “I am hoping that I can choose to only disclose the info I want”.

            It’s useful to frame this discussion around your choices because that’s what you do have control over, in a situation that is so vulnerable and in which there is so much out of your control.

            I’m simply pointing out that in my opinion… one of the most difficult choices you are facing is what to disclose and when. I am in fact asserting that you are in an extra vulnerable position here, between a damned-if-ya-do and -don’t place. For example: we both agree that disclosing everything up front will slam some doors. Unfair but not the point (at least not the point I’m making). But keeping your complete plans a total secret might damage a professional relationship with a new mentor. I mean, I would absolutely be frustrated if this were sprung on me at the last possible moment* by a new lab member, even as I would totally understand why… and I’d say someone like me is one of your best case scenarios (actively interested in issues of trainee stability and equity). Among other things, not telling your future mentor closes off opportunities for them to help you more.

            Look, it’s a scary situation. So I want to emphasize that the one thing you really have on your side at this career stage is flexibility. You write, “Tenure track PIs may get delays on the tenure clock and some (not all) get family leave, but most institutions have nothing for postdocs, male or female.” While the family leave issue is an abomination, the bit about the tenure clock is not a useful comparison. A year delay on the tenure clock is not a year in which the PI doesn’t work, it’s just an extra year before evaluation. Postdocs have no clock; flexibility is built in. Faculty search committees (assuming this is the direction you’re headed) are extremely flexible about whether the postdoc training was 2 years or 6, all things considered, and non-academic jobs even more so. Working from home, working in a collaborator’s lab, working for multiple labs, are all commonplace, and so is doing short stints in one place and moving on, assuming the productivity/skill development makes sense. I really hope, if you go for a postdoc, you can find a supervisor who can be really active in coming up with a flexible arrangement and be a win-win for everyone.

            *not saying you are planning to do this

  3. I wouldn’t count out faculty jobs or postdocs, if that’s the route you want to go. Many universities can and do postpone TT faculty start dates up to a year. I’ve seen that happen multiple times at four different universities. Not every school can do it — small teaching schools are often less flexible — but that is something you can suss out during an interview. It also seems less likely with strictly teaching positions.

    Realistically, though, most faculty job searches for a summer 2016 start have closed already. You won’t be applying for faculty jobs until next fall and not starting until summer 2017, so let’s focus on postdocs.

    Some postdocs can be flexible about the start date, especially if you’re only talking about delaying for a couple of months. Yes, some projects do need someone right away to get field work going, etc., but that’s not always the case and even when it is, there are workarounds. Sometimes there’s a grad student who could use summer funding and can pick up that time. In that case, your postdoc funding may last 21 months instead of 24, but you’ll know that going in. Sometimes a postdoc has left for another position, and the grant needs coverage for the next 10 months. I just saw that happen. Is it ideal for you? Maybe not, but it’s something. You’re more likely to find out about these sorts of things at your current institution. Ask around, colleagues, advisers, etc. Is your job search more limited because the timing? Yes, but very few people have the luxury of an entirely unlimited job search.

    Bottom line, if I were hiring a postdoc who needed to start in September instead of June, it would probably be no big deal, as long as they were up front about it. The thing that would make it difficult is if they sprung it on me at the last minute.

  4. finding a post doc takes much longer than you think it will so please, please, please start looking now. my search process took over a year and my start date was delayed by four months later than i wanted it to be based on red tape in getting the actual money from the NSF. so you never know how things will work out. as long as you are clear about when you can start i don’t see why you can’t start looking now.

    • I believe you. Sorry to hear about your red tape delay. I read a study (although it didn’t specify postdoc or non-ac job) that stem PhD grads had on average 8 months between graduation and employment. So maybe I don’t have to worry…

  5. This advice may not be particularly helpful in your situation, but when I was in the same boat I solved the problem by securing an external post-doc fellowship (I’m in Canada.). I was bringing my own funding with me to my post-doc to cover my salary, so the PI was happy to wait a bit longer for me to come. The funding gave me leverage. I defended my Ph.D., gave birth to my daughter 3 weeks later, took ~10 months parental leave, and then started my post-doc. This was possible due to a lot of advance planning and the fact that Canada has reasonable, but not perfect, parental leave benefits.

    • Glad to hear you made it work! Can I ask you to clarify some follow up? In the example I gave of external fellowships (like NIH NSRA) here in the US, I don’t think a recipient could delay starting their fellowship for 10 months. Is that what you’re saying you were able to do?

      • Yes, I was able to delay the start of my fellowship. Our funding agencies are starting to recognize the need to be flexible about start dates due to a variety of reasons (family care issues, health issues, etc.).If NIH is serious about enforcing Title IX as it applies to research, they might want to look at how their own policies might be discriminatory against a subset of the population (i.e. pregnant women).

        • thanks for clarifying. I will look into how that works with US funding agencies, although I’ve not heard of it. I’ve read new legal guidance coming out that tries to clarify the rights of pregnant scholars (from undergraduates through professors) but it’s not written by Dept of Justice (but rather by awesome feminist lawyers trying to challenge the system and yes, ask hard Qs about enforcing Title IX)

          • For what it’s worth, I have an NSF postdoc and the start date was very flexible — I could start on the first of the month, any calendar month in 2015 (for an award granted in Dec 2014). A colleague with the same fellowship had a baby shortly after defending and delayed her postdoc start date for several months. This doesn’t solve the very real issue of how to pay your bills/cover insurance in the interim, but at least it does provide some leeway in terms of time off.

          • am glad to hear that, thanks for sharing your experience. Could you share which kind of NSF postdoc you have, if you’re comfortable, or if it’s within a specific division? Is it something you had to run by a grant officer or was it just paperwork that didn’t need anyone’s approval? If this is broad NSF policy, I’m surprised that it’s not in their FAQs related to various fellowships (I’ve been trying to find documentation online) – and would love to celebrate them doing things right if they are.

        • from the National Postdoc Org document: postdocs don’t necessarily qualify for FMLA or other protections because they are not necessarily seen as real employees of organizations (yikes! a whole other level of problem)

          Also, their guidance suggests a “no cost extension” could be applied for in a grant cycle due to things like key personnel going on family leave, but doesn’t say if delaying the start of funds or a postdoc fellowship would qualify. I tried to look up NSF policies but haven’t found anything addressing it specifically yet.

          • My fellowship is through the earth sciences division, and selecting my start date was just part of the standard paperwork, no special permission needed. I chose to delay my start for three months because I wanted an extended vacation — I finalized and submitted manuscripts from two of my PhD chapters and did some planning for my new project, but also did a lot of skiing and spent quality time with my parents. I realize I was privileged to be in a position to afford to take an unpaid break like this, but I was very grateful to be able to regroup after the final push to finish up my degree. I don’t know about other NSF programs per se, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they have somewhat flexible start dates as well, given that many people apply while in the last year of grad school and that there is some inherent uncertainty about defense timelines.

            Best wishes for your postdoc search and new family member!

          • thanks for sharing your experience – hopefully other programs + divisions + funding agencies have that same flexibility (although it’d also be nice if there were title ix specific reasons you could move your start date – it’s probably also nice not to have to share that info)

      • NSF (or at least parts of NSF?) are really starting to care about this issue. A friend of mine got an independent grant through NSF that had she gotten it a year later, she could have delayed it due to pregnancy and childbirth. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about NIH. But there might be provisions. Contact a program officer right now and find out. If such a policy isn’t in place, point out that there is one at NSF and that NIH ought to consider following suit. Things are changing.

    • I am sure that could work for people in certain situations. My lab + department have a strict culture of “defend + get out” – whereas I definitely have friends in the humanities who decide which year they will leave depending on their job market success, whether or not they already defended (and they continue TAing in the meantime). That won’t work for my personal situation, and I am happy to be moving towards PhDONE, but I could see some people trying that as a workaround (or, if you had a sympathetic advisor with some funds, trying to get them to keep you as a temporary postdoc).

      • I was talking about your particular situation. Too bad this is not a possibility for you.

        I know of people delaing their PhDs for a number of reasons. In my case, I delayed my degree in the US from May to August in order to keep my visa status. I also delayed moving between two tenure-track jobs for a year due to being pregnant (but this was in Canada, where the circumstances are different, as AEMcDonald points out).

        I’m sorry, this should be a time for celebration and you have to worry about these things. Good luck!

        • thanks for the well wishes. Glad you were able to make it work! I definitely hear more about people will TT offers being able to negotiate delays, but that seems to be operating from a position of power (at least compared to to-be postdocs). Canada sounds nice🙂

  6. What is the difference between getting a job and immediately taking 3 months off for maternity leave, versus starting a job 3 months later? I honestly cannot fathom how this difference would ever matter in terms of people looking at your resume. And if the leave is unpaid anyway, it doesn’t matter for $$$. Many people take time off between jobs (forced or unforced) and with a gap of 3 months, no one cares or notices.

    It never ceases to amaze me how much fields can vary. In biomedical science, you usually line up a PD 6-12 months before graduating, and the exact start date is expected to be somewhat flexible because obviously graduation timelines can be fickle. I believe mine was “early to late fall” which effectively translated to anywhere from early August to late December. It takes a year or so to get an F32 for most people as well, so again, 3 months seems like a small amount of time.

    Congratulations on your pregnancy!

    • Because there is no maternity leave (even unpaid) in the US for people who have worked at organizations for less than 1 year (at 50% time or higher). So if I took a job and then said I needed 3 months off immediately, they could just fire me. (and it’d be legal, even though it’d be illegal for them to deny me the job because of me being pregnant) And some universities hire postdocs in ways that don’t even count them as employees, so they don’t have access to even unpaid FMLA leave even if they have been working there over a year.

    • But yes, I hope that it makes no difference. It’s hard to know, since the cycle of postdoc jobs posted (that aren’t external fellowships) ebb and flow throughout the year.

      And yes, people choose to have gaps for all kinds of reasons. But I don’t want to not work, I just want to have a reasonable amount of maternity leave (paid or not) without losing a job. And the way the system works, it means I’m delaying job searching to create that gap, because I couldn’t reasonably take a job before the kid is born (I won’t be done with PhD yet), and then that whole first year or work somewhere, I have no legal right in the US to family leave (if at a qualifying institution at all).

    • MM: health insurance. Having a baby in a hospital without insurance costs $10,000-$20,000 for a normal uncomplicated delivery. (And many, many deliveries are complicated.)

    • MM: Also, logistics. It’s really really hard to be looking for a job while watching a baby full-time. And it’s really really hard to afford childcare to look for a job when you have no income.

  7. Sharing my own experience, for what it’s worth:

    I was offered a great TT position last job cycle (jobs starting in fall of 2015). I wasn’t pregnant when I applied, but I was by the time the job offer came through. I managed to delay my start date by a semester and began in Jan 2016 instead of Sept 2015. I was happily surprised that this wasn’t seen as a big deal. Now, I’m very lucky that I was able to switch to my husband’s health insurance and we made do on just one salary for a semester before moving to both start new jobs together (he is not an academic and was able to secure a new position near my new job). I recognize that there was a lot of fortune that went into my situation, but getting permission to delay my start date was the easiest part of the scenario.

    I doubt this will apply in your case, since it’s already late in the application cycle, but I’m posting here as testimony to one of the ways academia’s flexibility can work in one’s favor.

    I have seen another colleague secure a TT job straight out of grad school (again, I know that itself is rare), delay her start date for a year, and also delay her graduation so that she could keep academic resources/health insurance etc (I don’t know, though, if she had funding or just those perks of being affiliated with an academic institution).

    Good luck, and congratulations!

    • thanks for sharing your experience. I definitely think that women having been cobbling together solutions in all kinds of ways! Glad it worked out in the end for your family. And glad to hear that your partner found a job near yours – balancing that is just as tough (and what the odds that both people have new job timings that line up? seems low to impossible)

      It does seem that teaching institutions care less about postdocs, and people on the TT are the only ones I hear of delaying jobs by a semester or more due to being able to negotiate (I’ve never heard of people in the private sector negotiating for delayed start dates of more than a few weeks – but am sure the higher up in an organization one is, the more negotiating power they have). Thanks for the well wishes

      • At the teaching-focused institution I work at, more than one person hired as a multi-year VAP managed to negotiate a delayed start date to accommodate being pregnant and giving birth. It may not be the norm but it’s also not impossible. Just wanted to put it out there in case you might consider applying for a multi-year VAP position.

  8. squirrelyred: first, congrats! and commiseration.

    I fell pregnant with my second while finishing up my PhD and was pregnant (unbeknownst to me) when I accepted a postdoc position. I still had several months to finish writing up — and it was HARD in that first trimester of exhaustion while also momming my first (very energetic) child. So I didn’t start my postdoc until I was about halfway through my pregnancy. It’s not the end-of-pregnancy scenario you have, but still challenging. I had just enough time to move my family, start to get settled, find doctors for everyone (plus, you know, the grocery store, the playgrounds, a new daycare…), and start to work on my postdoc research before I gave birth.

    And I was lucky. I got a position at Harvard, which has a good maternity leave policy for postdocs (12 weeks at 75% pay, no strings attached). I also got supplemental funding through NSF which now has a fund for disbursing money to PIs to cover research costs while postdoc are on parental leave. (NIH might have *something*, too?) While I was on maternity leave, I researched parental leave at other U.S. institutions. Leave varies a lot, but there are some places that will give you paid leave. You could perhaps target those institutions (though, yes, I know that leaves you with relatively few options. But better than zero options?) Here’s my maternity leave research based on best institutions for ecology (my field): http://margaretkosmala.com/PostdocLeave.htm

    Finally, something I didn’t know until just last week: Title IX is federal protection (for you as a postdoc or grad student) that guarantees that your institution (as long as it receives federal funding) can not discriminate against you because of pregnancy or recovery after childbirth. That means that (I would make this super bold if I could): are guaranteed a medically-necessary maternity leave. Unpaid, of course. But that’s going to be a minimum of 6-8 weeks that you can take off after childbirth no matter where you go, with job security. Your institution also has to make accommodations for your pregnancy status, too, just as it has to make accommodations for others under the Americans with Disability Act. Title IX is suddenly becoming a big deal and universities are hiring Title IX officers because of the attention being focused on sexual harassment and assault in higher ed. But Title IX also covers pregnancy and recovery from childbirth.

    This website popped up recently and is worth looking at (and looks to be way more useful than the National Postdoc Association’s). And they’re responsive, so send them questions if you have them. http://www.thepregnantscholar.org/

    (Also since Tenure She Wrote is widely read, please update your post so readers are at least aware about potential Title IX protection. No many people read comments…)

    • Reading your other commenters now… I should add that I responded to an ad to get my postdoc. I interviewed in Sept and the PI wanted to me to start between Oct 1 and Jan 1. I said Jan 1, but I couldn’t move until Feb 1. And he agreed to that. You may be able to negotiate starting time more flexibly than you think.

    • thanks for sharing your experience. And yes, I agree that things are changing — the pregnantscholar website is great and new (it just went live fairly recently!) — I will update the post with that link and the specific link on that page to the postdoc related info (b/c it goes through the fact that some postdocs won’t be seen as employees protected by employment related laws). BUT I will say much of the guidance in the pregnantscholar website has not been tested in terms of seeing whether institutions will be or are in compliance with this guidance + interpretation — I hope they amend the website to quote actual sections of Title IX one could show a HR person or potential employer (or whomever) that would have no reason to trust a random website (albeit a website developed by lawyers with funding from NSF!). I also hope this means NSF sent it to all other federal funding agencies too then.

      • > much of the guidance in the pregnantscholar website has not been tested

        I absolutely agree. We’re on the cusp now. I emailed with a lawyer at The Pregnant Scholar, and I had lunch with Harvard’s Title IX officer on Monday. I asked both for specifics. Both said they’re actively working to try to figure out *exactly* what Title IX means in the context of academic institutions’ legal responsibilities towards pregnant women. My guess is that some poor/brave moms will likely end up in the legal grinder for precedents to be set and for change to really take hold across the country. I’ve been writing this post this past week, published today, in case you’re interested:

    • BTW it’s worth also pointing out that some of the guidance may not apply in particular instances. For example, many graduate students live in states that don’t have them contributing to disability. Which means that later in graduate school or as a postdoc in the same state, they cannot access disability for maternity or pregnancy purposes (or any other medical purposes) as a leave option even though that’s widely touted, because they haven’t actually been contributing to it. That unfortunate situation happened to my housemate who was trying to access short term disability as a way to keep her place in graduate school while getting much needed time away. I hope websites like pregnantscholar, as they develop, can add more nuance about things like this.

      • Agreed. Title IX just means pregnant/postpartum women are treated as others are. If a grad student or postdoc needs to take an extended leave for, say, cancer treatment, they won’t necessarily get paid via disability either. Unfortunately, from my readings, it appears that universities cannot actually offer disability to anyone but *employees* and depending on how grad students and postdocs are classified, they may not be employees and so the university cannot cover them under disability. And FWIW, it doesn’t matter who pays for the disability insurance, as long as the person who needs the payouts is covered under the policy. For example, Harvard pays for short-term disability for all employees; employees don’t pay for it (or even make partial payments). But grad students are not covered because grad students aren’t employees.

  9. Congratulations.

    While having a child and starting a job can be challenging, there are departments which will accommodate you. I was a postdoc when I had a child, worked for less than a year before it, and had a paid baby leave. In my case, there was no policy in place at the department (since I was the first pregnant postdoc in such a position), so the policy was being created at the same time.

    • glad it worked out for you! Since we don’t know how many people don’t have that option, this is why policies are so important – to ensure rights and help ensure more uniform treatment within and between institutions/employers.

  10. I agree with commenters above that PIs may very well be willing to offer a schedule that matches your needs. My experience: I became pregnant 3 months before I defended my thesis. I stayed on for two months with my graduate advisor while I applied for postdocs, and attended interviews for a start date that was one year later. I got a response from 6-7 PIs, every one of whom was aware of my situation, and perfectly willing to accommodate my request. I got offers from 3 of those for the said start date, accepted one. And postponed that start date by one more month before I finally joined. So yeah – PIs can be accommodating. I know this isn’t always the case – but I am hoping you will be just as lucky!
    * This was all way back in 2009, so maybe things have changed dramatically now.
    ** This is no solution to the actual problem you describe – without the partner insurance or support, this can’t have happened.

    • am glad you found accommodating PIs for your postdoc – AND had a graduate PI willing to let you stay on while you continued your search. I think many people rely on this patchwork solutions. There is certainly nothing wrong with it – IF it works out. The problem is that then it’s a favor that a PI (often a white male who had other supports for childbirth and care in place – traditionally a stay at home spouse) is giving out – rather than a right that you have (or anyone, not just you). That’s my beef with it.

      On a personal note, I don’t have a graduate PI willing to let me change my graduate timing to accommodate my job search or childbirth. Others will be in the same boat. I can HOPE that potential postdoc PIs will accommodate me, but that’s the thing – I shouldn’t need to. We should have comprehensive rights to nondiscrimination in employment, hiring + retention for childbirth + parental leave — right now only certain subsets of the US population are protected.

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