Guest Post: Searching for an academic position on maternity leave

Today’s guest post is by Chicken_little. Chicken_little is a postdoc in clinical psychology in the midst of an existential career crisis – but officially in search of an academic position. She studies the impact of mindfulness interventions in various populations, although she very often forgets to practice mindfulness in her daily life. When she is not working or reading funny academic tweets, she is the proud mom of a baby boy. 


I’m sitting at the kitchen table trying to finish a manuscript. I can hear my son yelling in his crib, refusing to take his nap. As I try to concentrate on bringing the finishing touches to my soon-to-be submitted paper, I can’t help but feel incredibly guilty of, once again, favoring my work over my son. The appeal of a tenure-track position is big, and so is the pressure to be productive and to get out several manuscripts this year, even though I am (supposed to be) on maternity leave.

Thank goodness my spouse is home and is there to soothe the baby. Being a postdoc and working from home does have benefits : I was able to transfer my maternity leave to my partner, so we can both spend some time with our son in his first year of life. But let’s be honest here : having him at home only means that I can get more work done, as he watches the baby. I am trying to make things happen for my career all the while he is putting his own on hold. This better pay off.

This is what I have learned so far on being a mom and a postdoc in search of an academic position at the same time : Continue reading

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Big kids take time too

Oftentimes, when we discuss mixing motherhood with an academic career (or a professional careers more generally), our discussion and anxiety center on pregnancy and babies. “What will happen if I get pregnant during my PhD?” “If I wait until after tenure to have children, will it be too late?” I think this baby-centric view of academic motherhood comes from the clear physiological demands of parenting an infant (the sleep deprivation! the leaky breasts!) and is compounded by the absolutely abominable lack of paid leave and support for new mothers in the US. But children don’t magically start taking care of themselves as age 1… or 2… or 3… or… even though their mothers are back in the classroom and lab pretending to have it all together and maybe even trying to make up for “lost time” or “low productivity” during their child’s infancy.

It would be nice if we did a better job of acknowledging that big kids take time too, and that even as our children grow older there’s still a strong time demand on parents. Continue reading

19 things I learned when my husband took paternity leave

My baby started daycare this morning. My husband and I went to drop him off together, and it was not as hard as I had expected. When we left the room he was happily playing with blocks, and he didn’t even notice us leave. I’m sure he did notice at some point, but it wouldn’t have been me he looked around for. My baby would have looked for his primary caregiver, Daddy.  Really, I left him some time ago.

I’ve been back at work full-time since August, teaching, pumping, going to meetings, pumping, trying to find bits of time for research, pumping, and pretending my heart wasn’t across town with a little boy that was learning to crawl and clap. My husband (also an academic) has been home with our son, playing on the floor, exploring the outdoors, changing hundreds of diapers, feeding pumped milk and an increasing number of solid foods, and wishing our baby would nap on a regular basis. Now his time away from work is ending too, so its time for the baby to go to daycare and begin a new chapter of his life.

So it seems like a good time to reflect on what I, the mother, learned when my husband took over the primary caregiver role. Here’s a listicle. Continue reading

Pumping sucks – let’s make it better

I’m dashing off this post in a few minutes that I don’t really have to spare, in the midst of a workday that’s just as full of things to do as ever, but one that is shortened and dissected by my role as a breastfeeding mother.

Here’s how breastfeeding and pumping figure into my days right now. In the morning, when my baby wakes up, I spend 20-30 minutes cuddling and breast-feeding. It’s sweet and sad, especially now that we’re into the separation anxiety phase of babyhood and he cries whenever I leave. Before I leave the house, I make sure that I’ve got all of my clean pump parts, bottles, and an ice pack to store the expressed milk. At around 10:30, I stop whatever I’m doing, close my office door, pull out the pump, parts, and bottles, and spend about 20 minutes hooked up to an uncomfortable plastic sucker. During that time, I check email, read a paper, browse social media, or occasionally have a work phone call with another academic mother. (I don’t tell them I’m pumping, but I figure if they hear the sound they’ll understand.) As milk gets sucked out of me and into the plastic bottles, I note that one breast produces about 3x as much milk as the other, and I know that my pumping volume tends to go down over the course of the day. I start my day-long worry that the baby will consume more milk than I can pump and we’ll have to dip into the dwindling supply of frozen milk to get baby through tomorrow. I remind myself that we only have to make it 3 more months before baby can start dairy milk and I can quit pumping. When no more milk is coming, I detach, carefully combine the bottles into one less-than-full bottle, rinse the pump parts, tuck the milk and pump parts into the fridge and the pump into the corner of my office. Two to two-and-a-half hours later I repeat the process. I repeat it again two-and-a-half-hours after that. Then I sneak out of the office a bit early so that I can avoid having to pump again and I can spend a bit of time with my baby before baby crashes into bedtime about 6:30. Baby is still not sleeping through the night consistently, so between bedtime and nighttime feedings I spend another ~2 hours breastfeeding before the next morning. Either my partner or I also spends about 20 minutes cleaning bottles and pump parts before crashing into exhausted sleep.

What I’ve described above is about a best-case scenario for working mothers, academic or not. Continue reading

Foregone conclusions, redux

July 2007 (Vintage SciWo

I will not be a foregone conclusion.

Sometimes I get depressed when I read the blogs of other women scientists – particularly when the topic of children vs. an academic career is the topic du jour. The short version is that many of us seem to think we have two choices: (1) Have a career and no children, or children we never see; or (2) Give up our plans for t-t/research academia in order to raise a family. That we can’t be both academic researchers and fantastic parents seems to be a foregone conclusion.

Well, I refuse to be a foregone conclusion. Continue reading

Guest Post: Finding new definitions for career success: Turning down tenure

I turned down a permanent faculty position. Yes, I turned down tenure. The process led me to redefine what ‘success’ is for me, and hopefully sharing this unusual situation can help others broaden their definitions of success. To start, I love science. I have been sciencing long and hard for approximately 10-12 years, including a Masters, PhD, many post-docs, and nationally competitive Research Fellowships. I am a 42 year-old mother of two, working in plant biology, having graduated in 2007, and submitting my thesis while 8 months pregnant.

In the continent where I work, (not the USA) it is common for people to under-take multiple post-docs across up to 9-10 years. Given that I love research with a passion, and am prepared to sacrifice social life, food, and a decent salary, I decided to continue post-doc as long as I possibly could to ensure I have a strong CV, allowing me to win a permanent job in the city of my choice. Ambitious? Sure, but I felt (dreamt?) that if I worked hard enough, prioritized my career, published in high impact journals and won hundreds of thousand dollars of grants, I could be in the top percentage of scientists with permanent jobs. I don’t need to remind Tenure She Wrote readers, that the percentage of women is lower, and the percentage with children even lower. Continue reading

The last push to tenure

Time on the tenure track is like being in labor. It is like five or more exhilarating and painful years of labor, with the promise of a hard-earned and beautiful reward at the end. Just as every labor and birth story has its own arc, every person’s time on the tenure track will have unique plot twists and challenges, and sometimes the outcome is heart-breaking.* The process of birthing, whether a baby or a tenure package, isn’t always what we had idealized.

Acknowledging these variations, if we proceed with the analogy anyway, then there a few generalized stages of the process: early labor, active labor, pushing the baby out, and delivering the placenta. In early labor and active labor, mothers experience contractions that dilate or open the cervix, making a passage big enough for the baby. On the tenure track, those contractions are the periods of intense busyness (and often stress) that we periodically experience in the years leading up to tenure. Each contraction, hopefully, results in some product — a paper or grant submitted or revised, a student defended, a new course taught — that moves us closer to our goal of tenure. Continue reading