Professional Development

Maternity planning for postdocs

Kathleen Flint Ehm
By Kathleen Flint Ehm
Nov. 1, 2011

Planning to start a family can be a challenge for early career researchers, who often wonder when the “best” time might be. During graduate school? While on the tenure track? After tenure?  Those considering the postdoctoral years can be constrained by multiple short-term appointments and the general uncertainty of a job market that offers no guarantees of stable, long-term employment.

Recent focus groups conducted by the National Postdoctoral Association spotlighted these concerns among current and former postdoc women. A key concern expressed by participants was how to balance the “postdoc clock” versus the biological clock. One postdoc characterized the uncertainty this way: “You know, having a baby during grad school: maybe not the best idea. Having your baby while you’re tenure-track: maybe not the best idea. So does that mean that I have to get pregnant right now because my postdoc is 24 months long, and that's it?”

Underscoring this uncertainty is the fact that postdocs often experience a lack of defined status at their institutions, or, as described by focus-group participants, a feeling of being “in limbo.” As neither students nor faculty members, postdocs can feel isolated at institutions that lack infrastructure to support their positions, such as family-responsive policies such as paid maternity leave. Most postdocs cobble together combinations of annual leave, partially paid disability insurance and unpaid leave. Moreover, the details of how such benefits apply to postdocs can be confusing due to the variety of postdoc  employment classifications and funding sources.

To demystify the process of maternity planning, the National Postdoctoral Association recently published “A Postdoc’s Guide to Pregnancy and Maternity Leave.” It provides an overview of planning issues for women who are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant during their postdoc and for their partners, including safety during pregnancy, understanding paid- and unpaid-leave options, and advice for keeping research going during pregnancy and leave. Below are some highlights from the guide.

 Feature_Postdocs_Maternity_timeline 

©National Postdoctoral Association

Pregnancy safety: Postdoc women considering pregnancy should think about requesting an evaluation of workplace hazards to those of child-bearing age prior to conception. Such an evaluation can allow a postdoc to identify hazards without declaring a pregnancy earlier than needed.

Basic right to maternity leave: Under Title IX, women at federally funded institutions should be entitled to take, at the minimum, job-protected, unpaid leave for a “reasonable” amount of time. In practice, the details of how leave is taken, for how long and how it might be paid depend solely upon an institution’s policies. Postdocs should talk to their institutions’ postdoc and/or human-resources offices about their options.

Keeping your research going: Postdocs planning family leave should begin making arrangements early for needed research accommodations. A written research plan can help lay out milestones and expectations for this period and provide a mechanism for discussing leave with a postdoctoral supervisor or collaborators who may be able to help keep a project going.

Kathleen Flint Ehm
Kathleen Flint Ehm

Kathleen Flint Ehm is the director of Graduate and Postdoctoral Professional Development at Stony Brook University. Previously, Ehm was the NPA ADVANCE project manager at the National Postdoctoral Association.  

Featured jobs

from the ASBMB career center

Join the ASBMB Today mailing list

Sign up to get updates on articles, interviews and events.

Latest in Careers

Careers highlights or most popular articles

Sharpening professional skills to sustain science
Professional Development

Sharpening professional skills to sustain science

Aug. 4, 2021

pd|hub was formed to help trainees learn the technical and professional skills — from experimental design to communication to scientific techniques to teamwork — they need to succeed.

How to gather and organize information
How-to

How to gather and organize information

Aug. 3, 2021

If you do not have a method when writing grants and papers, Sumit Borah invites you to use his; it’s based on an old analog system for organizing information on three-by-five-inch notecards.

Calendar of events, awards and opportunities
Announcement

Calendar of events, awards and opportunities

Aug. 1, 2021

This week: Last call for voting in ASBMB election. National Postdoctoral Association fellowship deadline. NIH Common Fund webinar on funding opportunities.

Wait, Ph.D.s are free? And other things they don’t tell you
Education

Wait, Ph.D.s are free? And other things they don’t tell you

July 30, 2021

Our academic careers columnist begins a two-part series on unspoken rules and other things students need to know but are rarely told about grad school.

Biotech industry jargon: A primer for the curious
Professional Development

Biotech industry jargon: A primer for the curious

July 29, 2021

The specific scientific and technical knowledge you need in an industry job depends on the role and will change over the course of your career. But it can help to know the basics.

Learning to love assessment
Education

Learning to love assessment

July 28, 2021

“As every scientist knows, there is no point in doing an experiment if you don’t have a way to assess the result. So assessment is a crucial step in teaching and learning.”