A version of this article was originally published on Women in Science AUSTRALIA (read the original article here) or on Emily’s blog.
As a Science Mum, I am often asked how I managed work and maternity leave, particularly by parents about to embark on a similar journey. So I thought that it might make a good topic for a blog post and start of a discussion. Here, I want to tackle things you can do as individuals for managing work and maternity/paternity leave – both for the person going on leave (e.g. mum or dad), and their colleagues – assuming that the person going on leave wants to maintain their academic career post-leave, including PhD students. There are other pieces for another day on what institutions should do to support those going on parental leave, and tips for coming back from leave (see also my previous post on accounting for career breaks in a CV or track record). I refer to maternity leave but this can equally be parental/carers/paternity leave – or any leave when you are taking a big chunk of time largely away from work to pursue other things in life. First, though, I’ll preface my tips with a little about my background.
I am writing predominantly from my own experience. Briefly, I have three children (born 2009, 2011 and 2013). I took about 8-9 months maternity leave with each, and returned to work part-time (3-4 days a week). All three were born while I was a postdoc on fellowships, the first two in the UK and the third in Australia, with good paid maternity leave provisions, and which allowed me to return to work part-time and extend my contract pro rata. For the first baby, our family was on the other side of the world, so we had little week-by-week support, and my husband was in a very demanding full-time job; while I was on maternity leave with my second we moved back to Australia, where we both work part-time and have a lot of family help and support, which makes a huge difference. I am a conservation scientist, and my work is desk based, including modelling and analysis, plus the usual academic roles of paper and grant writing, reviewing, editing and supervising students, but no teaching at the time. So the type of work I do wasn’t much affected by working part-time or being on leave. Continue reading
In recent years, there has been an increasing focus on encouraging women to join STEM fields, but there is still work that needs to be done. We asked our female Associate Editors what the biggest problems facing the push towards gender equality within STEM fields today are. Here are their answers:
Jana McPherson: My impression is that entering is not the issue. Certainly in my fields of conservation and ecology, there seem to be lots of women undergraduates and graduates and still a very decent proportion of female postdocs. I think it is beyond that level that women start to become increasingly rare. At least in part this likely reflects the fact that it is around post-doc time that biological clocks start ticking, and that it is neither easy nor necessarily desirable to combine starting and raising a family with a prolific production of publications, a heavy teaching load and the need to magic up a bustling research lab out of the blue. To reduce that hurdle, I think universities and academics have to become more accepting and accommodating of part-time effort. And I mean institutionally as well as individually. I have conducted research on a part-time basis for years now, and have seen many colleagues and collaborators in academia positively flummoxed by the concept that NOTHING (work-wise) gets done between when I leave the office on a Thursday at 2pm and when I return to work Monday morning. And yes, my life outside the office involves minutes and the odd hour here and there where I’m not directly interacting with my kids or looking after the household during which I could theoretically get the odd bit of work done. But I have tried that approach and found it rather stressful, sleep-depriving and frustrating for family members competing for my attention with whatever ‘quick’ piece of work I was trying to finish. So now I leave work at the office and whatever does not get done within office hours just has to wait until I’m next at work, no matter how urgent.
Tamara Münkemüller: I guess that the main problems are related to family planning. On the one hand, in many countries it takes long to get a permanent position and it feels like taking a risk to have children before this. On the other hand, one seemingly frequent constellation are couples of two scientists where the man is a bit older. In this situation it often happens that the older person gets a permanent position first and the younger follows and tries to adapt. Then there is the more subtle problem of different communication styles of men and women and numerous selection processes that tend to prefer a communication style that is thought to be more typical for men.
Satu Ramula: I think that one of the current challenges is to keep women in the system. Many female scientists leave academia at some point, which makes the sex ratio skewed as there are not enough qualified women to compete for academic positions at upper levels. Continue reading