– written by Synapse–
I was bitching about my maternity leave policy to a friend the other day.
First, I should say that I am currently on an NIH NRSA and I would actually consider their maternity policy very “generous” in the postdoc world.
For one, I have my own money. This limits possible tension from my advisor (who was absolutely awesome when I told him I was pregnant) because he doesn’t have to support me for work not done as I take maternity.
And this fellowship actually allows for paid maternity leave…theoretically. The way I see it, they shouldn’t even bother calling it maternity leave, they should call it getting paid for eight weeks of not working towards completion of the project. I think of it this way, because there is no pause button on my fellowship. I just continue to get the same stipend even though it is on the books that I will be focusing on feeding, baby poo, and trying not to go insane from lack of sleep for eight weeks.
I do want to note that this “maternity leave” is only allowed at institutions where there is a comparable postdoc maternity policy already in place (I think this is really shitty). Luckily, I am at such an enlightened institution.
Anyway, back to why I was bitching. My friend’s response to my “I only have eight weeks” was “a lot of places only give six. Why should your job be an exception?” She went on to explain that companies can’t afford it, other people have to cover, productivity goes down, things get stalled, blah blah blah. And this from a friend who works at Google and had four months off!
But the way I see it, we ARE different from other industries. Especially as graduate students and postdocs. We are being trained for a career in science. We are not contract workers. We are not working for a company that needs to worry about supporting a woman on maternity leave even though she is not an effective team member while she is away. There is very little chance that we chose this job because the benefits were awesome and we would quit or move elsewhere when we are done having babies.
Yes, theoretically, I was awarded my fellowship based on the project I would complete. But really, at the heart of everything the NRSA stands for (and postdoc training in general), I was awarded this fellowship based on my capacity to be trained as a scientist and continue in the world of science for the rest of my career. A couple of weeks, hell, a couple of years, is a BLIP in the timeline of a career scientist.
I agree with Jennifer Bussell at Rockefeller who made an excellent point that paying postdocs more would help keep women in science because, holy crap, putting a wee one in the care of a stranger for an entire day, five days of the week costs HOW MUCH!?
But what I am asking for is not more in salary, it is more options. Provide a supplemental stipend grant that would pay me for maternity but also let me stop the clock on my fellowship. Or funding that would pay an undergrad or a tech to help with my project while I am out. Something similar to what NSF is doing for graduate fellows. Open maternity stipend options for postdocs at institutions that do not observe normal new-parent needs or for those who are not on fellowships to help ease potential tension from a PI. Provide funding for childcare to support postdocs going full force back into the lab. As pregnant postdocs, we are not expecting to have Google-like maternity bestowed upon us, we will work our asses off to fight for these grants if the money is there. And if we have support we are more likely to stay in science and continue to build on and contribute our growing knowledge and expertise to our field. Postdoc-ing should be a time for training and supporting fledgling scientists… especially women.
Of course, the argument is always – well, if we provide this for women, we need to provide this for men. Really though? A man’s entire physiological system is not changing for 9+ months before and then continuing to shift in crazy unpredictable ways afterwards. He is not fucking up experiments because he is trying to hide his barfing in the corner seven months before he would have to take this time off. His productivity will not drop leading up to the birth due to inconvenient sleepiness and inability to sit or stand or sit for extended periods of time. He will not have to push a small screaming human out of his body and then have to continue to feed that child from his boob. No, it is not equal. And it doesn’t need to be to make it right.
I am simply asking for acknowledgement through support.
A nod from some funding body out there to say:
“Hey, we understand that you might need to slow down a bit during your postdoc to take advantage of your fertility, but we believe in you as a scientist. We’ll help you hang in there. We know it will all pay off in the long run!”