The most important thing you will ever do

Feb 09 2012 Published by under academia, parenting

When Dr. Mrs. GZ* finally got pregnant, one of the more scary days of my life was telling my PI. I was a postdoc at the time. I had been around a couple of years, and was pretty sure that my boss was going to be cool. But there was a bit of uncertainty. Had I just "ruined" my career? Would my funding go away? And would my j-o-b follow right behind???

I think everything worked out OK. Yes, there were a few months that shit was slow. But I got caught up on my sleep and grouped my poop**. I thought I was pretty efficient before the kiddo. But I have turned it up a notch. I found a way to get everything done AND have a baby in my life. I wrote a K99, it got funded, then I published some papers, went out on the job market, and started my own lab. And hell, I just submitted my very own R01.

Five years later*** I am not sure I have the work/life "balance" thing figured out. Mini-G is awesome, and I can't imagine my life without her. You know what I can imagine? How terrifying it must be to go out looking for a postdoc/other job when you are pregnant.  There is a fantastic, and important post over at Chemical BiLOLogy about this. You should go read. Now. I'll wait.



I was lucky. My postdoc advisor was freaking fantastic. When I told him my wife was pregnant he gave me a big hug. Then  high-5. It was the most positive reaction I ever got from him****. I know this is not always the norm. I had it good, and if I ever have pregnant postdocs/students I want to behave the same way. I can do these things that make it OK to be a woman that has children in academia. But there has to be more. Right? Because if we want to keep women in the academic world, it HAS to be OK to have kids while you are in the "early" part of your career, especially when you are a postdoc.

Please go back over to Chemical BiLOLogy and add your ideas about how, as a community, we can make it OK to be a #scimom. What projects/programs need to exist to make this a more reasonable career path?


*Wow. I need to get a better pseud for my wife.
**Thank you, Namnezia for this hilarious version of "get your shit together"
****I was told, at that moment, that raising a child is "The most important thing you will ever do".


11 responses so far

  • Sxydocma1 says:

    I was seven months pregnant when I was out on post-doc interviews. I found an amazing post-doctoral mentor and have had a successful post-doc. I never really thought about going out on job interviews pregnant until I ran into the chair of my department the day before I was set to leave. He said, "So, tomorrow is a big day." And I said, "Yes. I have an interview tomorrow and one the following day." And then he said, "Well, good luck. I know plenty of people who wouldn't hire a pregnant post-doc. I would of course. I'm just saying a I know people who wouldn't." And he smiled at me in the kindly old white d00d way and walked away.

    I will never forget that moment.
    It was one of my most formative graduate student experiences.

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    Like Gert, I was a lucky gal in the post-doc arena. When I found out I was pregnant with W, I had just started my faculty search. I even had someone say, 'Well this is not a good time to be pregnant. You should have really thought about that.'. Needless to say that just lit a fire a seven suns under my ass.

    Suddenly, I became fearless. I applied to where ever I wanted to and went after it! I was called for interviews while I was on maternity leave. I learned very quickly which places would be great family places...because it's true, being a parent and a good parent IS the most important thing that you will ever do. And while I had to travel for interviews when W was a tender 3 months old, it all worked out. Seriously.

    I'm done with this either/or bullshittery. I'm in my second year of junior faculty position and expecting my second child. Instead of sitting behind my desk freaking out about what this will do to my tenure prospects-again I find myself fearless. Hold back that R01 app? Fuck no. Turn down that invite to give a talk? Fuck no. Work the lab into a frenzy about getting all data out now? Fuck no. No fear. It will all get done.

    Have your babies. Be great scientists! It will all work out!!

  • brooksphd says:

    I am incredibly fortunate to have a very supportive boss, so that even being a PWM I get paternity leave etc. Our group is very family focused, and while we have only one female staff member and she is happily single, unmarried/unattached, I am confident should her (or any other future female employee) need support it would be there wholeheartedly.

    My boss was single mom in science in the 70s and 80s and it was hell.

    • gerty-z says:

      Good! I'm glad that your boss supports family leave. But really, this should be a norm everywhere. People shouldn't be at the mercy of their boss in moments like this.

  • Katie says:

    I have just taken a postdoc and while my phd mentor was pro-baby, I decided to wait until this next stage. Even though my phd-mentor claims she knows pd-mentor well enough and claims he's likely to be pro-baby - I am still concerned about this. When I interviewed and met with other postdocs, all they knew is that no one in their cohort had chosen to have a baby yet. So I guess it's a wait and see thing - I'll be on an NRSA T32 with up to 3 years of funding, so I imagine that I will have some flexibility.

    Question is, do I just up front tell the new PD-mentor that I am planning on starting a family with my husband, so that he can have a heads up? OR do I just wait and see, and talk to him when "it" happens? I don't want to start off on the wrong foot at the new place, but I want to be open and honest about my future and maybe we can set things up in advance.


    • gerty-z says:

      I would wait until you have something to talk about. You never really know what is going to happen and right now everything is just conjecture.

      • Katie says:

        Thanks for the advice, I guess I just have been reading about everyone's negative experiences with being a pregnant postdoc and thought I could head it off. But I do feel like I chose this mentor because of his reputation and how he has been the PD mentor for plenty of TT women with families. I'll wait to talk to him once there is something to talk about!

        However, we have decided to wait until I actually start the PD to start trying (according to the recommendations of the National Postdoctoral Assoc) to ensure I'm properly enrolled in the insurance and have found a dr in new city that I like, get some ST disability insurance, and will review all the leave policies once I get in their system. Then at absolute minimum I will have been there for ~1 year when I will be taking leave - and hopefully will have some great projects in the works.

        Thanks for all of your posts! I have a long path ahead of me, and I am glad I've found such a great network of women in science!

    • DrLizzyMoore says:

      I'm with Gert...wait til you actually have something to talk about. I told my post-doc mentor 'early' (~5-6wks) because we had a Friday happy hour and I was scared to death about being 'outed' by someone who realized that I was drinking root beer instead of my typical Amber. (Incidentally, he was sworn to secrecy until I was ready to be more public about it.) I also wanted to be up front about not doing any P32 work and wanted to make sure there weren't any extra safety precautions that I needed to take with our favorite microorganism....

      As a junior faculty, I waited til 12-weeks to tell anyone. Again though, I started with my faculty mentor, then my lab, then my faculty development person, other members of my Micro & Immuno group, etc... I haven't told my Dean yet, but I will have my annual evaluation next week, and it will come up then....

      Good luck and Have Fun! 😉

      • Katie says:

        Thanks for your advice Dr Lizzy! I appreciate it. Sounds like it will probably depend on the situation for time and place, but likely I'll stick to the 12 week mark if it's possible.

        Congrats on the pregnancy, too!

Leave a Reply