Dr. Mom, My Adventures as a Mommy-Scientist

Discussion of my journey from grad school to postdoc to tenure with two kids, a husband, (and a bit of breast cancer) in tow.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

My postdoc left

Well its a sad day for women in engineering.

Last week my postdoc left. She came to me just before Thanksgiving to tell me that she was having problems with childcare. I made some suggestions to her, but didn't realize the seriousness of the issue until I got an email over Thanksgiving requesting resignation.

She was in a bad sitatuation, but not one uncommon in academe. Her husband was at a different university, and they are both international students. They have a 9 mo old baby. The baby was staying with her, but this was difficult to manage. To be honest, I don't know if I could have done it either.

On a postdoc salary she couldn't afford a nanny, so she used daycare provided by someone in their home. However, she wasn't satisified with this arrangement. The two main problems were the provider and the hours. She didn't like the provider because she saw changes in the baby's temperment and also weight loss. She didn't like the hours because she wanted to work evenings and weekends and the provider is pretty much 9 to 5. This despite my assurances that evenings and weekends are not required or expected.

She tried to get her parents to come and help, but they have children still at home, 1 as young as 6. So they really couldn't come to the US. They offered to take the baby if she sent it abroad, but she and her husband did not want to be separated from their child. She tried to get her in-laws to come and help, but it turns out that in-law problems are universal. Her in-laws never approved of her working and refused to help out if it furthered that goal. This despite their obvious ability to help.

Finally, her husband was offered a permanent position at his university. They can get a green card. She decided to quit and go stay with him. She does not have a job lined up right now, but will look for something, maybe part-time, when she gets there.

Even though she was only here a few months I could tell that she was a really good postdoc. This kind of problem happens everyday, and not just for international students, although it is worse for them. The recent national acadmies report (discussed here in Science Mag) found that fewer than half the spouses of male faculty members in the sciences are employed full-time, whereas 90% of the husbands of women faculty members work outside the home. If we want to hire more women, we will have to hire their husbands too!

I would like to see my university hire an HR liason that would work with two-body couples to help *both* members find jobs on campus or even in local industry. I know that this happens on an ad hoc level for faculty recruits. But how many dual-career postdocs are detered from academia by their negative experiences in obtaining employment at this career level. We need to tackle this problem at the earliest levels to truly have an inclusive inviting atmosphere for women faculty (and their 90% spouses).


At 8:34 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Mom,

I've had a similar experience with a postdoc leaving because of family issues. In the case you posted, I interpreted this as more of a daycare issue than a two-body issue, though it has aspects of both. Pushing institutions to have better & less expensive daycare might be more easily addressed, however.

At 10:00 AM , Blogger JF, scientist said...

Amen to this! I do think it's a percentage issue that makes women suffer these problems more than men, for sure.

Here at Snooty U, there *has* been a push for more daycare. They made a big noise and then contracted to an expensive private company. Very few female science faculty have kids; wonder why.

They also set up a database of jobs at other universities to 'deal with' the two-body problem. These jobs are all listed in the Chronicle.

I think part of the problem is supply/demand, too: universities have little economic incentive to deal with these kinds of problems when the supply of PhDs greatly exceeds the number of jobs. They will always have applicants who are willing to conform to the Old White Guy model.

At 11:37 AM , Blogger PhD Mom said...

I agree. It's ironic that you brought up the issue of daycare because I was just reading about the X-gals and motherhood over on Zuska Zuska. Turns out the X-gals found that producticity was directly proportional to good childcare. I can vouch for this from my experience as well.

And it is not widely available. We are lucky to afford a nanny. At my PhD institution the waitlist for campus childcare was 3 years. Here at R1U I have been on the list for over a year (as faculty) and still have not been called. This is ridiculous.

At 4:07 PM , Blogger SciMom said...

...and this is why at mid-career I am in a part-time position. Yes in part by choice. However, the support for me in this position from my departmental elders is, well, it isn't.

I too, enjoyed the latest article by the X-gals. My productivity is definitely tied to the current health situation for the children. For example, this week, husband scientist goes on a 6 day trip. This coincides (cells do what cells want sometimes) with two big experiments that I have been working towards for two months. I just hope the kids don't plan on upchucking or becoming feverish from 8am on Thursday to 4pm on Friday! These experiment/travel/kid sickness conflicts pop up alot!

At 9:25 AM , Blogger Sandy D. said...

I'd like to feature this in the next Carnival of Feminists on Dec. 20 http://feministcarnival.blogspot.com/

At 2:08 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

My husband and I are going through this right now. He is a professor and I am an adjunt. Woo hoo. I bring home 1/10th of his pay. Becuase of his position, I have to find a faulty job in this area -- we are not going to seperate for this, although I know some academic couples do -- and we all know jobs are few and far between.

Love your blog! I found it on the Carnival of Feminists.

At 12:57 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am rt now doing my phd in india.i really crave for post doc.am 25 rt now.my fiancee is a doc.we r from different feilds.he does not want to go abroad.i,on the other hand want to.but i will be able to submit my thesis by the time i am 30....how will i balance my post doc with marriage and having kids?!just confused...cud u suggest some ideas....


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