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Q & A: Having A Baby On The Tenure Track

Q & A: Having a baby on the tenure track

Some time ago, I received this excellent question:

How do you reconcile current system of having short term contracts in your 30s and the pressure in tenure track-like positions with having a baby?

I had my daughter when I was already tenured at one university and still on a short-term contract at my other position, so I can only speak from my perspective. If you are on a short-term post-doctoral position, potentially away from your home country, then having a baby may be a challenge – in terms of contract, in terms of your health insurance situation, and in terms of not having family around. I do think, however, that when the time is right for you to have a child, then you should not let your career interfere with your desire.

With that said, I’d like to give you my best tips for succeeding on the tenure track while having a baby:

  1. Discuss requirements: First of all, you need to discuss in your department how your maternity leave will be taken into account. Will you go for tenure at the same time as originally planned, with adjusted requirements to take into account the time that you were on leave? Or will they add the time of your maternity leave to your tenure clock?
  2. Quality childcare: You want to return to work without the constant worry if your baby is OK where you left him/her during the day. You also want to find a place that can be flexible with your hours, so that if you run late in the lab with an experiment, you can go and pick up baby a bit later. While I don’t advocate for you leaving your baby for 12 hours a day in daycare, I also know that sometimes things go bad in the lab and you want to stay to fix it, instead of having to pause everything because you need to make a pickup time.
  3. Focus on what will get you tenure: What are the requirements for getting tenure? Is it a certain amount of funding? In that case, you want to focus on getting grants. If it’s a certain number of publications, make sure you put time for writing in your schedule, every week. Put these most important elements in your schedule, before meetings and other requirements start to eat away your time.
  4. Build relationships with colleagues: You need people who have your back in the university to support your tenure case. It’s easy to think that you’re too busy to socialize at all because making tenure and raising a child are two full-time occupations. But putting in the time to build relationships with your colleagues is still important – not just to make sure you have allies in the university, but also to foster collegiality and just enjoy the contacts with other professionals.
  5. Make wise travel choices: It’s hard to travel to conferences or for fieldwork when you have a small child. If you are nursing a baby, the logistics of pumping are something the consider as well. Yet, conferences are the place where you strengthen your network, and fieldwork may be crucial for your data. Make wise travel choices that serve you, your family, and your career.

What is your best advice for making tenure as a young parent?

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