Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Paying for It

Some universities offer paid maternity and paternity leave for a few weeks or months for new parents. I don't know the numbers for how many universities offer paid vs. unpaid leave and the various durations involved, but I do know that at some universities that offer paid family leave, the answer to the question Who Pays? may not be entirely clear.

I hope we can all agree that maternity leave is a good and necessary thing, and that it also makes sense to offer paternity leave. Despite creating challenges for employers, family leave is important. Paid family leave is a way of further supporting families of working parents.

Universities have some particular challenges when it comes to paid family leave, especially for 'employees' who are not of the traditional sort (compared to employees at a company), e.g. graduate students and postdocs. If a graduate student or postdoc needs family leave at an institution that guarantees some paid leave, who pays? Central administration? The college or other mid-level academic unit? The department? The graduate adviser or postdoctoral supervisor?

In the case of postdocs funded by grants, in many cases the PI pays, even though this creates some complex ethical and accounting issues regarding paying someone who is not doing certifiable effort on a project during a time for which they are being paid on a grant. I am sure that some large universities or units of universities that have fleets of postdocs have this all worked out, but other universities/units leave it to the department and PIs to work out.

The situation is even more complicated for graduate students because students can be funded by a variety of sources: teaching assistantships from a department, research assistantships from a PI, and/or fellowships from a variety of sources. Does the department pay if the student is a TA (in addition to paying for a substitute) but the PI pays if the student is an RA?

This blog post is clearly not an authoritative presentation of the topic of paid family leave at US universities. It is based on anecdotal information and non-systematic web browsing, from which I have gleaned the following options (some in place, some being considered) for paid leave, in many cases of 4-8 weeks for maternity leave, for grad students:

- The adviser pays no matter what, even if the student is a TA.

- The adviser pays if the student is an RA, but the department pays if the student is a TA and works out an arrangement involving substitutes or team-teaching to accommodate the leave.

- The department or other administrative unit pays some or all of the leave salary as long as the student has guaranteed support of some sort. In this case, the leave may be paid from a fund to which all advisers contribute 'indirectly' from the indirect costs charged on grants. Another option I have heard discussed is targeted fund raising for a fellowship/scholarship fund that pays for family leave for students; this is done at the department or higher level.

Based on what I've learned from discussions with colleagues and by grazing around on webpages, it seems that some places currently work out a plan for each student on a case-by-case basis and others have a more systematic approach to paid leave. It makes sense for departments and various levels of university administration to have a plan in place that creates a more family friendly environment for graduate students and that is also fair to advisers, but given that situations can vary so much, it also makes sense to have a very flexible system.

My specific personal opinion is that I, as an adviser and grant PI, could pay for a student or postdoc to take a family leave of a month or two. Some students are unproductive on that time scale even when they aren't giving birth and/or caring for a newborn.

Twelve weeks -- the amount guaranteed for unpaid leave -- would be more difficult for various reasons (e.g., spending grant funds on someone not doing research). However, it should be possible to work out a situation involving part-time research, working from home, or something like that (depending on the project and the person). It's quite possible that a plan could be devised that worked well for all concerned and allowed a paid leave followed by a flexible work arrangement.

Note that I am discussing only paid leave here. Unpaid leave of various durations may cause some of the same difficulties for advisers/PIs in terms of research progress of their students and postdocs, but that's life (literally).

47 comments:

zed said...

My institution doesn't offer any paid parental leave, which I think sucks. But, I don't really see how paid parental leave is qualitatively any different from regular vacation. I regularly pay students and technical staff off grants when they are not 'working' (ie on vacation). The accounting does get complicated if a student, or more often a tech, is paid from multiple PI's grants, and at my institution we've discussed various ways of dealing with this.

If I worked at a place that did guarantee paid leave, I would look into working those costs into my budgets upfront- I imagine it could just get rolled into the benefits column

Anonymous said...

I would say that postdocs shouldn't get babies in the first place: they should work very hard in order to be able to compete to get that sought after job at a good university. Taking a maternity/paternity break as a postcdoc (or PhD student for that matter) is essentially saying that you don't really care much about your research. The idea of doing your work from home is ludicrous for most experimental projects. The situation is different once you've become faculty and have settled a bit. There's nothing sexist about that: I knew a female postdoc who took a week off to give birth and then let her husband look after the kid. That's OK too. She's now a FSP somewhere good. As for paying: I believe that in Europe there are general arrangements for maternity/paternity leave and payment.

Anonymous said...

Advisor/PI paying is not a good idea, at least not in the country where I'm working (not the USA): if they have to cough up their grant money or personal uni funds for unproductive time, they won't even hire female grad students or postdocs out of fear they go off having maternity leave. I'm not joking about that. One prof here actually said exactly that for permanent research positions he "doesn't want to waste a precious research position to women who'll go off having a family anyway" (even though the leave would then be paid by the uni, not his budget) and openly, repeatedly, disapproves of one postdoc (of another prof) who actually did take maternity leave and works quite some time from home.
This is not only at the universty though, but for many temporary jobs where one can take only <3 months (if you get or want to keep your job, that is), whereas permanent employees can take up to 1.3 years maternity/paternity leave.

Rainbow Scientist said...

My first child was born in Germany and health insurance was responsible for paying me paid maternity leave for 14 weeks. My university (or maybe its t rule in all over Germany, I don't know) had strict rule of 14 weeks of paid maternity leave for mothers, 6 weeks before due-date and 8 weeks after child birth and insurance company paid me my salary for that period.

And with all these complicated arrangements you are describing, often students and post-doc don't get any leave (paid or unpaid) in many cases, as happened during my second child birth in USA. It was tough and left me with bitter feelings.

There should be some strict arrangement for this issue in all universities. How many times in life a working women has child in this profession? May be one or two in most cases... and if system can not provide support for these one or two occasions in the life time of a female scientist, there is serious chances that all the efforts for increasing number of women in science will not achieve as much results as expected.

Kim said...

It seems to me that it really should come from indirect costs. Otherwise, there's a hidden benefit to programs and advisors that discourage women students (and discourage men from actively participating in parenting). (Would that count as a negagive "Broader Impact"?)

plam said...

Canada's science granting council, NSERC, offers 4 months' paid parental leave from its own funds for any students and postdocs paid from NSERC grants.

http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/Professors-Professeurs/FinancialAdminGuide-GuideAdminFinancier/AdminMatters-QuestionAdmin_eng.asp

Strangely enough, my university didn't seem to know this until I mentioned it (having read the rules sometime in the past) and was paying for parental leave itself.

Anonymous said...

I don't think my graduate university had any rules for grad students for maternity leave. My advisor just 'looked the other way' and kept paying me off her grants. I took 8 weeks, and that overlapped with thanksgiving and Christmas, which aren't usually extremely productive times in a cell culture lab anyway. (Restarting cells after being away for a holiday can take a while.)

Another grad student used to routinely (at least once or twice a year) take 3 week vacations. I never took more than 4 weeks total my entire grad school career, so I figured it all evened out in the end.

The biggest problem about not getting paid would have been losing health insurance for that time for me and my family.

Katy F-H said...

I think that this is a huge problem at most universities. Many people consider the fact that they make decisions on an individual basis "flexible." But I had no idea if I was going to get paid while on maternity leave. I had my child at the end of April and had already finished up my TA (I worked lots at the begining of the semester) but my advisor hadn't decided if he would pay me or not during the first month of the summer.

It all worked out, I was back before my field season and I am really happy balancing my PhD and my baby now. But there needs to be standards, just so people can plan ahead. Oh and it also healped that I took my comps 3 weeks before she was due, that made me very cheap to fund during the summer. But also a little bit insane during the pregnancy.

I am glad you brought this up. I wish more people, especially female professors would talk about this in academia, I think it is a problem not only in the sciences but also in most departments.

Anonymous said...

At my university we get 30 calendar days paid leave, which is paid out of whatever source was funding us all along. We can apply for disability payments for a little while beyond that (all of $150 per week BEFORE taxes). The 30 day limit really sucked when I was put on bedrest for 3 months during my last pregnancy, and then missed extra time after delivery because my son was premature and in the NICU. But considering the nasty comments I received about being pregnant in the first place, I wasn't really surprised.

Patchi said...

I had my first kid during my first postdoc and my department at the time said I should resign. My adviser was against it and we negotiated that I would not get a raise that year and I volunteered for a months while pregnant (Christmas holidays). And he paid me during my 6-week maternity leave.

The second kid (second postdoc, different department) happened at the end of my contract, and I got the notice of no renewal dated for the week after my due date (even though my original contract had another 2 months). Unfortunately this extra stress led me to bed rest for the last 8 weeks of my pregnancy. I was paid during that time, but was told that I had to pay back the money or volunteer for 8 weeks after my maternity leave. I took the volunteer option, as I didn't have a position lined up yet. We had to dig into our savings to pay for 2 kids in daycare during those 8 weeks, but I wanted the papers.

gradgirl said...

I'm a 5th year grad student looking ahead to both a PostDoc and to starting a family in the next year or two. These comments scare the sh#$ out of me. The idea that "postdocs shouldn't get babies" is awful, as is the shady way many of the posters were treated with regard to stipends.

Anonymous said...

So, I think that for an ideal grad students/postdocs who loves/obsesses over their work, having a "month off" of any kind of leave isn't really going to be a "month off." They'll be thinking about their projects. Designing new projects. Writing. This is productive even if they aren't physically at the bench. As much as I'm sure I'll love my kids when they come along and want to spend time with them, I'm also sure that I won't be able to completely drop thinking about/doing work for an entire month.

In ideal cases, the question becomes not "who will pay for the student/postdoc to do nothing" and instead "who will pay for the student/postdoc to write up their work / design new work."

The situation is more complicated in two situations:

1) The project or projects are at a critical stage where more data needs to be collected before ANY thinking/writing can be done. This seems like it should be pretty rare for advanced grad students/postdocs but might be common for 1-2 year grad students.

2) The student/postdoc is not that committed or interested in their work/science, so they likely will not accomplish any writing/thinking while they are on leave. Honestly these folks are unlikely to get a great position anywhere. I think that the "lost time" on unproductive students/postdocs is likely to be lost on a similar scale regardless of kids.

Dr. Wannabeamom said...

Anonymous @ 2:15AM:

That is a very close-minded opinion. The success of some grad students and postdoc's careers does not depend on them not having a family. Not everyone working at a research university has the same aspirations. Also, experiments can not be completed at home, but working on a manuscript or dissertation can be done from home.

I've never heard of grad students or postdocs getting paid leave - so this idea is news to me. I guess I have heard of some PIs paying for their students while they went on leave. Especially some of the foreign students leave for a month or so to go home in the summer. I don't quite know what I would do because I'm being paid through a Chancellor's scholarship stipend. I just planned to wait until I was about to finish my PhD to start to try and hope that I would have it in between the PhD and getting a job.

Cloud said...

I'm in industry, so have no comment on who should pay for maternity/paternity leave in academia.

However, I have to say to the first Anonymous: Wow. That dark ages attitude is one of the things that used to freak me out when I contemplated a career in science. Thankfully, I have not run into it much now that I am a scientist and a mother. Most people these days seem to recognize that being a scientist doesn't require that you be nothing else but a scientist. And most people recognize that different people will choose different times to start a family, and that they deserve support whenever they choose to do it.

For any young scientists out there contemplating a family, ignore what Anonymous said. I hope that attitude is in the minority. It certainly is in industry. I am in the middle of my second pregnancy, and for both pregnancies the universal reaction of my colleagues and employers has been: "how much leave will you be taking and how can we make that work?" No one has ever questioned my dedication to my career because I chose to have children.

Oh, and my husband took significant paternity leave, too. No one questioned his dedication to his job, either.

Anonymous said...

it wasn't maternity leave, but I had a similar issue with my postdoc. She said that she was sick, and took all thehvacation and sick days she could. THen she was done with the time off, but she would show up to lab for the minimum contractual 8 hrs and do as little as possible; she claimed she was still sick. I took it up to HR, whose advice was to give her a library assignment ?! yeah, like I can afford to pay 40K + benefits for that.
I don't want to be callous. I do sympathize with the postdoc, although she really behaved poorly. I should add that the illness was never disclosed for privacy reasons, but back when she was talking to me she said that doctors could find nothing, and one of them had suggested a depression. Which is serious too, but..
In Europe, where I come from, she would have been put on short-term disability, paid by social security. Unfortunately she had not elected to get that coverage here, and a some point I think I shouldn't (rather, NIH shouldn't) have to pay for her choices.

For pregnancy, it's a totally different story and I am outraged by the comments I see here. There should be a planned way to deal with that, without penalizing the pI. I proposed for my dept a common fund to cover these issues (where each PI would donate, say, 1K yr) but most of my colleagues didn't want to do it. They prefer to avoid hiring women.

Anonymous said...

I agreed with anonymous that if the person taking parental leave is a serious scientist, then they will be thinking or designing experiments during their leave. so in a sense you get paid to think about science, which is part of our jobs anyway.

I also agree that the money should come from some kind of 'indirect' cost so that pi's that have female students/postdocs are not unfairly penalized in costs.

I also think it is important for there to be 'parental leave' policies that encourage men to share the duties of caring for a newborn.

i think the poster that wrote that postdocs shouldn't have kids is a bit nuts. as educated people, we all know that the risks of birth defects increases with parental age so it seems irresponsible to wait for kids until later in life.

mixlamalice said...

To anonymous at 2.15
I wonder how old you are? Because I have heard a lot of these kind of comments by middle-aged people who forgot that back in their time, people were hired easily right after their PhD. Now that in most fields you have to do between 3 and 5 years (or more) of post-doc before having a "real job", what are you supposed to do?
Move to another place every other year, hope that your wife/husband will be able to follow you or at least be somewhere close enough so that you can see her/him during the week-ends, and not start a family before you're 35 of older?
Well I guess that's indeed what you are supposed to do, and I could accept that (actually that is my current situation) if it were not for the lessons from know-it-all people who had everything much more easier 20 years ago...

Some love research and still consider having a child is not only some kind of boring social convention that come far behind work accomplishments.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 2:15am:

The only good thing I can say about your comments is that clearly YOU won't be having any kids, so we can be safely assured that your ludicrous opinions will disappear when you do. Just in case, please stop talking to everyone in the world immediately.

Cloud said...

@anonymous 11:24- some states have mandatory short term disability insurance. In one of those states, if your postdoc was considered an employee (and not a student), she would have had access to this leave. However, it requires a doctor to sign a form saying she was disabled. And perhaps her doctor did not think she was. Mental health issues are not always handled well, but I did once have an employee go out on disability leave for a mental health problem.

In fact, the first 6 weeks of my maternity leave will be paid by state disability. For the next 6 weeks, I'll get some weird percentage of my usual pay from my state's family leave insurance (I live in CA). My company doesn't actually pay me at all while I am out. All they do is hold my job open for me.

I'm interested by all of you who think that scientists should spend parental leave thinking about experiments. Do you have kids? I'm wondering if my experience was unusual (or maybe I've become too much of a manager to be considered a "real" scientist anymore). I really didn't have the time or brainpower to think deeply about work during at least the initial part of my leave. I was completely consumed with caring for my daughter and if I had some spare brain power, I usually spent it thinking about how I could get more sleep (e.g., figuring out that dairy in my diet caused extreme fussiness in my daughter, interfering with her sleep). I answered emails about once a day, but I only answered ones I thought needed immediate attention. Later in my leave (I took 3 months), I did start planning the work I'd do on my return.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:15 "There's nothing sexist about that: I knew a female postdoc who took a week off to give birth and then let her husband look after the kid."

Hey high school debate team moron, IT IS SEXIST! Oh gee goodie, she LET her husband TAKE CARE OF HIS KID. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH! So much sexism fail, so little time.

Determining whether someone is a "serious" scientist based on their family life is a total crock of shit and it's discrimination! jc

Anonymous said...

Gosh, Cloud. I suppose you spent your leave sitting around watching soaps and popping bonbons in your mouth instead of writing Nature papers? Tut tut.

Seriously, I spent the first month of my maternity leave in an extreme sleep-deprived stupor. I had a C-section so it was difficult even walking to (then sitting at) the computer my email. I sure didn't check it every day. I had planned on spending the time organizing for some fieldwork after I recovered, but that didn't happen.

I have never heard of paid leave for grad students and postdocs, but it obviously needs to be addressed if we are serious about fixing the pipeline.

John V said...

From a theoretical point of view, grad students and post-docs should have centrally-paid maternity leave benefits to all to distribute the risks and costs. Probably it would be added to benefit rates in proposals.

Childbirth seems to cost roughly $10K, plus some disability leave. If childbearing years among this cohort are 25-35, and the average American has about 2 kids, then the annual cost per woman would be roughly $2K+/yr, or an extra benefits cost per person of $1K per year. If much leave is paid for, as it must be to fully cover the time and effort required, the cost might be much higher. Then overhead adds another 50% or so before the cost hits the proposals' bottom line.

These extra funds must compete with other deficiencies in current perks, such as adequate childcare, better health benefits in general, and the egregious salaries paid to graduate students in the first place.

Probably too many assumptions, but it is hard to solve maternity leave problems in isolation without identifying the cost and then identifying the source of those funds and the impact.

So I'd guess between existing benefits and necessary additions, properly covering the cost of maternity bumps up the cost of every grad student and postdoc very roughly $3K/yr, if our goal is to have them procreate like average Americans.

lost academic said...

I'm 27 and still have 5 years left on my PhD. Let's assume there'll be another 5-6 year period of (god willing) tenure track position if all goes perfectly? I'm suppose to wait till I'm 37? I'm supposed to do this during the quest for tenure? I don't think so. So sometime before my dissertation or if I end up with a postdoc is my only shot, thanks. People can pontificate about who and when people should or shouldn't have babies don't have a goddamned clue. You know what? Taking a week off with the flu and resulting pneumonia means you, Anon, don't care about YOUR research. If your parents or siblings died and YOU had to take care of the arrangements and you did, well, I guess science isn't THAT important, is it? Gosh, I bet you'd even do chemo for some sort of dangerous cancer you might get!

We all know what long term importance things have, and if we're vaguely sane or stable, we can determine that there are situations, some controllable and some not, that can develop that for a short period of time supersede others. Period.

Cloud said...

@anonymous 1:47- I didn't have a C-section, so was much more mobile. And I have a blackberry, so I checked email from my sofa. Most of the emails that needed replies didn't require much thought- just me pointing the person to the appropriate other person who could answer in my absence. Like I said, I'm mostly a manager now.

I, too, spent the first month or so in a severely sleep deprived state. I can't imagine what kind of interesting "insights" I would have had if I had tried to do any work requiring serious thought.

I recovered the ability to think coherently at about 6 weeks postpartum, when my daughter's night time sleep got a bit better and she started taking better naps. Even then, though, there was no way I was doing any serious work while I was home with her. If she was awake, she demanded my attention. If she was asleep, I was usually trying to sleep, too. Or eat.

I know that I had a relatively high needs baby, though. I was curious if the people advocating the use of parental leaves as time to plan and write had children and had actually done this or if they were just postulating about what a person could do, if that person were to live in a world where newborns actually sleep.

Anonymous said...

Point 1: People need to have babies in order to continue our species.

Point 2: Someone has to take care of these babies, or they will die and our species will not continue.

Point 3: Childcare can be shared among mothers and fathers, but biology has mandated there is an extra biological load on mothers.

Point 4: The best biological time for women to have babies is under the age of 35.

Point 5: We don't want to mandate that some people are baby-makers and other people are scientists, do we?

Point 6: It's counterproductive to give excellent workers the boot if they have to take some short-term leave.

Conclusion: At the very least, we must allow short-term leave. And we must not say things like "they decided to have a family so they don't care about their career." And if we really believe in points 1-6, we should provide paid leave and affordable child care.

Jerry said...

How about grad. students getting married (or having kids)? Good idea or bad?

From the grad. students' perspective?

From the PI's perspective?

What about vacation time? 0-30 days (how many days should they get? What would be fair or unfair)

grad student said...

The cost of raising a child cost at least 250k +/- 50k.

-"That is a very close-minded opinion. The success of some grad students and postdoc's careers does not depend on them not having a family. Not everyone working at a research university has the same aspirations. Also, experiments can not be completed at home, but working on a manuscript or dissertation can be done from home."

My question is: can you really be as producttve working from home (just like working at work)? If that is true, then most people can just work from home 90% of the time (save the commute hours). Just come to campus for meetings, right?

Also, if you are planning to get married or think about having kids, when do you tell your PI? Do you even need to tell them, or just inform them when it is going to happen (non-negotiable)? Wouldn't some PIs be MAD? Do they have reasons to be mad??

Anonymous said...

I am anonymous at 2:15: I am 45 and have a 3 year old jumping-up-and-down-running-around-screaming boy. I know what it's like to have a child who had regular projectile vomiting, etc. I do know from personal experience that it is extremely hard to combine a research career with having a kid (and enjoying it rather than dumping it into childcare). My wife was completely out of action for a year at least (morning sickness, C-section, lack of sleep). Despite the fact that it probably true that people should have a right to have kids, don't have them when you are a postdoc, for the simple fact that something has got to give: either your work or the well-being of your child. Life is hard. From a PI's perspective: it is very hard to a get grant in the UK (and I'm sure in the States), it only runs for 3-3.5 years with a possible 0.5-year extension in case of personnel problems. If somebody leaves for maternity for, say, a year, the PI is screwed with possible implications for future grant funding. An academic PI is not a private company that can afford to have a maternity leave policy. Thus, you cannot apply the rules that apply to companies to PIs.

Anonymous said...

If the average scientist took three months off nobody would know.

Kevin said...

"My question is: can you really be as producttve working from home (just like working at work)? If that is true, then most people can just work from home 90% of the time (save the commute hours). Just come to campus for meetings, right?"

This is, in fact, a standard mode of operation for graduate students and postdocs in the computational sciences and math. People come in to work for interaction with others (formal and informal) or when the distractions at home are worse than the distractions at work.

I've found it useful to reduce the number of days a week I come into the office, and spend the other days working from home. I get more done that way than I would if I were always in the office or always at home.

Cloud said...

Anonymous at 2:15- I appreciate your willingness to come back and defend your opinions.

I recognize that academia and industry have different constraints. I do think, though, that those of you in academia sometimes underestimate the pressures on people in industry. There are consequences when we miss our goals, too, and sometimes those consequences are pretty dire. That is a subject of a different discussion, though.

Maternity leave in the States is usually more like 3 months than a year. In some states, women are only guaranteed 6 weeks. I live in CA, which probably has the most protective laws in this area, and my job is only guaranteed for a 4 month leave, unless there are medical complications that leave me actually disabled for longer. My company is not in fact required to pay ANYTHING to me during my leave. All of my pay during maternity leave comes either from disability insurance or family leave insurance, both of which my company and I had to pay into. My income during my leave will be significantly less than my usual income.

In cases where a postdoc is considered an employee, I would expect that the same arrangement applies. For grad students and postdocs who are treated as students by their institutions, the situation is a lot less clear. I think that is the situation FSP wanted to discuss, and I'm sorry the discussion has gotten so sidetracked.

The problem with your earlier statement and in fact your follow up response is that you assume the burden for handling the deficiencies of the current system should all fall on the woman who wants to have a child. That is an unfair assumption. The woman has a right to have a child, and to expect that her employer will have systems in place to make this possible. If those systems are inadequate, then it is as much your responsibility as hers to try to fix them and to try to find arrangements that will work out. Just throwing up your hands and saying women shouldn't have babies during their postdocs is unhelpful, to say the least.

I also do not think either the research or the child has to suffer. I suppose that if you were the sort of person who spent all of your waking hours in the lab before having a baby, that would have to change. However, I completely reject the idea that you have to be that sort of person to be a good scientist. Most scientists have other interests and activities outside the lab. If I look at my own life, here are the things that have "suffered" from my decision to have a child: the cleanliness of my house, some local pubs that no longer see much of me and my husband, my musical abilities, and my knowledge of current TV.

Anonymous said...

I think that grad students and postdocs should have unpaid maternity leave. Why? because they are technically not long-term employees, they are supposed to be 'trainees'. They are being paid from soft money (PI's grant). Grants are meant to fund research, not personal life choices. (getting pregnant and having kids is, in the majority of situations for adults, a personal CHOICE)

This is why I don't think that grad school and postdoc is a good time to be starting a family. it seems irresponsible to start a family when you don't even have a REAL JOB YET.

chall said...

anyonom 6.18

Since the average age of getting a NIH grant is the US is above 40 I guess then it means that you think all female scientist should avoid children and all male ones should find a younger wife.

That's hardly what anyone wants?! Or maybe that is what everyone who wants women to choose between science and family wants.

I think paternal leave should be half and half at least - as in paid by the institute for the most part as looking at post docs as employees and faculty and not rely on grant funding. It is quite steep to ask of a PI to pay for post doc/grad student paternal leave simply because this will lead to less females getting hired (they obviously have to be gone for at least a few days after giving birth). Everyone wants as much papers for their buck.

Since "we" want children and fathers being at home, as well as women working, I would think that the institution being responsible for a part of the paternal leave would be the "fair" thing to do. Of course, this is hard toargue since everyone is happy now (apart from the grad studnet and post docs) that cheap labour adapts to the situation...

As of time and paid leave, I'm not sure. Where I come from, 13 months is paid for by the security system. That's for both mom and dad combined, as in linked to the child. Scientist don't normally take that since they want to do science... in the US I would think 8 weeks at least,unpaid would be the minimus resonable if you want involved parents...

This is not even contemplating the sick child leave...

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:15, I am shocked that you don't have the scientific objectivity to realize that as a man, you have a much, much broader choice of when to "get" a child.

There are very simple and real time constraints on those who actually need to bear said child, and those overlap with the grad-school and postdoc stages of one's career.

I think FSP might have been trying to discuss what to do about that overlap, rather than simply pretend it doesn't really exist.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

NIH policy for grad students and post-docs supported by institutional or individual NRSA fellowships is that up to 8 weeks of parental leave while supported by the stipend is allowed, provided that the term of supported leave is consistent with that afforded to other non-NRSA trainees at the institution. Trainees supported by NIH research project or center grants are also allowed paid parental leave chargeable as direct costs to those grants, again provided that the term of supported leave is consistent with that afforded to other trainees at the institution.

Anonymous said...

What I gather from all these comments is that it doesn't matter who pays for it. The problem is that women take leave and men don't. So a mandatory 2 months for father and mother might be the key. They can take it together or sequential. Then it won't be about discriminating women, but married people in general.

Nicky said...

Ignoring all of the incredibly ignorant comments about women and serious careers and responsibility and timing... I'll just provide my data point for who paid.

I'm a woman, a PhD student, and I have a 10-month-old son. My university (in the US) guarantees 3 months of maternity leave (but not paternity) for grad students. The university funds 50% of this leave from a general fund, so women get 50% of their stipend and continued health insurance. Advisors are "strongly encouraged" to kick in the other 50%, to bring the stipend back up to normal levels. Some advisors use grant money, some use overhead, depending on circumstance. Some expect to see a modicum of work during this time, but most just look the other way.

In my particular case, my advisor kicked in the other half, agreed (in writing) that I wouldn't need to do any work during my maternity leave, then cut off all funding for me when I returned from my leave. Her reasons: I didn't get enough work done during my leave, and clearly I'm not serious about my career if I chose to have a baby.

Ultimately, I think that "who pays" is a tiny issue here. The real problem is dealing with attitudes in academia that don't acknowledge the overlap of child-bearing years and grad school, and that ignore the reality that people are going to continue to procreate, and you shouldn't force women to end their academic careers because of it. If we start by addressing the attitudes, policies providing for funding will naturally follow.

Anonymous said...

this is all quite silly. Most women in science do have children, and somehow they seem to manage to also have a working brain (see FSP). I have only one kid, and I gather FSP does too, but many braver women have even two, three or (gasp!) more. The current Chancellor of UCSD has 5 kids total (3 biological).
True, some of us (perhaps most of us) have had challenges and may harbor some bitterness on how things were handled.
My point being, it is going to happen (women having kids). It seems that most people manage to be productive nevertheless, especially if one looks at the long run.
So isn't it better to facilitate somehow the process, or at least to not make women's lives miserable?! We cannot afford to waste women's talent just because one has a child, although I understand that Anon 2:15 would prefer to have less competition in his pursuits.
There's no good time to have a child. Regardless of when it happens, it is going to be a major challenge and it will probably appear as a glitch on one's career. Universities need to have policies ahead of time to accommodate women at all stage of their career.

Anonymous said...

[I'm a new anonymous, not already posted on this thread.]

This discussion has gotten really off track. I'd like to bring it back to the point being made by FSP at the beginning, which is (IMHO) extremely important.

As lab PIs, we run a small business, but as university professors, we are part of a large business. Small businesses have exceptions to many of these mandatory rules (like mandatory leave) because they don't have the flexibility to handle such drastic changes. (Imagine the following situation: you are running a lab on a single R01 that pays for one student (not unreasonable). That student takes 6 months leave to take care of child, sick-parent, whatever (again, not unreasonable). Anyone want to guess the likelihood that R01 gets renewed with 6 months work missing?) A small business (think <10 people) doesn't have the flexibility to pay for someone to spend months not working.

What we really need is for all labs to pay in to a centralized pool, so that the university can cover these situations. That way each lab pays a small amount (well within budget), and students can take that necessary leave. Isn't that the kind of thing indirect costs is supposed to cover?

[For the record, I have no idea what my university does and I'm afraid to ask. Last time I started down a road like this, I was told I owed a technician over $5k that I didn't expect, hadn't planned for, and that my chair and HR all said was unreasonable. But that the university said was not worth fighting legally.]

Cloud said...

@new anonymous- you make a good point. Just for accuracy: in most cases, the small business does NOT pay for a leave. The small business paid into a government mandated insurance program that then pays for the leave.

I think the cutoff for the mandate is at 50 employees, but I'm not sure.

In my case- I work at a business of about 80 employees- my pay while out on leave is covered by these insurance programs, not my company. My company still pays my benefits (like health insurance), though. My company is using some of the money they would be paying me during my leave to pay a contractor to cover some of my work.

It seems to me that universities could do something similar to cover postdocs and grad students. Of course, if you make it the norm to bring in temporary help to keep a project going while the postdoc or grad student is out on leave, then you have to solve the problem of ensuring the trainee still gets adequate training. I think you could make a case that planning for someone else to continue your project for a few months is actually valuable management training, but since we don't generally worry about management training for our grad students and postdocs, perhaps this isn't a useful case to make.

Anonymous said...

"What I gather from all these comments is that it doesn't matter who pays for it. The problem is that women take leave and men don't. So a mandatory 2 months for father and mother might be the key. They can take it together or sequential. Then it won't be about discriminating women, but married people in general."

Which might counterbalance the fact that married people so often receive preferential treatment over singles (in my experience).

Then again, I've recently come off a semester where 1/4 of our department took paternity leave at the same time leaving the rest of us to cover for them at little-to-no extra pay (no, that's not their fault per se but given that the fellow I had to cover for consistently gets preferential treatment over me, I'm a little bitter at him anyway). So, effectively, *I* paid for his paternity leave - with my time and my health.

Anonymous said...

My data point:
I had a baby while in a Ph.D. program and had "paid" maternity leave as I was supported by a national scholarship. Because of the nature of the scholarship (focused on, but not exclusively, women in science) I did include the news of the birth of my daughter in the final progress report.

I'm feeling defensive from reading the other comments that I'm some sort of irresponsible person or bad scientist for having a child in grad school. Stop judging!

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I'm glad I'm not living in the US, but in a country where paid parental leave is covered by the law regardless of who your employer is or where the money for your salary comes from. The paid parental leave covers at least a year per child for each parent, so at least two years in total per child. Part of the time can be transfered between the parents, if one wants to stay home longer (usually the one with the lowest salary). It's mainly paided by the state ("parent money"), although better employers compete with good conditions. Luckily my faculty is one of them, and adds 3 months extra employment as "catch up time after parental leave" to all PhD students who has been on parental leave.

I think that if you have employees in "child bearing age" (about 20-40) then you have to be realistic and calculate that some or most of them will have babies. That's the way life works, and trying to ignore it is not going to help your budget or your research plans.

Anonymous said...

I'm feeling defensive from reading the other comments that I'm some sort of irresponsible person or bad scientist for having a child in grad school. Stop judging!

well if your personal circumstances were such that you had the money and time to have a baby while still a grad student then more power to you, and congratulations. But most people in that situation have neither.

heck when I was a grad student I didn't even have the money or time to have a dog!

Kevin said...

A lot of the grad students in my department are older re-entry students. Some even have kids in college. It is quite possible to have children while a grad student, and it may be the best time, both biologically and socially.

People who think you shouldn't have kids will think that no matter when you have them.

Given that most scientists now are children of scientists or engineers, where do you think the next generation of scientists will come from if scientists fail to reproduce?

Aisling said...

This week's Time magazine features an article about the alarming rate of infant mortality in the U.S. compared to other industrialized countries. A major contributing factor seems to be the increase in pre-term birth over the past 20 years. And nowhere in that article is maternity leave (or the lack there-of) mentioned...

nassim haramein said...

I'm a 5th year grad student looking ahead to both a PostDoc and to starting a family in the next year or two. These comments scare the sh#$ out of me. The idea that "postdocs shouldn't get babies" is awful, as is the shady way many of the posters were treated with regard to stipends.