How do I be the parent and scientist I want to be?
February 23, 2011 2:31 PM Subscribe
Can I take 2 or 3 years off after getting my PhD to be a parent full-time without seriously reducing my ability to be a researcher (not necessarily a professor) in the hard sciences?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a female PhD student in the hard sciences. Theoretically (!), I have 3 more years to go until graduation. I get along very well with my academic advisor and enjoy my work. After this semester I'll be pretty much done with classwork. My goals as a scientist: to do useful, engaging, creative research at an academic, not-for-profit or government institution. To have a job at which I can have great conversations where scientific ideas flow. I do NOT necessarily aspire to be a professor, but I'm not totally against it.
I am 25, engaged to a man who ALREADY is the best partner imaginable. We agree that we would like to have a child, ideally in about 3 years, although obviously we're not totally in control of that. We don't own a house or car, but we have no debt and some savings. Both of us are close to our families (and eachothers'), but neither extended family is particularly close by, and we can't move for at least 4 years (job commitment, his).
Although parenthood isn't imminent, we've spent a lot of time (actually that's an understatement) thinking about how best to give a future child the best possible life, and in the process, I've found that some of my priorities have crystallized. Most of all, I find myself absolutely committed to being at home with the child for the couple of years. I won't go in to why that's so important to me, but I've even surprised myself by how strongly I feel about it. Given my personality, my idea of a Really Good Time (nature walks and hiking/running/swimming/sailing/biking, cooking, reading, playing music, documentaries etc.), and my very-long-standing love of being with babies and children, I think it would work for me.
In my perfect imaginary world, our child would be born shortly after I finish my PhD. I'd take a couple of years off to be a full-time parent. Then for the next couple of years, I'd get a postdoctoral position with some kind of flex-time option so that my partner and I could spend as much time as possible with the child (preschooler by then). I think it's important to note that my partner and I are committed to being equally involved parents.
I've read everything I can find on the internet about mixing babies with academic life. However, almost everything I've read assumes 2 things: 1) that I want to return to work after a few months and 2) that my goal is to stay in academia and become a tenured professor. Instead, I want to take a few YEARS off and although I'm not opposed to becoming a tenured professor, it's not my life dream and I'm totally open to other engaging research jobs in which I can do useful work. I have no desire for a "high powered career". I really do love science and research, and it's important to me to do good work, but I feel incredibly loyal to a child who does not even exist yet and know that I want as relaxed and balanced a life as I can possibly manage.
-Can I take a couple of years off after getting my PhD without ruining my chances of getting a postdoctoral or other research position? Will the fact that the papers I have (hopefully!) published are 2-3 years "out of date" be a career killer? Will my dedication to research be questioned? Will I have to work super-extra-hard to prove myself?
-Are you aware of any career paths in the hard sciences that DON'T discourage taking such time off?
-If you've done this, how did it work out for you?
-Keeping in mind that I'm willing to take some degree of risk to do what I feel is right, how foolhardy would it be to plan on taking a few years off after my PhD without lining up a postdoctoral position?
If anybody has encouraging words, I would LOVE to hear them. I really, really care about this.