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I am a PhD candidate with one child (18 months) and one year left in the PhD. My husband and I want at least one more child. I am trying to learn about the relative pros and cons of having a child during the summer after defending vs the summer after my first year on the tenure track. I don't feel 100% confident that I will get a tenure track offer, but I also have some good signs. Here is what I came up with:

Baby after defense/summer before starting tenure track:

  • (+) I will be 1 year younger, giving more flexibility if decide to have a 3rd child, possibly bounce back sooner etc.
  • (+?) I have been told the first year of tenure track is typically less productive research-wise because of teaching responsibilities. I have successfully done the "teach with new baby" thing during grad school, but my research definitely suffered during that semester (partially because my class was a new prep). If I am going to have reduced research output, the first year might be the time to bite that bullet?
  • (-) Pregnant on the job market, face possible discrimination. This would be more of an issue at flyouts when I would be showing.
  • (-) I didn't get morning sickness with first pregnancy and 3rd trimester pain was manageable, but no guarantees of easy 2nd pregnancy. Difficult on the job market.
  • (-) Moving to new city while super-pregnant or with infant (really least of my worries)

Baby after first tenure track year:

  • (+) Would likely get time off the tenure clock
  • (+) Not pregnant on the job market, perhaps get better offer
  • (-) Might have a greater impact on research to have infant during 2nd year, which is typically more productive than 1st (so I have heard)
  • (-) Perhaps hurt reputation with colleagues/will have to have weird and awkward conversations about my pregnancy with new colleagues (At least this is my experience in grad school - 50%+ asked me if my pregnancy was planned, etc. So awkward.)
  • (-) If we want a 3rd kid, that will be pushed back closer to tenure review.

Am I missing anything? Does anyone have any real-life observations about timing an academic baby?

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    I can't answer this question but would recommend this : ecologybits.com/index.php/2016/05/18/… – Emilie Jul 15 '16 at 15:43
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    Will you have health insurance after you finish your PhD and before you start a new job? (Including if you don't get a job offer this cycle, a contingency you do need to plan for.) – ff524 Jul 15 '16 at 15:48
  • Yes, I can always get on my husband's insurance. My backup option if I don't get a TT job is to work either at a research thinktank in DC or do some sort of local visiting prof gig to wait for the next cycle. – Dawn Jul 15 '16 at 16:05
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    Given the amount of people without babies that fail to reach tenure, I'm not sure this actually matters. – Gimelist Jul 16 '16 at 22:56
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    @Michael That's at best naive. The fact that women are on the tenure clock or searching for TT job for much of their peak years for having children is a huge problem that academia needs to think about a lot more seriously. Lots of people with children get tenure, and many without don't, but that doesn't mean there's no connection. – Ben Webster Jul 17 '16 at 20:41
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(Just to put my experience first: I'm a man, and had my first child about 7 months ago, around the same time I went up for tenure.)

This is one of those "your mileage may vary pretty massively" questions. My general recommendation is that it's better to have to the baby once you're more established in your job, but there are so many moving parts, no single recommendation can work.

Some people have a less productive year the first year they are on the tenure-track (I don't think I did), but in many disciplines, that's because they are assembling a lab, which I'm not sure you want to be doing with a new baby either. In my opinion, the minuses you list are pretty big.

If I were going on the job market as a pregnant woman, I would be very worried about unconscious discrimination. I don't think you would have problems with this most places, but it often just takes a couple of people in a department to sink your candidacy, and they could be influenced by the pregnancy without knowing it.

I think also you're neglecting the fact that if you have your baby after starting your new job, you will probably be eligible for maternity leave. Most places I of in practice give a semester of maternity or paternity leave, though with some caveats (at my current institution, it's usually possible to get a semester off teaching, but with other service duties still required after the first few weeks). I've known people who had babies late in postdocs who really lamented missing out on this.

The matter of your reputation with colleagues is pretty hard to game out. I'm sure there do exist departments where showing up either with a new baby or immediately becoming pregnant might make a bad impression. This would mean your colleagues are jerks, but unfortunately, it's hard to guarantee your colleagues won't be jerks. I feel like it's likely to be a wash though, since colleagues can just as easily be weird about the fact that you have a baby, as that you are pregnant.

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    In Australia, postdocs get maternity leave. – Anonymous Physicist Jul 16 '16 at 7:53
  • But they don't have tenure in the US sense in Australia either... – daaxix Jul 16 '16 at 12:42
  • Thanks Ben, this seems like a thoughtful and well-balanced perspective. I especially found the note, "it often just takes a couple of people in a department to sink your candidacy" helpful. – Dawn Jul 18 '16 at 15:55
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    Another point about maternity benefits: there exist institutions/employers where full maternity benefits (health insurance, leave policy, etc.) won't kick in unless you've worked there for at least a year. For Universities most of this information can be found in their faculty handbooks, which are frequently posted on the university website. Else the relevant policies may be found on the human resources website. The actual policy of your potential employer is something that you can research in the comforts of your own home without tipping your hand. – Willie Wong Jul 19 '16 at 2:28
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Ask the HR department when you get a job.

Many places put a 1 year delay in the TT process if you have a baby.

Watch out for unintentional discrimination during a fly-out. While technically illegal, pregnancy often counts against a candidate.

(Full disclosure: I am also a man, so take my comment with a large grain of salt)

  • The TT delay is my biggest positive to waiting. However, given the fact that babies take 9 months, this decision will need to be made before i have a job so I won't know the details of that in advance. – Dawn Jul 18 '16 at 15:58

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