A close friend of mine was offered a three year postdoc position after she finished a previous 3 year postdoc fellowship. She is very excited about the new position but at the same time she is very worried since she and her partner are planning to have a first baby. She mentioned that she felt like she would be taking advantage of the professor who offered her a new position, if she would become pregnant soon and would be on maternity leave for several months, while she only just joined the new lab.

I didn't really know how to respond. Should this really be a concern for her? Or how to balance moving between (relatively) short-term positions and starting a family?

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    Considerations: 1. What are the laws of the country and the uni she is going to? How are pregnancies handled in, e.g., funded research programmes? 2. Does she have good rapport with the prof? If the funding agency supports maternity leave (e.g. by extending the duration of the funding), it may be an option to actually mention this, if the rapport is good. 3. In the countries I know, if she does not reveal it, the prof has no recourse against her - but, of course, it is morally difficult to leave the prof in the dark. 4. Has she planned how to cope with an intense postdoc job and a child? Commented Sep 18, 2016 at 14:00
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    1: UK, top 10 university on external funding, but I don't know the scheme. 2: I believe she only met him during the interview as she applied to an advertised job. 3: Are you suggesting that she should disclose to the professor that she is considering to have a child? 4: not sure about this, but when in an academic job, is there ever a good time for this?
    – dsfgsho
    Commented Sep 18, 2016 at 15:27
  • 2. That's obviously then not enough information. 3. If she knows the prof well, which doesn't seem to be the case, or if there is a legal model to extend the funding, that also may be attractive to the prof (sometimes it caters to their timing); otherwise, if not legally required, she probably should not state it - perhaps she ends up deciding otherwise? 4. not a better time, but there may be better support networks at different phases in your life. And it depends on their character; some people pull it with incredibly light touch. But she needs to reflect on whether that works for her. Commented Sep 18, 2016 at 15:39

1 Answer 1


If I understood right, she is not pregnant at this time.

If the post-doc is a one-year appointment, I don't see a problem. Pregnancies generally last approximately 9 months. It often takes more than one cycle to conceive. If she wanted to be sure the birth wouldn't interrupt a 12-month appointment, she and her partner could always wait a couple of cycles before starting.

She may start to want to have an afternoon nap at some point; she'll probably want to bring some extra snacks to work; she would be smart to plan in such a way that she doesn't have to spend a lot of time on her feet in the lab in the last trimester. Some women find their concentration isn't completely what it was pre-pregnancy. She might want to build some flexibility into her project(s) in case she finds her productivity is a bit less than what she's used to.

Other than that, the only limitation I can think of would be if she works in a field involving radiation.

If the post-doc is a two-year appointment, then she may want to plan her work flow to allow her to ease back into work part-time after the baby comes, while still making progress with her research.

(How to combine work with care of a young baby is whole topic of its own which I won't get into here.)

Note, my answer would be different if she were about to jump into a tenure-track position, with a solid teaching load and having to build a lab program from scratch. But this position sounds nothing like that.

Whether or when to start a baby is a very personal decision. I see nothing objective here to stand in her way if she and her partner want to do this now.

(Note that in the U.S., employment discrimination against pregnant women is strictly prohibited. I can't imagine things would be substantially different in the UK. If in doubt, however, http://law.stackexchange.com can help.)

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    Your last paragraph indicates that it may spare the employers a conflict of interest not to mention the pregnancy plans. Commented Sep 18, 2016 at 19:36
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    ....The issue with that is that if the academic does not have the same academic job the next year, then she will want another one, and the situation will be much the same. In particular, you write "Note, my answer would be different if she were about to jump into a tenure-track position, with a solid teaching load and having to build a lab program from scratch. But this position sounds nothing like that." But that could be exactly what she is doing, or wants to be doing, immediately after giving birth. Commented Sep 18, 2016 at 21:39
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    It's a three year position. i have clarified this in the question.
    – dsfgsho
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 9:22
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    Please keep the comments polite.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 15:38
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    @StrongBad - Could you be more specific? If I've inadvertently said anything that made you uncomfortable, please spell it out. Also, flagging can be used when you see a problem with the tone or content of a comment. Thank you! Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 16:37

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