Topic: Workforce diversity
by Katherine Thompson-Peer
Postdocs who are trying to raise a family while training for a scientific career need more support. 26% of postdocs at my university have a dependent child (the number is similar at other institutions). New parents, most commonly new mothers, can pay serious penalties in terms of dollars and in terms of professional reputation when they choose to have children while doing a postdoc, and these penalties are strongly exacerbated for women who are underrepresented minorities. Increasing support for postdoc parents would go a long way to increasing diversity at the postdoc and faculty stages, especially in the STEM fields where postdocs are longer and more common. (1) One remedy would be financial assistance for postdoc parents paying for childcare. A family of two postdoc parents cannot afford to live in my city on two NRSA-level salaries (median list price for renting a 2 bedroom apartment + childcare leaves $10 per month of the combined family income for taxes and all other expenses).
Starting a family should not be an option only for postdocs whose partners are wealthy. Child care financial aid, eligibility for employer benefits like pre-tax dependent care payment plans, and backup care programs would go a long way to supporting these parents as they finish their postdoctoral training. (2) A second improvement would be to adjust postdoc fellowship policies to support new parents. Postdocs on fellowships are often ineligible for maternity leave. And while postdocs can extend their K99 eligibility for the number of weeks they take off after childbirth, this ignores the reality that parenting a newborn does not stop when postdocs return to work. A 1 year extension on the “postdoc clock” of K99 eligibility, akin to the 1 year extension faculty get on their “tenure clock”, would acknowledge the adjustment period that becoming a parent has on one’s productivity. Together these changes would support postdocs who start a family while pursuing a scientific career.