Dr Bernd Braunecker and Dr Aurora Sicilia-Aguilar: Lecturer and SUPA Advanced Fellow

Our experience with the shared parental leave was very positive, and also a first-time chance (despite of being our third child) since many countries and some research institutions are not too keen on fathers taking a long leave or getting involved in children care. We took a shared leave (first 18 weeks for the mother, plus 8 more weeks for the father) that allowed us to be with our baby until she was nearly 6 months old. The School of Physics and Astronomy fully supported us in our choice, since it also had the advantage of minimizing the impact in both our teaching and research duties: By distributing our leave as above, we could both attend to our teaching activities as planned before we knew we were getting a new baby. Sharing the parental leave also means that the impact on our research careers was not too large and that we did not need to put the child in a nursery when she was too young. The baby also benefits from the extra time spent with her parents. She can bond with the father as a small baby, and in the case of multi-lingual children like ours, she had the chance to be intensively exposed to her father’s language at a very early stage, which is something we could not do with our older children. Despite of all these advantages and the support of the University, there are still some problems that can result from this decision, especially when you consider it within a larger, international context:

  • Many grants do not account for maternity/paternity leaves. In particular, paternity leaves are usually not taken into account, or taken in a much lesser extent than maternity leaves are. An example: mothers get a long exemption in their “career clock” of numbers of years after PhD if they have had children, while fathers get none or only the time they took on leave, if any. While this is thought to help women with children and to account not only for the leave, but for all the time invested in caring for children, it penalizes fathers who opt for taking care of their children. This is backfiring against women’s rights, since for fathers with competitive careers, it is “not worth” to invest time and effort on raising their children: Nobody will take it into account! Funding agencies should look twice at their policies.
  • Having children and taking a leave may cause irreversible damage to otherwise competitive careers. It is not just the time you spent on leave, but the number of conferences you cannot attend because of having a small child, the number of citations/invited talks that you don’t get because of this lack of participation, etc. And this situation lasts until your children are old enough to be able to be on their own for most of the time. If fathers get involved in the childcare, this eases the situation for mothers, but as before: caring fathers do not seem to exist for most funding and evaluating agencies!
  • Having children and a double career is still an issue. Funding agencies want ever younger people, directly coming after a few years postdocs. This may change in case of couples with scientific careers in different fields, that may bring them through various countries, require choosing a not-too-direct career progress line for the sake of keeping the family together, and have the goal to obtain at some point two positions within a commuting distance. These difficulties are usually not taken into account, and they also damage your CV because you will quickly be “too old”. If you didn’t get anything permanent by some point, it must be because you are really bad, not because you had to adjust your career path to that of your partner (even if it requires quite a competitive CV to manage bringing forward two scientific careers for many years in first-class institutions that are within commuting distance!).

Last modified: Thu Nov 10 13:20:46 GMT 2016