A note on starting a family while training to be a scientist

Mar 20 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

An excerpt from an NIH faq on fellowship awards for grad students and postdocs.

I am planning on having a child during my fellowship. What are the NIH policies on family leave?

NRSA fellowship recipients are entitled to 15 days of sick leave per year, and up to 60 calendar days of parental leave if the institution provides that benefit to other fellows. The NRSA stipend will continue during those periods. Hence, the fellow would, in fact, be trading some research training time for the opportunity to stay at home with the child.

9 responses so far

  • crystaldoc says:

    I had the unfortunate timing of giving birth a few months after my NRSA fellowship concluded and I was transitioned back to the PI's grant. As a result of this change in status, the institution (a flagship state university) considered me a "new hire" of less than 6 months, within a probationary window, and I was thus ineligible for leave (including unpaid FMLA). Several months of accumulated sick leave and vacation also evaporated upon this transition. I was fortunate that my PI was willing to give me 6 weeks off, sort of under the table as far as the administration knew. That was in 2003. I sure hope that policies of universities have been improved and standardized since then.

    • bashir says:

      Similar story with me. PI was totally willing to do leave unofficially. There was no set time. Just told to come back when I could.

      I've been an "new hire" half a dozen times at my institution. Nonsensical to treat someone who is just changing funding sources like an actual new hire. But our admins are pretty insistent.

  • I think it's great that NIH is starting to consider these things, and put them on paper. But trading research time for parental leave? It would be great if it would be both: same time for research and 3 months of parental leave. But I guess that might be a bit too much to ask for...

  • lalune says:

    At least there is a policy. I was funded through stipends in Europe and there was no rule on parental leave at all. So I just stayed "sick" for 6 weeks. Same thing. I was trading research time for staying at home. Plus, my child was not automatically insured, because the health insurance of the fellowship only covered myself and did not extend to my family (it did not even cover the check-ups during pregnancy!). Funny enough, the rules in Europe for employees on the contrary are quite strict. If officially employed one HAS to take several weeks of leave before and after the due date and is not allowed anywhere near the place of work. It's quite sad how (young female) scientists are treated these days. As if it was not bad enough to be "employed" on fellowships.

  • That NIH policy has been in place for a while now, since it existed when I was an NSRA fellow (back in the dark ages of the early 'oughts). Like many others, though, I did my baby-having near the END of my postdoc, so I couldn't take advantage of it. My institution had no family leave for postdocs, no matter how long you'd been there, so I burned all my vacation and most of my sick leave.

  • Kalmia says:

    This is the part I find troubling:

    "if the institution provides that benefit to other fellows."

    As we all know, institutions vary greatly in how they treat postdocs, even postdocs at same institution are treated very differently. Hell, at my last institution, a colleague and I were both postdocs on the same NSF grant. I was hired as a Postdoctoral Research Assistant and she was hired as a Postdoc through the grad school. I had a excellent insurance, paid vacation & sick leave. She had none of these things and PI made her make up any hours she took "off."

    If funding sources want to make a difference and support trainees when they decide to have families, then they need to make rules that override institutions.

    • Bashir says:

      My institution is similar. Depending on your source of funding postdocs are treated very differently by the central administration. Different health insurance is the big one. Some are on a faculty like plan, others are on the undergrad plan. Guess which one sucks!

  • DJMH says:

    Getting all postdocs, regardless of funding source, to be treated like university staff (with equivalent benefits, health care, leave, etc) would be a huge coup. I think a lot of postdocs wouldn't feel (be) so screwed by the system, despite the low chance of PI job, if everyone were treated as well as the secretaries.

    • becca says:

      I think there'd be a pretty big advantage of treating all trainees- grad students and postdocs- like real employees. If you just ensure it for the postdocs, they'll cost a lot more than grad students, and there's just too big a temptation to simply train more students. Given the labor surplus we've got, we ought to fight for full protections for grad students right along with postdocs (or even first).

Leave a Reply