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Taking parental leave as a postdoc

Taking parental leave (or any period of leave) can be a time of mixed emotions: there’s excitement to spend time with your offspring, but this can be tempered with some concerns regarding the progress of your research, students and teaching load in the meantime. 

The temptation can be to try and do it all, which usually results in the worst of all scenarios: you don’t get to enjoy devoted family time or fully concentrate on your research. 

Here we have a case study where a postdoc experienced the pressures and expectations placed on her by colleagues and herself during three maternity leaves, and the impact these factors had on her. 

Dr Hannah Roberts, career coach, Breakthrough Talent & Skills Ltd, former postdoc at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology 

“I’ve had three children, so I’ve taken three maternity leave career breaks. When I fell pregnant the first time, the news was met with responses like, “I got a nanny and went back to work two weeks after I gave birth”; “I wrote my fellowship in the first 12 weeks of maternity leave.” 

I really felt like I should be “doing” something during my maternity leave. I held onto all of my projects and continued to work through my first two maternity leaves. Partly, this was because I was worried my replacement might be better than me and then I wouldn’t get my contract extended. Therefore, the first two maternity leaves really did not impact my career because I never stopped. 

I made the decision that I would not work in my third maternity leave and really take that time to enjoy my baby and figure out what I wanted to do. Having that time and space made all the difference. 

What I know now, is that there’s no ‘perfect time’ to have a baby and you don’t lose anything from taking a break – it can actually be the making of you”. 

Further reading for researchers on parental leave

Advice in a concise leaflet from Vitae.

For some case studies (specifically in science) see ‘Parent Carer Scientist’ and ‘Mothers in Science’ both from the Royal Society. 

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