The age old question of pregnancy vs career...


======= Date Modified 08 14 2009 12:14:52 =======
Not sure what's happened to be but I've been getting very broody recently. I'm married, in my 30s, but also nearly in my 3rd year of my PhD and not as financially stable as most people with normal paying jobs ;-)

We've been thinking a lot about having children, I can wait until I finish my PhD next, but then what? I mean, I'm not guaranteed a job, and even if I did get one, do you even get maternity pay with a post-doc position? I'm not sure we could afford to live on the £100 a week the government pays.

Why, after so much study and hard work, are we not rewarded with the same types of benefits other graduates are? Why does it have to be so difficult for PhDs and for post-docs to have children?

Does anyone have any advice or experience with this. Thanks.


The reason it is so difficult for PhDs and post docs, is because of the nature of the work we do and the law of supply and demand. It is highly competitive and there are far more PhD graduates than places for them (85% have to go on and do something else). That means if someone like you wants to take time out, someone else who doesn't have the same constraints will happily come along and take their research funding, publish more and climb the greasy pole that is academia.

No one tells you this outright but modern academia is a lot like Hollywood. A few people become internationally known superstars and they live VERY well. They have money, success and a modicum of fame. Below them is a larger segment that are in stable work, but that this is a grind and there are constant worries about money. Below them is the majority of the workforce on temporary contracts, unstable arrangements and they have to work, very, very hard for relatively little in return. Think of the hundreds of actors and actresses working as baristas in Starbucks and waitressing. Its hard for them to have children too...

The way to get around this would be to severely limit the number of PhDs awarded so that it fits the number of jobs available. This is what happens in other graduate professions and which is exactly why they can negotiate good terms of employment.

Everyone pursuing this career needs to think about what they are willing to sacrifice and how far do they want to go. What is more important for you? Family, a good work life balance but being stuck in a fairly low to moderate role in research or really going after the big brass ring?


not sure what research you are doing, but in any case, jobs are not guaranteed for anyone. I gave up a very exciting job when it didn't fit in with family life, the idea you can have it all is a bit of a myth really. For most people its one or the other, or at least one parent has to make a bit of a compromise, you might of course be able to do some part-time work in your field, or carry on researching and publishing until you can get back to work. Not sure what the maternity pay is based on nowadays, but maternity leave I think still has a qualifying period.


not sure what research you are doing, but in any case, jobs are not guaranteed for anyone. I gave up a very exciting job when it didn't fit in with family life, the idea you can have it all is a bit of a myth really. For most people its one or the other, or at least one parent has to make a bit of a compromise, you might of course be able to do some part-time work in your field, or carry on researching and publishing until you can get back to work. Not sure what the maternity pay is based on nowadays, but maternity leave I think still has a qualifying period.


Unless I am mistaken, I don't think you get the government money if you are not working. The statutory maternity pay is in lieu of wages, therefore if you aren't working there aren't any wages to replace, so no statutory maternity pay. Don't take my word for it, that's just what I understand. I think you are pretty much screwed in terms of getting any money if you are student and get pregnant. I think it harks back to traditional students being younger and male, and policies haven't caught up like they have for working people.

If you work, I think (again I could be wrong) it's 3 months to qualify for some mat pay (often just the statutory). Then it depends on the employer. If post docs are temporary, then you might not have those same rights. You get them anyway after a period of time (Euro legislation) but I think it's a couple of years. Are you in a union? They would be able to advise you. I have heard students can join the lecturers' union (I forget the name) free.

I'm in a very similar position to you, and I am basically of the view of avoiding getting pregnant whilst still a student, but crack on as soon as I have a job. If I can't get an academic one quickly, it will be going back to my old career, and then trying again once I have at least some work. People often say there is no right time for kids, and I think they are right, but a student seems to me to be the worst time (in terms of finances)

Sorry I wish that sounded more positive. Basically I gave it alot of thought before starting my phd, and thought it all through and came to the conclusions above, so of course what I say is skewed in that direction.


Its a very difficult one - I've done it the other way around, I already have 3 children, and yes it is tough and no, there is no 'good time' for a baby. Even if you are in a top job you'll only get so many weeks mat pay, then half wages, then nothing but job left open and it is so so hard to leave your baby. I'm now starting my career (hopefully) and so I already have done the baby bit, but they still get sick, have school holidays etc and its never easy, not til they are well into their teens really (then they want lifts everywhere). Having said all that I gave up my job and would do it all again, nothing (imo) beats having children - I won't have the career I may have had without them, but I'd have lost so much, you work to live and hope that you enjoy your job and finding it fulfilling, but your children are quite literally your life and the thought of it without them is just too horrendous to even begin to contemplate whereas the thought of life without a job is more a financial thing than anything else!
I'd look into things - maybe you can get a RA position or something - if its 1 or 2 years or more certainly in my uni you are still entitled to mat pay so long as the baby is due 12 months after the date you start (so make sure you don't get pg in those first 3 months!)
Sorry I can't be more help, but there are ways around things, you just have to accept that to a certain extent there are sacrifices, but what you gain outweighs anything that even the most perfect career can ever give you - lets face it your boss won't draw you pictures and fling their arms around your legs and tell you they love you a thousand times a day (probably!)


I had my daughter during my PhD. I rely on my husband having a steady job - it helps if somebody does. I hear a lot of potesting about how terrible it is that one parent should have to compromise rather than both go part-time or downsize to share childcare. Well, the reality is, it helps a lot if one partner (if it's a two parent household) has a steady job if the other is a student or on contracts. If both parents are financially unstable it can be done - but it's very stressful.


Hi guys, thank you so much for you honest views and for taking the time to write such good advice. You have all pretty much confirmed what I suspected. As depressing as it is, the Hollywood analogy is terrifyingly accurate! Only a small percentage of academics go on to be very successful, usually the ones that are very career focused and driven. However, I think that having a family is more important to me than having a very successful (or even moderately successful) career. My biggest concerns are the financial difficulties, I am quite happy to be stuck in a moderate position but I am actually concerned that I will never get a permanent position, which would give me the security (and maternity pay) that I crave. I mean, do you even get maternity pay on a part-time, non-permanent contract? I think I had romantic notions that the PhD would open doors, and lead to to bigger things, however I fear it is more of an obstacle and I would have been better working in the industry, with a steady job. Unfortunately neither my husband nor I are in a stable financial position at the moment, so we couldn't even rely on his income to support us. However, as you all say there is never a right time to have children, and I don't know what's going to happen in the future, so they only thing I can do is wait until I finish my PhD and see what happens. Thank you all so very much for your advice and different experiences, it have been really helpful.


Re mat pay on part time, temporary jobs. Yes you do get it on part time. You have the same rights as full time employee. Personally I disagree that it causes any probs both parents being part time and sharing responsibility. Part time has all the benefits and stability of full time. And perhaps it's better to spread the load with two people part time, then if one loses their job you've spread the risk. Temporary on the other had, I may be wrong but I think no you don't get any mat pay. Try looking here:


Alice - it can be a problem in professions/positions that don't have a part-time option. It can also be a problem if it means a major demotion to go part-time. In many cases, two part-time salaries are considerably less than one full-time salary.


Are you funded by any particular body? If so I believe you are entitled to maternity pay (even on a stipend). It may be better to 'do maternity' before you finish the PhD and then at least you have something to come back into and will be able to display recent academic work when it comes to getting a ajob as opposed to waiting until after the phd getting pregnant and taking time out and then having no recent work record to fall back on IYSWIM?

I had my twins during my MA and took a ayear out before starting a PhD so maybe pregnanacy then post-docs? I found no problem getting a afunded pHd even after a ayear out. However childcare fees have wiped out most of my stipend over the three years.

I have 5 children and I have to say that they are far more rewarding than my research (and I really do love my reserch but it just doesnt compare).

I would never regret not having a phd but I would regret not having had children.
Good luck!


Dazed is right, at least on my funding body. They'll give you 9 months paid, plus 3 months unpaid, just as a permanent job. If we wanted children imminently (we shall see...) I would definitely consider taking time from the PhD as I don't know what might happen after or how many years it will take until I'm in a job situation where I'd be eligible or in a reasonable position to take maternity leave. :-)


The AHRC do 9 months paid + 3 unpaid.....
Megara, you're with the AHRC too right?


Well I never! I'm not AHRC but maybe we have that too, as mine tends to mimic the usual funders.

Just remembered the other thing I think I figured is if you are self-employed and pay your NI you get stat pay. So, be a self-employed consultant alongside the PhD.

Smilodon - don't know what country you are in, but in the UK all parents have the right to ask for flexible working and it to be properly considered. Obviously depends of the employer how seriously that is taken, but every mother, and several of the fathers I know went part time after kids, same pay, same rights etc.


I'm in the UK. Most of the women/men I know who went part-time had to take a demotion at work because they were junior/middle management and/or had major travel committments that were incompatible with working part-time. It depends on the profession you are in and where you are on the career ladder. Employers only have to consider flexible working - they are under no obligation to agree and can radically change the nature of your job to do so. It would be professional suicide for my husband to go part-time at this point and we have chosen to keep one strong career going while I try to keep going part-time.

I'm hoping to negotiate a part-time post-doc but I don't see too many women doing that - I don't know any at my university. I went to a meeting about negotiating flexible working and all the others were non-research staff. I'm very fortunate that my dept and supervisor are very child-friendly in an insititution which tends to the attitude that academic priorities should come before anything else in your life. The bigger problem is being on short contracts and the financial instability that brings.

I think if both parents can go part-time that can be a great option for the family. But in my experience, it's not always a realistic option, especially if one or both parents is also on temporary contracts.