Do new mothers doing a PhD get enough support?

That’s the question asked in a piece on the Times Higher Education web site. I was actually interviewed over the phone for this article, since the author had read my post on PhD parenting!

I have a couple of comments on the piece in Times Higher Ed. First of all, I’m a bit tired of the rethoric around MOTHERs as being the sole caregivers for their children. It’s a shared responsibility (if you’re not a single parent of course!) and needs to be acknowledged as such. I wasn’t lucky enough to “have supportive husband”, I have an equal partner who takes his responsibility for our children as seriously as I do. This is essential in any relationship, but perhaps even more so when you are pursuing a research career.

In Sweden, we have 480 days of paid PARENTAL leave, whereof 390 are at 80% of your income, and the remaining days you get 180 SEK/day (which is honestly not that much). The days are split equally between the two parents (if you have shared custody), but one parent can choose to give of his/her days to the other (unfortunately the majority of days are still taken by women). 90 days are however non-transferrable – this has been done in an effort to ensure that fathers also use the parental leave. I’m definitely in favour of this! If you share your days equally you also get a bonus – which is great! Me and my husband have shared parental leave more or less equally – but he has definitely taken a big responsibility – working part time until recently so that I could focus more on my work.

Also, it’s not IMPOSSIBLE to do a postdoc abroad – but a bigger challenge when you have children of course, and naturally not ALL funding applications require this. The mobility often required by researchers is however definitely a challenge when you’re just starting your family. I have been lucky enough to be able to find stable work close to home – but it’s often a struggle.

I didn’t feel pushed to return to work when my baby was 4 months – I wanted to because I’m very passionate about my work and I wanted to complete my PhD as soon as possible. This is of course very personal though – for me, having a baby while doing my PhD was great; flexible work hours, job security, I could do lots of stuff from home (submitting papers e.g.) – it was a lot tougher with the second child when you already have a toddler to care for too. But I had a very supportive supervisor/boss and great co-workers. But finding work/life balance is tough on anyone aiming for a research career – and if we put all the responsibility on MOTHERs doing their PhD we reinforce this as being a female issue. I encourage all FATHERs doing their PhD to make sure to stay at home with their babies, to pick up from daycare, to take their responsibility as parents!


May 2007 – my daughter 7 months old. My husband worked in the morning, we met on his way home, he took the baby and I spent the afternoon at the office working.

That said, I do still feel guilty when I have to leave early or arrive late due to picking up or dropping off kids at school (a problem accentuated by my 1 hour commute to work), and I do believe we have lots of work to do to make PhD students comfortable and confident with starting a family. And I realize that Sweden is exceptionally well suited for this. And I’m also fully aware that these problems are still much greater for mothers than for fathers – I just think it really shouldn’t be!

End of today’s rant – stay tuned for more…

[post 25 in the #blogg100 challenge]



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