How I survived my first semester as Assistant Prof after having a baby
First of all, the job as Assistant Professor is all mine, but the baby is very much shared with my husband.
Earlier this year, I gave birth to a baby boy and two months later I started my new position as an Assistant Professor in biology at San Francisco State University. Several people have asked me how I managed to combine the baby and the new job and not go insane (*).
The first semester is over, our baby is 6 months old, and I didn’t go insane. I taught a class, submitted a paper, wrote a grant proposal, went to a conference (baby and husband came along!), and served on a search committee. In fact, I enjoyed the semester (but now it is time for a break!).
Here are some of the things that made it possible:
1. My husband, because he never thinks that taking care of a baby is something that only women should do.
2. Facebook, the company where my husband works, because they give men and women four months of parental leave to be taken any time during the first year. Knowing that my husband could take time off during my first semester as a professor made a big difference, because we didn’t know how things would work out with work, teaching, nanny, and the baby. Without the generous parental leave from Facebook, I would not have started my job this semester. Instead, I would have started the new job 6 months later. Also thanks to his parental leave, he and the baby could travel with me to the conference I went to on the East Coast.
3. My colleagues at SFSU, because they did not put any pressure on me this semester. They understood when I missed department meetings or when I didn’t show my face on campus for days in a row. Maybe it helped that many of the professors in my department are women with kids.
4. Professional help. We live far away from our families, so we depend on professional help with childcare. We had a night nanny early on, which really helped us get some sleep. Then, when the baby was two months old, we hired a full-time nanny. We could not have combined work and parenting if we wouldn’t have hired these amazing professionals.
5. Saying no. I only taught one class. I did no reviews. I started no new projects. I accepted only one student in my lab and this was only in the second half of the semester. I didn’t buy furniture for my office space yet. I didn’t go to our departmental seminars. I only had lunch with colleagues a few times. These things will have to change next semester!
*I think that often, behind such a question (“how do you do it?”) is the tacit assumption that I, as the woman, do most of the caring for the baby. This is not the case. My husband does just as much, if not more.
My husband and I were both at home for the first two months after our baby was born, but I usually hear: “Wow, you went back to work after only two months?” whereas he hears: “Wow, how cool that you were home for two full months!”
So if you are wondering how it was for me to go back to work after two months of being at home with our newborn, you should really be asking my husband the same thing. Maybe he’s interested in writing a blog too.
Dr. Pleuni Pennings (@pleunipennings) is an Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, San Francisco State University. This story was published on December 19, 2014 on Dr. Pennings’ blog, ‘Being a better scientist’ (available here) and has been republished here with her permission.
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