Do kids ruin your career?

Disclaimer: the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s supervisor, employer, organisation, committee or any other group or individual.

By Laura Sharpe

Recently, I came across a depressing graph about my publication record. I was searching for various metrics to put my best self forward for a grant application. I then annotated the graph, which largely explains what has happened:

It quite clearly shows the effect of having babies and working part-time on my publication record. As I am heading towards another year of part-time work next year I am feeling nervous, frustrated, and a little bit defeated. Thankfully, my ever supportive boss has always been very understanding and accommodating of my part time requests, including this most recent one which is the most disruptive yet. I can’t imagine how much harder it would be without his support. Although there are benefits for both home and work life, it will undeniably limit my productivity. 

The most obvious benefit for the lab is that I will cost only 0.6 of my normal salary, freeing up money to be spent on actual research instead of a person. With the current funding situation (see our previous blog posts on grants here, here, here and here – a hot topic in our lab), saving money is critical. Of course, this needs to be weighed up against the decreased productivity. 

A less obvious benefit for the lab is a (hopefully) happier and therefore more productive and efficient employee. Currently, I am working full time, then due to medication for a chronic illness, I am incredibly exhausted on Saturday and can do very little. This leaves only Sunday on which to spend quality time with my family, whilst also playing catchup on housework and everything else in life. This is probably quite similar to most people with young children. So next year, when I will be home a lot more, I am really excited to be able to spend time with my children during the week. I’ve heard some people do the reverse – work part time until their kid starts school and then return to full time. But I think my son will really benefit from being home with a parent after school rather than at after school care. So that’s the benefit for my family, and should hopefully also benefit the lab. 

Now, back to my graph. Although I can try to explain it in grant applications, how do I convince people that I am now worth funding? Do I solemnly swear that I shall have no more children to distract me? Do I just ask them to trust that the graph will now start heading upwards again? Do I calculate how many extra publications I could have had if I had not had my career interruptions (8 at last count)? What do I do? It seems incredibly difficult to take career disruptions and “relative to opportunity” into account at the best of times, so how can I possibly hope to assure someone that I am worthy of funding – especially considering that even being “Excellent” (NHMRC Category 5 descriptor) is not sufficient. 

From another point of view, what would have happened if I had not had children at all? Would the upwards trajectory continue? Would it reach a plateau? Would it have declined anyway? How can anyone possibly know? Perhaps 2015 would have been the best time to apply for funding as it appears I was at the peak of my career. Maybe this means it was not the best time to have a baby. However, I can’t imagine that there is a “good” time to have a baby without it affecting your career. You just make the best of it however you can. And really, I think this is the best way to do things – make your work fit your life in the best way possible for your particular situation. So that’s what I’ll be doing next year – making the most of my time with my children, but also enjoying my time at work. Work/life balance!

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