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technician grants for mothers

March 30, 2012

Being a parent is an expensive undertaking, but child-bearing is also physically demanding and dealing with that reality is also important.  With respect to maternity leave in an academic setting, I realize that I’m in the lucky minority.  No one gave me any shit about taking one.  The entire time period is a little hazy for me, so I can’t remember how formalized a process it was on the administrative end – maybe I filled out a form? – but my maternity leave was a given and was thankfully fully paid.  I needed every one of those weeks to recover and in retrospect probably came back a little too soon – I remember feeling a little wobbly – but we needed the paycheck and I was enthusiastic about getting back to work.  I do know that I started planning for the big day about a month ahead of time and wound down shop.  Froze cell lines, threw out some plates, wrote down where I put stuff and made a big list 0′ things to do when I got back.  I dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s on an ARRA proposal that was due the same day I was and I can pretend that I’m a total bad-ass because I submitted it from the L&D recovery room using the hospital’s free WiFi (although since it was really already all done, the peeps from the lab would have totally sent it in without me so I only bothered for the dramatic retelling of events).

Assuming then, that everyone is as lucky as I was with respect to maternity leave policies, what else is going to help address the challenges new parents face?

One-year technician grants:

I am somewhat unique in that I’ve had the experience of becoming a parent twice, once as the non-biological parent and once as the biological one.  These two experiences were profoundly different and the biological burden of gestation was far more than I anticipated.  Sure, I was overwhelmed and tramatized and awed by the birth of our first kid, but sleep deprivation and a side serving of guilt didn’t hold me back at the bench.  With the second?  Not so much.

For me, gestation and lactation were two of the most constitutively exhausting things I have ever done.  I can only gauge their effects from the remove of time, and then only because I have time-resolved controls.  For example, from the middle to the bitter end of pregnancy, I wanted the damn seat on the train that people were supposed to offer to the pregnant and disabled.  Sure, I could stand, but I was so exhausted that I would take a seat offered by an octogenarian without a second thought or a shread of guilt.  I didn’t commute during my leave and when I started taking the train again after my leave was over, I was amazed to find that I didn’t care one way or another.  I’d look for people to offer my seat to.  I felt invigorated!  I was healed!  I hadn’t realized how tired I had been!  But I now know that even then – although I would have denied it at the time – I was operating way under my basal level energy.  The only reason I know is because we took a trip while our younger kid was an infant.  We recently re-visited the same location and I was shocked to find that the distance from the grocery store to the apartment, which had seemed spitefully far a few months after giving birth is an easy five minute stroll.

Through preganancy and during the messy aftermath, my plans for scientific world take over were still intact, but shit if I could execute them like I needed to, or wanted to and it was frusterating in the extreme.  I sure could have told someone what to do though and having a pair of energetic hands at the bench would have even taken my game up a notch.  My decade of scientific training hadn’t gone anywhere, just the energy I needed to keep the benchwork going at a reasonable pace.  I’ve had two friends at the same different university that have both received a one-year $50k grant to pay for a technician to support their projects starting either just before or shortly after maternity leave.  Funding such programs would directly serve the state goals of retaining the scientific talent of women in the academic workforce, without shifting the financial burden to individual labortories.


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