Sunday, July 29, 2012

How much is a baby worth?

Recently, I wrote about how fertility-wise it might be a smart idea to try to have a baby while you’re a post-doc or a grad student but how career-wise it may be smarter to postpone having a baby until you have landed a tenure track position (or any other type of higher-income and securer job). 

The past week I came across two interesting articles that talk more about how much a baby is worth in terms of career perspectives:

The first one is an article that asks “how many papers is a baby worth?” which is an interesting question for example for funding agencies if they want to compare publication output compared to opportunity (a euphemism for having a baby for example). I have thought about how many papers BlueEyes may have cost me and decided it’s impossible to answer. If I would have been sure I didn’t want kids or was sure that I wanted them much later I would probably have chosen a different lab to do my post-doc in. From the offers I had one lab was very high pace and published a lot higher than the laid-back lab that I decided to work in. I made that decision with the wish to have a baby in the back of my mind. So did that cost me papers? Probably.

The second article was discussed by Nicoleandmaggie and talks about how delaying having a baby leads to higher income. Nicoleandmaggie nicely discuss whether this is a true effect or whether this is caused by something else. Go there and check it out, because they can explain it way better than I can!
And thinking and talking about these kind of things always makes me realize that as much as you can try to plan having a baby, it’s never a given that it will actually work, and that it will work with the timing that you had wanted.


  1. Are you asking for normalization purposes? As in to compare two candidates?

    1. Yes, that's what the first paper is about. Or at least, it's what it says in the introduction why they ask that question. I know that in my home country the National Research Council gives women an extra year for each baby when applying to grants that you can only apply for an x number of years following your PhD.

    2. That sounds more reasonable than its worth 'x' number of papers. The time is what is lost, not necessarily the number of papers. I think the NIH allows for this in the personal statement part of the biosketch as well

  2. As someone who had one baby in grad school, one on the TT, and one post tenure, I can tell you that everything is so much easier when you are young -- getting pregnant, pregnancy, childbirth, recovery, enduring sleepless nights with baby.

    I strongly advocate that people who have a person they want to share their life with and have kids with do it (have kids) sooner rather than later. Kids are a part of life, not a hindrance to it. I am originally from Europe, and one aspect of life in the US that I find strange is how everything is supposed to be done in series: kids, then work, or work, then kids, I supposed to ensure maximum output and minimal friction or whatever. I think people should feel free to have kids while working towards their other goals. Kids don't need that much, really, to turn out OK. You need to able to love them, feed them and clothe them, and take them to the doctor. Love is key. They end up being who they were meant to be anyway.

    1. Thanks so much for this comment! I feel the same way you do, that having a baby can be a part of your life rather than something you have to change your entire life for. The only thing is that I can't see in the future whether I will be able to get the position I want while taking care of BlueEyes, so it's nice to hear your story! Now that I think about it, I know very few female professors who had babies early in their career.
      I'm not sure if it's a US-thing to do these things serial instead of parallel, because I have heard many women back home say that they first want to buy a house, get a fixed contract or even both before starting to think about having children...

    2. I must say our eldest wasn't planned, and I ended up changing my career path quite a bit: to be with my then boyfriend after getting pregnant, it was easier for me to downgrade schools and move to his than for him to be admitted to mine. I was originally in a PhD program in physics at a very good school, and upon moving to middling school realized that with their PhD in physics I would not be able to do much. I switched to their engineering program which was very strong, I worked with a famous advisor with whom I was very productive, and was able to get a faculty job right out of grad school. So you never know -- there were people who were mourning me switching to engineering, and i must admit I used to be really sorry too, but I have so much freedom in my research that I essentially do applied physics anyway, only with engineering salary! :)

      My point is -- I can't say I planned the path that materialized, but I really wanted to be a prof at a research university and I am. And I have a family, which did cause some detours in my career, but overall it's very close to what I envisioned for myself. And I have all these lovely kids to show off too!

      I don't think anyone can guarantee that you would get a TT, you have to try hard, likely several years in a row, work on your applications, work on your publication record, just keep at it. I don't think having a baby will be the hindrance that will kill your career. FWIW, when I interviewed for a faculty position, I was very open that I had a kid and a husband who would need job placement. Upon me mentioning my kid, several people said how my record now looks even more impressive, considering it was all done with a kid in tow.

      So try not to worry too much, certainly not yet, and just keep doing your science, publish as much as you can, network, and enjoy your baby. Good luck!