Friday, January 16, 2009

Wait, do you work here?

2009 has gotten off to a kind of rocky start. In addition to finding out that Husband’s change in funding source meant a net decrease in take home pay (and that he doesn’t qualify for his institution’s retirement benefits because he’s apparently a “new” employee), my paycheck dropped as well as our health insurance premiums quietly jumped 33%.

But the thing that really has me down this week was a more long-term stressor. Husband and I want to have a second child, and I’ve always been biased towards trying to space the children fairly close together. I was hoping for 2 years between babies, but with Husband’s job search happening a year later than we had hoped, we figured three years apart would be the most practical. Which would mean trying to get knocked up sometime this summer.

As we try to figure out where the hell we’re going to get the money for a second child, I tried looking into what the maternity leave policy would be now that I’m being paid by a private fellowship instead of off my boss’ grant. I couldn’t find any information on family leave in my Fellow’s Handbook, so I contacted the American Cancer Society directly. The response shocked me.

No paid parental leave. As in 0.00 days of paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child. Instead they offer to put the grant on hold until I return to the lab and extend the grant termination date.

I was really taken aback by their response. In 2008, the NIH extended their parental leave benefits from 30 paid days to 60 paid days of leave. Damon Runyon offers their fellows 12 weeks of paid leave. So I was really really surprised by the ACS policy of no paid leave.

It’s really frustrating. As a postdoc, you don’t accrue vacation days or sick leave or personal holidays. Postdocs are often in a weird unclassified vortex of suck. We’re not employees, we’re volunteers… who happen to have bosses and get a paycheck. We sometimes qualify for benefits. Sometimes not.

I know that I’m lucky to have a paycheck and health insurance and some stability in my employment. But I’m getting old here, people, and it’s frustrating to feel like I still don’t have a “real” job. Instead I’m still stuck in the confusing world of not-quite-an-employee. It makes me feel like I’m still a grad school.

I’ve contacted one of the officers of the Postdoc Association here at the University to see if I have other options, and I’m waiting to hear back. But I’m frustrated and grumpy.

I’ve also started reading “Nickeled and Dimed” to remind myself just how lucky I am.


chall said...

It sounds a bit like my institute.... where neither the post docs nor the employees get paid maternity leave. Sure, you can take your sick leave and vacation but that's it.

(maybe this is the case in the rest of the US? It just strikes me as useless...)

On a further note, as a post doc you are only allowed 6 weeks off. An employee can argue up to 5 months.

Have you checked what the ACS says about how long you can be "put on hold"? THe thing that make me want to puke though is WHY would you want to get your own funding? WHY would you want to do all that when all that seem to happen is that you get worse off.

I'm sorry but it just makes me so mad. I hope that they can answer some of it in a more cheery tone than I think they will.... happy weekend.

mama of the valley said...

It's appalling that such a major organization wouldn't have paid maternity leave.

Your state does have paid family leave for 5 weeks although it caps out at $250 a week. (Looks like it's new legislature slated to begin Oct '09)

An interesting site for you...

ruchi aka arduous said...

Ok, because I have to be all practical and policy-oriented, I'm interested to know, how do you think we fix this? What's the lobbying priority?

Is it campaigning to get the ACS to change their maternity leave policy?

Is it at the university level? Or is it at the state/federal level?

Since I've been reading so many women in science blogs, I've come to feel like there are major institutional weaknesses that act as major disincentives for women in the field. And the big problem is, well there are two problems. One because there are so few women, the weaknesses tend to be well hidden. Until I read women in science blogs I never knew how crappy the pay was for post-docs or how precarious their situation was. And two, because there are so few women dispersed over many, many universities, it's extremely hard to effect change. If you were all postdocs of say the UC system, you could try and unionize, but it's hard to unionize when you're quite so dispersed. But I'm wondering if there's an effective way to use the internet to aggregate power . The whole women in science blogging group is huge ... is there a way to harness that?

As far as being lucky to have a job ... well sure, but like, frankly, I feel like the whole 'you should be lucky to have a job' thing is used by employers far too often to justify them treating you poorly. And, you know what? Eff that. Yeah, you're lucky to have a job, but you're also highly skilled, very competent, and educated. Your job is also freaking lucky to have you.

ScientistMother said...

I am surprised that such a large organization would not have something (anything any place). For their perspective, they may be thinking how to "best" use donated money. (I don't agree with it).
I too will be in your situation come next year...

geomom said...

Get thee to the National Postdoctoral Association web site:

I have done a lot of career development for postdocs--but at a national lab which had lots of support because, well, we hired postdocs because we were recruiting permanent employees.

Anyway, your situation sucks.

Candid Engineer said...

Hmm, that sucks. I certainly understand why it makes you feel so bad, because frankly, it makes no sense.

At my institution, postdocs are considered university employees unless they are on fellowships (so it's actually the postdoctoral fellows who get the short end of the stick here). Since I am a regular employee, I am entitled to 4 weeks paid vacation per year plus holidays, which will roll over if you don't use them. I believe we get 8 weeks paid leave upon the birth of a child.

Although my pay is pretty low, I guess I should be thankful that my benefits seem relatively good compared to other academic postdocs.

Kate said...

According to the FMLA you get 12 weeks unpaid no matter what though, right? I know it's unpaid, which sucks (it's all I got too).

You know, you have this mass of bloggers who would be happy to make a stink for you. How about an online petition?

And stop saying you're lucky. You're not lucky, you're a good scientist who is unappreciated and treated unfairly. None of us are lucky to be in our situations, we're damn good at what we do. We women are far less likely to notice that about ourselves.

ScientistMother said...

that is so true kate! thank you for reminding us that our employers are lucky to have us!

The bean-mom said...

So sorry to hear of the stressors so early this year (hug). I am indeed surprised that the ACS doesn't have a better maternity leave policy, as it seems that private foundations often have better track records at this than the NIH.

On the other hand...the NIH now gives paid maternity leave to postdocs?! That is F---ing Fantastic! Does it guarantee that for all postdocs on training grants and NIH-funded grants? Because that was certainly not the situation several years ago when I became pregnant while on a training grant. Some things do improve, it seems. Slowly, but it's getting there.

Now the ACS just has to get onboard. The National Postdoctoral Association should get in touch with ACS about this. The whole postdoc position is so bizarre--you're encouraged to get your own funding for the "prestige," even though it often sets you back economically...

Arlenna said...

These kinds of issues used to make me so mad. I went from being paid off my PI's grant to bringing in my own fellowship, and went from being an employee with full benefits to being... NOTHING... like in a no-man's-land with barely even the support for buying into the group health insurance (at least they did that).

The thing that chapped my hide the most was how the university was getting to put my fellowship money, as disbursed to them, into their giant account that they made interest off of all year while they doled it out to me every month, and they wouldn't even help me pay my taxes much less give me any kind of other benefit support!

I know this is what it is like at lots of places, and I think it f'ing sucks. It is just irresponsible and exploitative of postdocs to put them in that kind of a position: you're already stuck at the mercy of your PI, and then if you fund yourself for a little more scientific security, suddenly you're some kind of self-employed contractor. BS!

Arlenna said...

*irresponsible of the institutions, that is, to exploit postdocs

ScienceGirl said...

Maternity leave? Bwahahaha. I am still trying to get health insurance. This whole "you are not a real employee" thing for this many years in a row is really getting to me; I am sorry you are stuck in this position as well.

Grumpy, PhD said...

That is shocking. Now I have an admission... I didn't even ask. I just took 6 weeks off. And my PI let me. And that was that. I guess I should be grateful to my PI, for letting me get away with it.

Anonymous said...

I just yesterday found out I will be funded from ACS as of July 1 - but I'm due with my second kiddo in literally WEEKS (which I have not mentioned to them yet, as I haven't gotten a formal acceptance letter yet and it makes me nervous to bring it up).

Your blog is the only useful info that has come up on google about ACS and their parental leave policy.... I'd love to get some more info on your experience privately. If you'd prefer not too, that's fine, I totally understand.

I am just so disappointed with ACS's policy. Change is just sooooo sloooooooowwww.

Anonymous said...

Just stumbled upon this post as I found out a few minutes ago that my Damon Runyon maternity leave, while sounding generous at 3 months paid, does not actually stop the clock on the fellowship, which means I basically lost 3 months of paid working time and my PI will likely push me out of the lab 3 months earlier than expected...ARGH!!! Family friendly my ass. And this is 3 years later...nothing has changed.