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Academics - postdoc and maternity leave

(12 Posts)
sparrows Thu 28-Jul-11 14:07:28

I have just left my job at a think tank/research organisation to begin a postdoc at a large Russell Group university. I am very excited - it's a great opportunity. But over the last couple of days fear about career v motherhood has taken over my thoughts. I'm 31 and I want to start having babies!

My fears are more money based than career based. I?m not a very career minded researcher. I love my work and I am good at it, but I am willing to sacrifice the huge publication record and the full professorship for a family. Maybe it is possible to achieve both, but I think my priorities would always fall on the family side. My partner is very supportive, but his job doesn't pay well at all and we are mostly reliant on my wage.

The postdoc is funded mostly by an external grant from a large UK research organisation. Before I began the postdoc I was told that my contract would end in Dec 2013 regardless of my start date. I guess this means I am not on a 2.5 year contract, instead, I am on a contract until Dec 2013. I think the overall research will continue after Dec 2013, but that will be on the next round of funding.

At this stage I really don?t want to ask HR/the PI if I am entitled to maternity leave ? I don?t want to rock the boat just yet. Also, if my contract must end at Dec 2013 I don?t know if I?m entitled to an extension. In logistical terms, I don?t see why not as my research is not dependent on other projects etc. I don?t think any other postdocs have been in this situation so I don?t know who to ask on the quiet! I know the uni has a great maternity policy for other staff, but I wonder if postdocs get the same benefits...

Does anyone have any experience of this? I would love to hear!

Fennel Thu 28-Jul-11 14:11:21

It may vary slightly with the university and the research grant, but mostly, if you are on a research contract then you do have the same rights as the full time permanent staff, except if your maternity leave finishes after your contract ends.

I had 3 children on research contracts, I was quite canny though and made sure they were timed so that maternity leave ended before contract ended. That way I had full maternity rights, and people were appointed to cover my leaves.

So basically you can get the same rights but you may have to be a bit careful about making sure you are eligible. I think this is harder with current longer maternity leaves, my children are all primary age but when I had them shorter maternity leaves were normal, especially for academic women, which made it easier to make sure your leave didn't overrun your contract.

sparrows Thu 28-Jul-11 14:56:02

Thank you - that is reassuring. I guess I would have to aim return from maternity leave within the research contract. So I would have to have got pregnant, given birth, and taken 6 months leave by Dec 2013. That means acting soon! Did you ever get an extension?

Fennel Thu 28-Jul-11 16:14:51

No, my projects were bigger things than just me so they rolled on regardless and stopped when they were originally supposed to. But I was quite careful to get pregnant in the middle of a contract not towards the end.

I think you have to be able to be back for a set time, maybe 12 weeks, before the end of the contract. You might already be too late.

CrystalQueen Thu 28-Jul-11 16:23:59

A) Check your university's policies, you should be able to view them on the HR website. At my uni you have to have been employed for 6 months (?or something) before you are entitled to the enhanced maternity pay.

B) Check your funding bodies policies as well, I think there is variation between councils.

My experience was different to Fennel's. My funding basically got carried over for the 6 months I was off on maternity leave. So I was off from Ocotber to April, the grant finished the following December but I still had money for 6 months after that. No-one was hired to cover my leave though.

Contact someone in HR. They should give you confidential advice.

sparrows Thu 28-Jul-11 16:35:22

I think I would only be able to afford 6 months leave - so I guess as long as I had baby before March 2013, I would be fine. I could return to work by Sept 2013 and have at least 12 weeks back in the job before the contract ended. Of course I know that in reality I may not be able to plan a pregnancy to the exact day and month of my choosing!!

I doubt anyone would be hired to cover me. This is very much my project. And I really hope they would extend the contract to cover maternity.

I shall try central HR for some confidential advice.

Why do I feel guilty about this?!!! I feel like I would be letting my project down - but being a mum is something I really want to do.

Fennel Thu 28-Jul-11 18:07:54

The first rule of contract research is, don't feel any loyalty to the organisation. I went to a talk on this, by the heads of research at my university. They told us it would be stupid to be loyal while we were on temporary contracts.

I also felt bad at taking maternity leaves in the middle of important projects, causing hassle for my colleagues. Especially the 3rd time... But in retrospect it would be really very stupid not to have a baby for the sake of a bit of reshuffling of work timetables etc for a couple of colleagues.

sparrows Thu 28-Jul-11 18:55:24

Fennel, you are totally right!

MissMaryofSweden Thu 28-Jul-11 19:04:42

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

MamaChocoholic Thu 28-Jul-11 19:23:43

it can depend on the funder too. I've got pregnant during two postdocs funded with my own fellowship. the first charity do not extend contract. but luckily you get full maternity pay if you cannot return to work at the end because your contract has ended, so I took the last 9 months of the contract as maternity leave. the second charity (current fellowship) will extend my funding by the amount of maternity leave I take.

you can always phone and talk to someone in university admin rather than in your own group. like you I care more about my family than my publication record, but you do have to do well enough to be able to win the next grant/job.

good luck.

madcows Fri 29-Jul-11 09:17:38

Depends on your funder. I had a postdoc, and (by chance or luck, rather than design) timed it so that I got maternity pay, and came back for final 3 months (whcih I negotiated to take parttime over 6 months). The result was that I 'extended' a 2 yr post-doc to 3 years.
Someone I knew (same Uni, so same maternity policies) had a postdoc from a different funder, but didn't get nearly such a good deal.

Fennel Fri 29-Jul-11 16:36:13

The UCU has guidelines on contract research staff rights and details of employment and maternity leave rights, also a contract researcher network and discussion board. Mat leave on research contracts is actually very common.

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