Sharing the load, part 2 (science and parenting)

Last month’s posting (“Sharing the load“) with stories of parents in science was one of TIR‘s most popular yet. Here are three four (updated September 1st) more accounts of parents juggling commitments.

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Illustration created by Oliver Hoeller. Like it? Check out more of his work here:

Lola and Bugs are both group leaders in the UK. They have two children, aged 5 and 9. Both are in school now, but before this childcare costs were well over £1000/month. It remains a pretty tough juggling act for Lola and Bugs, but fortunately the ability to keep flexible hours in science makes things easier. Usually, they alternate drop-offs (9am) and pick-ups (5:30pm). The most difficult times are when Bugs or Lola are travelling as they have no family nearby who can help out. They both try to keep weekends free for family and really enjoy this time together.


Beet and Green Bean met while he was doing his first Postdoc and she was finishing her PhD. Green Bean was already becoming disenchanted with the lack of a work/life balance in science, as she wanted to have a family and did not want to experience the “two-body problem”. When Beet got offered a prestigious second postdoctoral fellowship in the USA, Green Bean decided to leave her academic career after finishing her PhD and go with Beet and reinvent herself.

It took a year and a half of part time contract work until finally Green Bean landed a good job managing an online science education program. In the meantime they got married, and then they had their daughter Sweet Corn. The only parental leave offered was the FMLA job protection in which one uses all of their sick leave and vacation, and then takes unpaid leave, for a maximum of 12 weeks. So Sweet Corn has been going to daycare four full days a week for $1200 a month, and Beet works from home while taking care of her one day a week. They felt that Green Bean needed to get back to work since her career transition was still fragile.

Green Bean would have spent more time with Sweet Corn if parental leave were longer, and it has been very hard to be productive at work while not sleeping through the night, and pumping at work to fulfil their breastfeeding goals. Also, Green Bean won’t have any sick leave or vacation time until the New Year, and so she can’t stay home when she’s sick or take care of Sweet Corn as well as she would like. They both feel they would like to live in a country that supports parents more in the future. Beet is currently looking for a faculty position anywhere because competition is so fierce, and they don’t know what moving will mean for Green Bean‘s career. They hope to give Sweet Corn a sibling, Sweet Pea, sometime in the future. Everything is very uncertain but they enjoy every minute they have with Sweet Corn and she seems happy despite not getting as much parent time as they would like. She is now 6 months old.


Homer heads a group in a research centre and Marge is currently looking for work after finally finishing her PhD last year. Their three kids (Lisa, Maggie, Bart) are in school or kindergarten for 20 hours a week. Marge gave up her PhD funding when she moved abroad with Homer; however, she received a generous state allowance for moms for about 15 months after the birth of each child. She has stayed at home since the birth of their first child Lisa while also working on her dissertation. Homer has been at work full time, with no paternity leave. He helps with the kids’ bedtime on weekdays, and on weekends he cooks and gardens and takes the family hiking or biking. Marge does all the childcare, housework, and gardening during the week.

The Pro’s – There is no extra expense around school holidays or afternoon childcare, or sick days. Homer has the flexibility to go on a last-minute work conference or get extra help from Marge when he needs to meet a deadline during the weekend. Marge is happy to have had so much unstructured time with Lisa, Maggie, and Bart, to have breastfed them without having to pump, and to have built lasting friendships with other moms with kids of the same age (all the kids are friends, too). The children also learned Marge’s native language very well.

The Cons – Money is certainly tighter than if both parents had full time jobs. For Marge, writing a long humanities dissertation with three children under age five was incredibly isolating. Now that the kids are older, things are getting much easier and she is dedicating more time to her new business and also looking for part-time work.


Minnie and Mickey got together in Hungary, working in the same institute, but on different floors and got married after finishing university. They did their PhDs in France together, this time on the same floor. They agreed not to have kids before they got their degrees. As going abroad for the PhD had been Minnie‘s choice, Mickey was in the driving seat for postdoc locations – but unfortunately none of his choices (San Francisco, Glasgow, Turku) worked out. Minnie then had a sudden interview in Austria. After their families found out that Minnie and Mickey could be so nearby, going elsewhere didn’t seem like it would be a popular option.

So in this way, they started their postdoc years in the same institute, on the same floor, and in the same lab. Can one get any more close? They were still hoping for a big publication before starting a family. Ultimately, their daughter Melody was born at the end of May 2013. Minnie finished the last touches to her paper a day after a rough delivery (not really her choice). Minnie stayed home with Melody for a year, after which Melody started at the daycare on campus (subsidised by the institutes).

The fact that Minnie was no longer doing 10-12 hours a day and Mickey was now only doing 9 hours a day (down from 10-12) caused some friction with the head of the lab, particularly with Mickey. This meant double as Mickey also had to take on the load at home as well. Minnie suffered pretty bad post-natal blues. Mickey often came home from a rough day at work to find her with the baby in the arms, no emotions on her face, just tears running down her cheeks. Stress at work, stress at home. Mickey began to feel he wasn’t up to the task at either location. Minnie had a 1st-author and 2nd-author paper and a review but was out of a job for a 6 months. She finally found a position at another lab elsewhere in the city, where she’s worked since.

With both Mickey and Minnie now working 8 hours a day, the logistics with Melody get pretty tricky. They split dropping off and collection duties. They also had to employ a babysitter, who was a tremendous help in not only taking care of Melody, but helping Minnie with her mood swings in the beginning (the babysitter was also Hungarian). Minnie now travels 45 min to work, then another 30 to pick Melody up, and then going home is another 30 min. Mickey travels 30min to work and 30min to home.

Things are about to get more complicated, as Mickey recently quit academia and will soon take up a consulting job. His choices were limited, as the pair did not want to again relocate in order not to interfere with Minnie’s academic career. Mickey is totally happy to leave academia. However, as Mickey and Minnie still didn’t find a new kindergarten for Melody, they now both run in triangles every day. Their babysitter also got a full-time job offer, more relevant to her degree, so they need to look for someone else. And the subsidised kindergarten is no longer subsidised. As Mickey‘s career change comes with a salary cut, they now have a 500-euro deficit compared to previous months. This is still doable for a while (as calculated), but not forever. Minnie has been promised a longer contract, so they might move closer to her workplace and try to get a kindergarten there to ease up the things.

This is where they are now (August 2016).


As noted before, these are just a few of the parenting paradigms out there (and a huge, huge thanks to all contributors for being so open). Are you a parent in science and have a story to share? Leave a comment or e-mail TIR (


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