It’s no secret that it’s sometimes difficult for women in STEM that want to start their own family, to combine their career and family planning.* A study showed that 43% of women leave full-time STEM employment after their first child (Cech, 2019).
Study can be found here
*There are so many incredible mothers who do an awesome job at balancing their STEM career and family life, so you can definitely do both!
This article by Laura from @lauraconnects on instagram, is about the struggle between pursuing your scientific career and fulfilling personal goals like family planning.
I think all of us thought we knew what we got ourselves into when starting our academic journey towards becoming scientists, physicians, psychologists, engineers, etc. We were all aware that our profession would not be an overnight success – that it would take discipline, the power of endurance, sweat and tears (unfortunately I am not exaggerating here, especially in the beginning, I cried quite regularly before exams).
In a nutshell, we knew it would take a lot of TIME.
When starting off, however, our minds tricked us into thinking that we will somehow stay forever young. Then suddenly, we find ourselves being in our mid 20s, then our late 20s, and at least in my case, I still wasn't seeing the end.
I studied Biomedical Chemistry, started at 19 and by the time I finished my Masters, I was already 26 years old. I still had a doctorate and at least one postdoc ahead of me. An inner conflict grew stronger and stronger that I could no longer ignore: When will this time slot magically open up where I can take care of my own family planning?
Quite frankly, the following equation is probably the math I spend the most time on:
“Hmm all right, let’s see: 9 months of pregnancy means 9 months out of the lab. When can you put your child into day-care? After three months? So that would make at least one year of total stagnation if everything works according plan, which it never does.”
This thought is then usually followed by the feeling of guilt because obviously you will have a baby that you will be responsible for. A human being you will surely love, but somehow you already plan to push the baby back and forth between day-care and grandparents.
I think by now you know where I am going with this and I really hope I am not the only person on this planet that has these thoughts.
So what can we do about this? Suppress the issue until we are established in our jobs, then turn back to it, hoping it will still work out and we didn’t miss our biological window?
I tried to do it - to drown this inner conflict and keep going, but I failed. There is too much at stake, I cannot suppress it any longer and look the other way.
What I do as a first step is connect us all – create a safe space where we can talk this out because so far, I don’t see that happening. I see a lot of procrastination, a lot of suppression and sometimes breakdowns alone when no one is watching.
But don’t you think there is more in it for us? I mean we are supposed to be smart right?
There must surely be a way to figure this out, a way to have both: career and family.
My mind is full of great ideas (growing a community and then invite academic women who have children to mentor us) and not so great ideas (PhD Lab-partnerships: First women A gets pregnant and women B works for both and then the other way around).
I would love to discuss them all with you and hear your side of the story!
You can visit my website lauraconnect.com and fill out a survey (it is anonymous) and follow me on Instagram. It would mean the world to me and would help me so much in figuring out how to best pull this off.
Let’s do this, girls!
Cech, E. A. & Blair-Loy, M. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1810862116 (2019).
Laura, instagram: @lauraconnects, studied Biomedical Chemistry in Germany. Based on her experience, she has dedicated herself to create a community for academic women where she is encouraging everyone to discuss their own family planning. She aims to find solutions for the "career vs family struggle" other than "wait until we have 2+ years of working experience and hope that it will still work then".