Support Family Leave Policies for Grad Students and Postdocs

by Kelle on December 21, 2011

In the interest of fully supporting the intellectual efforts of astronomy graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, Emily Freeland, Aaron Geller, Nick Murphy, Laura Trouille and the AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy have created a petition to encourage the establishment of family leave policies by Astronomy Departments and Fellowship Committees. Widespread adoption of a given policy will ensure equal treatment. As of Dec 20, over 800 astronomers have signed.

The proposed policy for both grad students and postdocs is twelve weeks of paid maternity or paternity leave, including continued health insurance coverage. An additional recommendation for the Fellowship programs is to give the Fellow the option of 1) taking a no-cost extension for up to a year to complete the goals of the Fellowship, or 2) converting up to one year of the Fellowship into a maximum of two years, working half-time and receiving half the normal monthly stipend.

Please indicate your support for the widespread adoption of this family leave policy by signing the petition. Please also consider forwarding the link to your departments and institutions if it has not already been circulated. It would be particularly compelling if more faculty, staff scientists, and other mid/late career astronomers signed.

The document will then be shared with all Fellowship program officers and Department chairs.

In addition, there is a Family Leave Policy Wiki page that lists the current departmental and postdoctoral fellowship policies at various institutions. Worth checking out when considering job opportunities. Please consider including and/or updating information on institutions with which you are familiar.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please email:

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ann Onymous December 21, 2011 at 12:54 pm

That sort of initiative is certainly welcome (and very necessary in the US), but it is only a part of the problem. Having a family mechanically means less time for research. When it is time to get a job or to get tenure, I do not think this is taken into account (I very much hope I am totally wrong). Actually the tough job market and the horror stories I heard about tenure reviews (great research, very good student evaluations, tenure declined, not good enough for us [at a small college, not even Harvard/STScI which are known for that]) are among the main reasons why I sadly do not plan to have children before I am tenured (provided we still can have kids then).


2 Laure Fouchet December 21, 2011 at 4:06 pm

I find it sad that researchers have to chose between kids and career. I chose the first option and finally had to renounce to the second one. I wait for the day when researchers will have both. In the meantime, I strongly support this initiative (although I can’t sign the petition now that I work for the industry).


3 Evgenya Shkolnik December 22, 2011 at 12:42 pm

I am so saddened by the above two comments. Better family-leave policies will certainly help, and thanks to those who crafted this proposal and petition. In the meantime, here is one suggestion for taking matters into your hands: This helped a bunch of us avoid the leaky pipeline while having fulfilling family and work lives.


4 Sharon December 23, 2011 at 1:49 am

This is great! It is very sad that the current policies at some places are really depriving our basic rights as human beings…(to say it in the worst way)
Recently, my institute is finally moving towards solving this problem. A formal policy is in draft and will be in place soon. Being on the committee for pushing this forward, it strikes me to see the scope and complications of this issue, especially from top down. By this I mean that most national grants and fellowships do not support paid parental leaves, and this is actually the major difficulty behind everything, as, you can imagine, money drives everything. As a result, the existence of a paid parental leave policy depends heavily on the financial capability of a certain institute or department, and most of the time we really purely count on the good nature of our supervisors or bosses.
Hopefully one day the problem will also be solved from top down. At the moment, I guess the best we can do is to help pushing this through from bottom up. Many thanks to folks who created this petition!


5 anonymous dad December 29, 2011 at 6:35 am

I’d start with having paid leave for faculty in my department. While FMLA may have been a good thing on average, it’s also allowed some places to say “well we offer what’s required under FMLA, what more could you need?”. (and then pressure and harass you to not report it fully)


6 Emma Ryan-Weber January 8, 2012 at 9:48 pm

It’s not all doom and gloom! I had my first baby as a postdoc (in the UK) and the second as faculty (in Australia). Family leave pay and policies in these countries are generally better than those in the US.


7 K. January 16, 2012 at 2:34 pm

This policy refers to parental leave, not family leave. I’m worried that parents are co-opting the word family here. The Family and Medical Leave Act includes time to care for immediate family members with medical emergencies, including family members who aren’t offspring. Let’s call this policy Parental Leave, so that someday in the future we can also work for Family Leave.


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