It is natural that many graduate students decide to enter the stage of parenthood during their graduate studies. Although this is a significant experience, it remains a highly under-discussed one. As such, for this month’s newsletter, we conducted a short survey to inquire about people’s experiences on taking a maternal or paternal leave during graduate studies, as an effort to increase the transparency surrounding this important experience.

This survey posted on the SPSP student forum and was circulated by the SPSP student committee within their social networks. In total, 14 responses were collected and we summarize their responses below. Given the small number of responses, it is important to note that the responses summarized here may not be generalizable to everyone. Nonetheless, these results may help to shed preliminary light on how some experienced their parental leave and may help guide future parents who may wish to plan their leave.

Participants

Among the 12 responses, 4 participants took paternal leaves, whereas 10 participants took a maternal leave.

Length of leave

On average, the length of maternal leave was 16.6 weeks (Me = 8, range = 6 – 52) and the length of paternal leave was 4 weeks (Me = 4,  range = 0 – 6).

Funding during leave

70% of participants who took a maternity leave were funded, at least partially, whereas 100% of the participants who reported taking a paternity leave were funded, at least partially.

Working during leave

Among those who took a paternity leave, 100% of the participants indicated that they worked during this time. Among those who took a maternity leave, 60% of the participants did at least some work during this time. However, for all participants appeared to be driven by mostly their own choice to work (as opposed to external pressures).

Felt support

Participants were also asked to indicated to what extent they felt supported by their supervisor, department and colleagues on a 5-point Likert scale. The graph below summarizes the responses from those who took a maternity leave and a paternity leave.

bar graph showing levels of support by supervisor departmant and colleaguesfor maternity leave and paternity leave

Advice for Future Parents

Finally, participants also provided advice for those who may be planning to take a parental leave during this graduate studies.

  1. Plan ahead

    1. Financially: It is important to plan ahead financially. It might be important to plan with a partner or support system and to identify your financial needs ahead of time. One might also consider seeking advice from others within their own department regarding the optimal way to maximize the funding available during this time.
      1. For instance, one person wrote “I was fortunate enough to get great advice from my department chair, but I would advise everyone to talk to parents who have been through the process. If I had trusted what my institution said about granting parental leave, I would have lost my insurance and been on the hook for the $27K+ delivery bill.”
    2. Academically: As much as possible, try to complete the important pending milestones ahead of time (e.g., comprehensive exam or course load). This could help alleviate the level of stress and the amount of impending work following the maternal leave.
  2. Enjoy the time spent with family

    1. This is an important time for you and your family, and therefore, take the time to really cherish this experience.
      1. One person reflect back on their own experience to say “I would have tried to let go of the guilt about not touching my dissertation. Keeping a baby alive and caring for yourself postpartum is really difficult, time-consuming work, and the dissertation will be there for you when you get back to school.”
  3. Communicate your expectations to others

    1. Prior to taking the leave, have an open dialogue with your advisor and colleagues to clearly explain them what your expectations are. Do not hesitate to communicate to others that you will not be working (as much) during this leave.
      1. For example, this is how one person handled it: I treated my parental leave as protected time to be with my family. I made clear to my supervisors and clients that I would have limited availability during this span.”

Overall, with this article, we hope to take a step towards normalizing the experience of wanting to start a family (or to grow one’s family) during graduate studies. Importantly, we thank all participants who completed this survey and for helping us further demystify the experience of taking a parental leave during graduate studies.