UC Berkeley News


Campus will grant paid maternity leave to women doctoral students
Berkeley is again 'on the cutting edge' of family-friendly benefits with this new policy, of special interest to an aging grad-student cohort

| 07 March 2007

Women doctoral students at Berkeley who hold fellowships or academic appointments as graduate-student instructors or researchers will soon be eligible for six weeks' paid maternity leave under a childbirth-accommodation provision passed March 5 by the Graduate Council. The policy, which takes effect in fall 2007, builds on the campus's suite of family-accommodation measures for faculty - such as teaching-duty relief and tenure-clock stoppage for faculty parents of young children - by "pushing it down to the doctoral-student level," says Graduate Dean Mary Ann Mason.

Women Scientists' Changing Career Goals

The attrition of women from the academic pipeline, largely due to the competing demands of family and academic life, is well-documented by national and local studies. An 18-page Web survey of doctoral students (in their second year and beyond), conducted at Berkeley last fall by Mason and her longtime research collaborator, Marc Goulden, confirms these patterns. The survey looked at doctoral students' attitudes toward future careers and life issues and their satisfaction with their current degree program, with special attention to issues affecting doctoral-student parents. Of the 4,201 surveyed, 2,111 (50 percent) responded.

When entering their Ph.D. program, 46 percent of women reported wanting to pursue a career at a research university, and another 27 percent wanted positions at teaching universities. But after the first year of doctoral studies, many had changed their minds: Only 31 percent of women remained interested in a research career. "A main reason is a perceived inability to balance career and family," Mason explains. Asked to state the reasons they shifted their career goal away from "professor with research emphasis," 42 percent of women respondents (and 16 percent of men) cited issues related to children as a "very important" factor. A change of plans in light of the demands of academic life is especially pronounced in the physical sciences.

In response to another survey question, 58 percent of female and 47 percent of male doctoral students expressed dissatisfaction with their ability to balance the demands of career and life at Berkeley. This represents a general dissatisfaction among all students, not just those with children.

For student parents, achieving balance is particularly challenging. The survey found that about 12 percent of current Berkeley doctoral students, male and female, have had babies. The time they devote to studies, employment, housework, and caregiving each week - totaling more than 100 hours for women with children and more than 90 for men with children - closely mirrors the patterns reported by faculty members with children.

Family-accommodation policies for doctoral students become increasingly important, says Mason, as the graduate-student population ages. In 2005 the average age nationally for completing a Ph.D. was 33, up several years from where that benchmark stood in the mid-'80s. "The whole clock has been pushed forward," she says, "and graduate students ever more frequently are in their prime childbearing years - their late 20s, early 30s - while pursuing their degrees, so they start to really think about issues involved with forming a family."

A one-stop resource for the campus community
All UC affiliates are invited to subscribe to "UC Families," a free online resource for students, faculty, and staff who are balancing academic goals or careers with family life. Subscribers can post questions or engage in discussions on such topics as managing work and family responsibilities, planning the optimal time to start a family, finding advice on progressing academically as a student parent, returning to academia after having a baby, or advocating for flexible work arrangements.

The newsletter's website (parents.berkeley.edu/ucfamilies) links to family resources on UC campuses, UC-wide policy and benefits information, and archives of advice and discussions.

Doctoral candidate Chrysanthi Leon is one such student. She credits Berkeley's family-related accommodations and services - student-family housing, university childcare, and a grant that rewards meeting time-to-degree norms - with making it possible for her to complete her program in jurisprudence and social policy (she graduates this spring).

"I wish I had also been able to benefit from paid maternity leave," she says. "This is a wonderful accomplishment. I will push for similar accommodations for grad students in my new position as an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Delaware."

Mason notes that only a handful of universities across the country offer paid pregnancy leave for doctoral students - "so we're still on the cutting edge."

Under the new policy passed by the Academic Senate's Graduate Council and approved by Chancellor Birgeneau, a doctoral student who works as a GSI or GSR or who is supported by a fellowship will experience no change in her funding arrangements during the six-week childbearing leave. The new policy states that "those supported by fellowships external to UC must adhere to the rules of the granting agency in regard to leaves from work. If the granting agency defers to university policy regarding paid childbirth leave, the six-week leave will be paid by the grant. If the granting agency requires suspension of payment during the six-week period, the student will be eligible for substitute payment from the Childbirth Accommodation Fund."

The expectant mother may also opt to continue to work in a modified capacity during her leave, but is not required to do so. The six-week leave can be taken before or after a child's birth. Stipends for temporary hires to replace graduate-student instructors or researchers, when such funding is needed, may be charged to the campus's Childbirth Accommodation Fund upon Graduate Division approval.

A copy of the new policy - along with other policies applicable to doctoral-student parents - is online. A summary of Mason and Goulden's research on the academic pipeline and initiatives to make the academy more family- friendly is at ucfamilyedge.berkeley.edu.

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