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Parents in the Pipeline: Retaining Postdoctoral Researchers with Families

Wednesday, June 21, 2017   (0 Comments)
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June 21, 2017


The Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law has partnered with the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) on its latest report, Parents in the Pipeline: Retaining Postdoctoral Researchers with Families. This report is part of an effort by The Center for WorkLife Law to ensure that parents — and mothers in particular — have an equal opportunity to advance in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Parents in the Pipeline highlights the parenthood leak in the STEM pipeline and what institutions can do about it.


The report chronicles the experiences of postdoctoral (postdoc) mothers and fathers – both separate and shared – along with survey and institutional policy data on pregnancy accommodations, paid and unpaid parental leave, attitudes about leave, and benefits for postdoc parents; survey data revealing significant differences in the experiences of postdocs who are immigrants and/or people of color; and recommendations on how institutions can better support postdoc parents.


The report incorporated information collected from an online survey of postdocs, distributed by the NPA in March and April of 2016. Sixty-three NPA postdoc office (PDO) members were asked to distribute the survey to their postdocs. Additionally referenced in Parents in the Pipeline is an analysis of data collected by the NPA as part of the NPA Institutional Policy Survey, and used in the report, National Postdoctoral Association Institutional Policy Report 2014: Supporting and Developing Postdoctoral Scholars. In appreciation for providing data that contributed to this report, NPA Sustaining Members will receive a hard copy of the report.


Among the major findings were instances of postdoc mothers reporting high rates of receiving accommodations (upon request), but low rates of requesting, and postdoc mothers being fired or quitting due to hostility from their mentor. Postdoc fathers reported facing gender bias and an overall negative experience to their appointment due to their mentor's response to the postdoc’s newly gained status as a parent.


The report highlights one of the NPA’s core recommendations that institutions create a PDO to coordinate university relations with postdocs and ensure the quality of postdocs’ training. The NPA believes the presence of both a PDO, staffed by permanent employees and a postdoc association (PDA), run by the postdocs themselves, provides an excellent mechanism to facilitate open lines of communication with the administration and gives postdocs an independent and accessible avenue to provide input to the administration.


Additional recommendations include that institutions implement a formal parental leave policy, eliminating confusion for both postdocs and their mentors. The NPA has developed several family-friendly resources, including A Postdoc's Guide to Pregnancy and Maternity Leave, a guide for women who are pregnant or planning for pregnancy during their postdoc, and its companion, A Postdoc's Guide to Paternity Leave, for expectant postdoc fathers.


Parents in the Pipeline is an essential resource in the effort to foster equality in STEM fields. If you have any questions, please reach out to the report’s lead author, Jessica Lee ( Additional resources for postdocs and those who work with them are also available on the initiative’s website


The report is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number IIA-1449752.

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