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NPA ADVANCE Clearinghouse - Family-Friendly Policies
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About NPA ADVANCE Summit on Gender and the Postdoctorate Presentations and Articles
Data on Postdocs and Gender Clearinghouse on Promising Practices Contact Us

Potential Interventions to Aid in Retaining Postdoc Women

A clearinghouse of promising practices

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The establishment of family-friendly policies has long been recognized as an important approach for the retention of faculty women (and some men). However many postdocs are not included in these policy initiatives as their employment classification commonly falls in the gray region between full employee and student. Therefore, specific family-friendly policy solutions for postdocs may be needed.

1. In addition to establishing parental leave policies, encourage policy solutions that enable women to have children earlier in their career and that facilitate child rearing during the postdoc or graduate school, such as:

  • Affordable on-site childcare
  • Discounted or subsidized on-site childcare

    • Fox Chase Cancer Center offers postdocs discounted childcare at their on-site facility with a sliding fee scale based on parents' joint income.

  • Discounted or subsidized off-site childcare. For institutions without on-site childcare, or with on-site childcare that has limited availability, some kind of discounted childcare could be offered at off-site locations. Institutions could broker a reduced price with off-site providers, or offer a grant to postdocs to help defray their expenses with qualifying childcare providers.

  • After-hours childcare options for postdocs with non-traditional research schedules.


    [Know of a great example of this?  Let us know!]

  • Emergency childcare options for when regular childcare options are unavailable. Some institutions offer this for faculty and staff, but availability to postdocs is limited.

  • Research support mechanisms to continue research during parental leave (see: Programs: Funding and Grants)
  • Provide postdocs with access to flexible spending accounts or other pre-tax savings options for childcare expenses. These may already be available to postdocs who are classified as employees and receive this as a regular employee benefit. It would be desirable to find a way to offer it to all postdocs, independent of funding source. This may continue to be unavailable, however, to "direct-paid" postdocs on fellowships who do not have "earned income" according to the IRS definition and therefore do not qualify for the childcare tax deduction.

    • J. David Gladstone Institutes offer postdocs a Dependent Care Reimbursement Account that allows up to $5000 in pre-tax savings for dependent care.

  • Childcare networks

    • Berkeley Parents Network, which is an online and e-mail network of local area parents with an impressive archive of questions and solutions on a variety of issues related to parenting.

  • Add childcare and other family-friendly information to postdoc handbook or postdoc informational website.


2. Establish and support flexible working schedules. Postdoc positions are often already flexible, but postdoc supervisors should be cognizant of the potential need and ability of postdocs to work from home or part time. This should include explicit guidelines where possible to avoid misunderstandings and abuses.


  • University of California allows part-time positions for academic appointees (including postdocs) to accommodate family needs (UC postdoc contract, Article 24)

  • At many institutions, postdoc work schedules are established on a case-by-case basis with the postdoctoral supervisor, and so postdocs may be able to negotiate a temporarily reduced work schedule. For example, at Washington University of St Louis, a postdoc can apply for a temporarily reduced schedule for a period not to exceed a year for personal or medical reasons or extenuating circumstances. Institutional support for such arrangements can make it more likely postdocs would pursue them.

3. Encourage conference organizers or professional societies to offer childcare solutions at conferences.


  • American Physical Society offers $400 childcare grants for their meetings, with funding from the Elsevier Foundation's New Scholars Program. They also offer information on local childcare services.

4. Allow postdocs access to job placement services for faculty partners.

The Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (HERC) offers resources regarding dual career appointments and other topics.

[Know of a great example of this?  Let us know!]


5. Other ideas to mitigate negative consequences for taking leave:

  • Find some way to encourage postdocs to take advantage of leave opportunities despite their fear of negative impact on their research and/or career. This general fear among researchers is well documented [1]; however, in the case of postdocs, it is compounded by the additional fear of their supervisor or PI that their research project will suffer [2]. Some institutions have implemented automatic tenure clock stoppage or extensions for faculty in order to mitigate this fear. Perhaps similar approaches could benefit postdocs.
  • Provide training for your ombudsman (or similar mediator or neutral third party) on postdoc issues, in the event that conflicts over taking leave do arise.

    • Utah State's ADVANCE program developed special training, via a video and handbook, for their institutional ombudsperson on tenure and promotion issues; this training could be adapted to include postdoc-specific issues.


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[1] c.f. Drago, R., Colbeck, C., Stauffer, K.D., Pirretti, A., Burkum, K., Fazioli, J., Lazarro, G., and Habasevich, T. 2005 "Bias Against Caregiving: Faculty Members Rarely Take Advantage of Family-Friendly Workplace Policies. What Are We So Afraid Of?" Academe 91 (5): 22-25.

[2] For example, in a survey of faculty in the University of California system, 32% indicated that granting family-related leave to researchers paid from their grants had negatively impacted their work. Sheldon Zedeck, Angelica Stacy, and Marc Goulden, "UC Berkeley Faculty Climate Survey" (Berkeley, CA: UC Berkeley, 2009), available at, as cited in Goulden, M., Frasch, K., and Mason, M.A. and the Center for American Progress. 2009. Staying Competitive: Patching America's Leaky Pipeline in the Sciences. Berkeley Center on Health, Economic & Family Security. (accessed March 6, 2010)



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0819994. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.