Can I Start a Family and Still Get Tenure?

Penny Kalvin

Being a researcher demands a lot from a person. One neuroscientist revealed in a Nature article how she works countless hours a day. As a result, her work and mental health suffered from burnout. Over time, however, she eventually learned how to work around her schedule, so that she always has time to rest and indulge in her hobbies. This shows how being a neuroscientist does not have to stop you from building a life outside of work.

However, this still begs the question: can you still get tenure with the added responsibilities of being a husband, wife, or parent?

Family vs. Career

It will be difficult to balance family and career since both require your time, presence, and effort. But between the two, always remember that your family should be given more priority, especially when you eventually have children. Maryville University highlights how nurturing is important in child development because their experiences affect their growth. For example, it has been proven that establishing a bedtime routine can help babies sleep. Being there as they grow up also encourages healthy emotional development. While they are still young, children need your constant guidance to set good foundations.

Of course, that is not to say that you need to abandon your work completely. Getting tenured is a long and arduous process that requires you to conduct many experiments, dissections, research, and data analyses. However, despite it being a challenge, it is not impossible. In fact, a postdoc scientist shares with The New York Academy of Sciences how he managed to take care of his wife and their newborn while managing hours at the lab. They made it work through compromise, and they even managed to do this again with their second baby.

Knowing your physical limits

While you need to make time for both family and career, you should also be aware of your body’s limits. There may be papers that need to be written, but starting a family means you can no longer pull all-nighters like before. You need to maintain good health in order to care for your family and fulfill your parenting duties.

To accomplish this, start by setting work limits, as suggested in our guide on ‘Working Efficiently From Home’. If you work from 9-5, then stick to that routine so you have sufficient time to rest. Even if you are busy, use your breaks to eat and rest. Doing these seems simple, but in the long run, they will allow you to better care for yourself, your work, and your family.

Start at the right time

Lastly, start a family at the right time. For example, according to Child Care Aware, caring for one child can cost up to $9,600 per year. At your position in the academic hierarchy, you should have enough funds for childcare, parenting resources, and other essentials.

If you’re planning to have a baby, do not time you or your partner’s due date during a quarter when you know you’ll be busy. Ask your institution if you are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act. This grants new parents a couple of weeks of unpaid leave. Don’t forget to prepare a plan to show your supervisor that indicates what you aim to get done before leaving. You can include suggestions of people who can take over your job. This should clear any concerns your institution may have.

Getting tenured is a demanding process. But with proper planning and self-awareness, it’s possible to start a family in the middle of it.

This blog was written by a guest contributor and provides some personal advice. Plexon understands that the advice may not fit every situation and encourages the community to continue this conversation to gain additional perspectives.