Yes, this is trite advice that you’ve probably read before, but hey, why not?
1. Before college graduation. This option is not usually a choice. Women academics who do this are generally highly selected so it is difficult to say whether this is a good option as a policy recommendation or that the women who decide to go into academia after having a child young are made up of stern stuff.
2. During graduate school. Some people look down on this, some people strongly recommend it. The effect also seems to vary by discipline. Men do this all the time without consequence. Pros: Flexible schedule, kids are older and potentially easier to deal with once you’re in a tt position. Body is still young. Cons: Advisers may take you less seriously and relegate you mentally to a mommy track. Money is often tight so it is difficult to pay for a full time nanny or high quality daycare etc.
3. Before tenure: Pros: Your body is still relatively young. Your biological clock may be ticking loudly at this or any time. You have more money than you had before and can funnel it into baby-related things. Depending on where you are, you may actually get maternity leave which will help you continue research when you have a newborn (because of the break from teaching and service). Cons: Your colleagues may take you less seriously and relegate you mentally to a mommy track. If you take an additional year to your clock you may be expected to produce more stuff (but you may not). In my discipline women are just starting to have one baby before tenure.
4. After tenure: Pros: You’ve already made a mark in the field… you can slow down (working on bigger projects, perhaps) and people will still respect you (so long as you continue quality work). You have more money than before. You can take a semester without pay if you’ve been saving up and you don’t get paid leave. Cons: You may not be able to have a baby at this point, which may be heart-breaking. If you can, you may have to space them close together (or have multiples if you need medical assistance). This is the choice one of my advisers made (and recommended for me).
So none of the options are perfect. I long ago decided I would time my fertility based on what I wanted, and academia be damned. I wasn’t ready in graduate school. I was ready after it (with the biological clock alarm screaming), but turns out my body didn’t want to cooperate, but right when we gave up I unexpectedly got pregnant. My colleagues were delighted– after all, why shouldn’t they be? There’s no maternity leave at my school.
#2 notes that we wholeheartedly support everyone’s reproductive decisions while at the same time not endorsing compulsory motherhood, and noting that some of us are extremely happy not having children and will go to great lengths to avoid having them! If this is you, don’t let today’s post put you off our awesome blog. We support people of all stripes being in control of their own decisions on when, whether, and how to raise kids. (Unless you do something like blanket training with a switch… then we’re calling CPS.)
#1 agrees– this is conditional on you wanting kids, which says nothing about your character nor is it obligatory. Obviously if you don’t want kids it doesn’t matter when is the best time to not have them because you’re always going to not have them whether that’s the best time or not!
What are your thoughts?