Posted in Recap, Support and healthy working

Recap: #ECRchat on When to Start a Family

Last week’s live chat topic was Deciding when to start a family’, hosted by Liz Gloyn. Liz is a Teaching Fellow in Latin Literature at the University of Birmingham; her research interests focus on the intersections between classical Latin literature, ancient philosophy and gender studies. She can be found on Twitter as @lizgloyn, and blogs at Classically Inclined. Here is her recap of the chat.

The topics for last week’s #ECRchat had a family-related theme, as one of
the topics that keeps coming up among the people who take part in the
chats is the tension between academic and personal life. The poll came up
with the topic of “when to start a family”; it’s a question that has
caused quite a bit of debate when the subject of the ECR Hamsterwheel has
come up. It’s also pertinent in an age where younger female ECRs are still
facing what my friends in the States called the Illegal Question at job
interviews – that is, whether you are planning to become pregnant in the
foreseeable future, with the implication that fertility makes you less
attractive as a potential employee. (If you don’t believe me, I was
advised not to wear my engagement ring to a job interview last year, and
was more or less asked the Illegal Question at the same interview despite
following that advice.) #ECRchat gave us the opportunity to discuss the
question without the assumption that starting a family would somehow count
against you at this stage of your career, and to have a productive
conversation about the practicalities involved.

One thing the chat really foregrounded was how the issue of when to have a
family intersects with a lot of other work/life balance issues, and the
same problems about how willing you are to follow the job and live apart
from your partner apply for ECRs who are childfree. Some people had
tweeted me before the chat saying they weren’t sure how much they were
going to be able to contribute as they either did not have children or
were not planning to have them, but the flow of the conversation showed
that the overall issues are the same for most big life and career

We also benefited from the experiences of parents in the chat, who all
said more or less the same thing – don’t plan this too much, and just get
on with it! I think my favourite mantra that came out of this part of the
chat was “babies defy timing” – something that I suspect ECRs may find
difficult to get their heads around, given how much planning and
organising goes into our work. But, as the parents in the chat kept
reminding us, life isn’t just about the job.

The chat talked about the practicalities of having children. People raised
the importance of checking the childcare and maternity leave policies at
your institution, and indeed at your partner’s employer, as well as making
sure you’re familiar with the legal rights offered by your government. In
broader terms, we discussed the impact of having a family on the academic
workload, although there were plenty of anecdotal examples of parents who
had discovered they were more productive post-children – both because of
needing to manage their time more effectively, and because of feeling more
empowered about saying ‘no’ to things that were not in line with their
priorities. We discussed some options for bringing academic work into line
with family life, like flexible working or working in the evenings after
children had gone to bed, and of course the importance of a supportive
partner to make it all work.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the chat, and who offered their
experiences! If you are interested in reading more, there’s
a Storify of the chat available here. You can also download the full transcript of tweets here #ECRchat_tweets_2012_11_22.pdf.


The next live #ECRchat for Europe and Australia (and places in between) will be on 6th December. This will be the last chat before we take a break for the Christmas holiday. UK chat time 10:00-11:00 (GMT), Europe chat time 11:00-12:00 (CET), Australia chat time 21:00-22:00 (EDST).

#ECRchat West is next on  29th November, hosted by Networked Researcher. The chat will run fortnightly on Thursdays at 19:00-20:00 GMT.


Postdoc in psychology and cognitive neuroscience, researching visual word recognition. Likes MEG, TMS, fMRI, reading, waffles, and motorbiking.

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