Scientific Career and Parenthood 2014: Child and career – Utopia or reality?

Child and career – Utopia or reality?

The panellists: Prof. Dr. Johannes Haller (SFB 676), Prof. Dr. Johanna Baehr (CliSAP),
Dr. Melanie Schnell (CUI) and Prof. Dr. Michael Köhl (CliSAP).

“Happy scientists are good scientists”, said Prof. Claudia Leopold, Vice President of the Universität Hamburg in her welcoming speech at the informative discussion-evening „Scientific Career and Parenthood“. And happiness is not only product of excellent scientific conditions but also the outcome of legal ramifications that allow balancing children and family life with a scientific career – without having a bad conscience.

About 50 participants accepted the invitation from CUI, CliSAP and SFB 676 – in cooperation with the Family Services of the Universität Hamburg - to discuss the balancing of an academic career in elite research with family obligations. An opportunity for discussion highly welcomed by men and women, as both were equally represented in the audience. The event started with information on the legal ramifications of Parental Leave, offered by Irina Haan from the personnel area of the Universität Hamburg (presentation UHH)  and Yvonne Umhey (presentation DESY) from the law department of DESY. For some of the international researchers this meant to consciously encounter legal background information in Germany for the first time, as this often fails due to the language barrier. This practical challenge was non-existent this evening: Information on legal ramifications, practical tips and concrete instructions about parental leave were provided in English. Throughout the presentations it was stated that timely discussion with groupleaders and the personnel department is integral for a successful management of one’s own parental leave. Then, the possibility to split parental leave between both parents and to make use of different working arrangements actually does allow for individual solutions.
This was approved by the four scientists from CliSAP, CUI and the SFB 676, all parents of children between 0 and 18 years. They all shared their personal experience on balancing career with family life, and agreed that there are no fixed truths and ideal strategies, but mainly individual solutions. Still there was room for some general advise. Prof. Johannes Haller (SFB 676) mainly addressed the male audience as he stated: “Take parental leave. I think that it’s good for you – it was good for me - it is good for your family and it is also good for society.”  Besides considering and clarifying the legal ramifications of parental leave, this step still requires personal courage. With the new role as a parent, new and sometimes difficult challenges evolve. But the decision also allows for new chances. Junior Professor and mother, Johanna Baehr (CliSAP), added: „My Work-Life-Balance came with the kids. Pre-kids I often added an extra hour or two, with kids in my life it is usually not an option to leave an hour later.” Still, parental leave doesn’t necessarily affect the career negatively: „Stay in touch, don’t take one year of parental leave. This might not be too sexy to say but it helps you to stay in touch with the science “, remarked Dr. Melanie Schnell (CUI). Academic life offers flexibility and certain freedoms, but it also includes limited working contracts and the demand for mobility. “Taking care of children is generously tolerated, but not genuinely accepted“, remarked Johanna Baehr.

More acceptance and new challenges

Acceptance was one of the keywords throughout the following discussion with the audience. The wish to take parental leave may face resistance within one’s scientific research group.  “What is the best strategy to communicate my demands to my group-leader and what happens, if he or she reacts in a negative or discouraging manner?” was just one of many questions directed towards Dr. Melanie Schnell, both Group-Leader and mother of two children. „To me it’s important that my colleagues know that I care not only for their scientific work, but for them as persons.” A managerial function that increasingly gains importance within research institutions.