Despite the progressively louder tick of the biological clock, many scientists are unwilling to allow a pregnancy or a newborn slow them down during the high-stakes years of a postdoctoral fellowship. Besides, the meager stipends and sometimes limited health benefits combined with the wrath of lab mentors are hardly motivators for starting a family.
So when I arrived at the NIH, I was surprised to be surrounded by pregnant postdoctoral fellows or fellows whose partners were pregnant. I set out to discover some of the practical reasons why postdoctoral fellows at the NIH were choosing to start their families during their fellowships.
1. Eight weeks paid leave
According to the NIH Postdoc Handbook, “Eight weeks of excused absence with pay will be granted to either parent for the birth or adoption of a child or other family health care.”
This policy applies to NIH intramural research trainees (such as postdocs) and visiting fellows. It may not apply to postdocs in other government agencies or those who are considered federal employees.
2. Health insurance benefits
The current health insurance offered to postdoctoral fellows at the NIH is a CareFirst Blue Cross/Blue Shield Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) policy. NIH covers the cost of individual and family coverage with this health insurance policy.
I cannot speak for all fellows, but I have been satisfied with my health insurance plan and the services it covers. Certainly, not having to pay the premium for myself or any potential family members makes it a very good deal.
3. Child care available on campus
Child care program/centers are located at multiple NIH campus locations and provide care for infants, toddlers, and preschool-age children. Although there is a long waiting list for access to NIH child care, the option exists and locations are convenient for many fellows.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Government.
Wenny Lin, PhD, MPH, is a fellow in the Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program at the National Cancer Institute. Prior to joining the Nutritional Epidemiology Branch in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics, Wenny earned her MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health in 2009 and her PhD in Cell & Molecular Biology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2008.