NIH: Parental leave longer than 3 months is a "life choice," doesn't count as "real" maternal leave

Mar 20 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

Wow, wow wow. A recent comment on my last post:

"From what I'm hearing as I prepare to request EIS extension, they will not even allow me the actual number of months I was on parental leave because it was longer than the typical 3 months. I'm told this constitutes a "life choice" and cannot be considered maternal leave. Isn't that a crazy example of this paternalistic and invasive attitude? Aren't any choices about whether and when to have children or take family/eldercare leave actually "life choices"?

How on earth is the NIH qualified to judge which choices are valid and appropriate?"

Seriously? This is pretty mind boggling. Sure, it comes from one particular contact that one particular commenter has, but it is consistent with experiences of others I have heard from who have asked for eligibility extensions for similar reasons, and it conveys pretty clearly a sense that the NIH has not figured out how to implement policies like this in the spirit in which they should be intended.

We're talking about eligibility to apply under certain categories and taking into account lost productivity, here. We're not talking about expending NIH or institutional resources to cover longer parental leave (which is a different story). We're not talking about giving people extra money because they've been on parental leave longer.

We're also not talking about having spent time going backpacking in the mountains, or working in some other career instead of pursuing the academic track, or just hanging out doing something else for the heck of it. We are indeed talking about life choices, life choices that are often made during this critical eligibility time period of being in postdoctoral training and as an ESI. Life choices that could include taking care of aging parents, something also not unusual in this time period in one's life. Life choices over which everyone (including NIH) has been puzzling about how to better accommodate in the biomedical training process. UMMM HELLO??! Here's the perfect chance to achieve this accommodation, and you're doing the opposite.

NIH, you say this. If you are serious, then please: OWN IT. Be consistent. Establish policies that support it explicitly and please don't leave it up to the interpretation of individual programs or program staff. That just isn't going to catalyze any progress on this issue.

6 responses so far

  • Anon says:

    The commenter asks: "How on earth is the NIH qualified to judge which choices are valid and appropriate?"

    Chemicalbilology writes: "We're also not talking about having spent time going backpacking in the mountains, or working in some other career instead of pursuing the academic track, or just hanging out doing something else for the heck of it."

    So I guess Chemicalbilology does feel qualified, to some extent, to judge which choices are valid and appropriate. And therein lies the rub....

    • Arlenna says:

      Blah blah blah straw man. Yes--yes I do feel qualified to interpret that there is a relevant connection between the stated goals of the NIH to promote family friendly policies and the life choices that involve family as opposed to the life choices that involve recreation or other types of jobs. There is no rub to remaining internally consistent with certain goals. NIH says they support the goals of keeping people who have families in science. NIH then announces policies that seem inconsistent with that support. That is what this post is about.

  • Anon says:

    When I worked for NIH I was denied medical leave to cover treatment for a mental health issue. Evidently scientists are supposed to be mindless, unpaid automatons and never require time off.

  • DJMH says:

    That is messed up. Even aside from the fact that more than 3 months of leave would really help with issues like breastfeeding etc, what if you had a preemie, in the hospital for a month, and then in no way ready for day care two months later? Is there really no way that NIH could extend your eligibility period, for chrissakes? Especially because, as you point out, it doesn't cost them money, nor is it even an unfair advantage over your childless friends.

    yikes.

  • [...] Uninteresting Papers Really Need Peer Review? Failure to Replicate NIH: Parental leave longer than 3 months is a “life choice,” doesn’t count as &#82... (Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.) So noob, you put in one grant, it didn’t get funded and you feel [...]

  • anon says:

    Yep. I took an extended leave (several years) between my PhD and postdoc to be a full-time caregiver to my little ones. My request for an ESI extension was denied because this was considered a "personal life choice". There is no process to appeal this decision, so I will have to compete with the big kidz for my first R01 application.

    I agree that this is inconsistent with other NIH policies- especially the re-entry supplements.

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