I’m currently in the last 6 months of my PhD, and I have an 8 month old. I love research, but I want more time with my child, and I am curious if there is such a thing as a part time post doc. How did you get that kind of position? Did you have to create the position with your advisor?
Mommy, soon-to-be PhD
Dear Mommy, soon-to-be PhD,
My part-time post-doc began as a full time position, and switched to part-time only for a few months between the birth of my daughter and me leaving for the tenure-track. It worked really well for me, personally and professionally, because I was able to spend lots of time with my daughter, but still keep my foot in the door of science (and earning a paycheck).
A couple keys to the success of the part-time post doc were:
- An advisor who was humane, family-friendly, and not overly controlling. Of course, I knew this going in since he was also my PhD advisor.
- I initially proposed a limited duration for the part-time position. I took eight weeks off after my daughter was born and then proposed to work two more months at 25 hours per week. After that I had planned to go back to full time. I ended up staying part time for one more month, because it was the last month before I moved and I needed the time to pack the house, etc.
- Limited field/lab work was required for the position. When I did have to do field work, I managed to bring Minnow along. Helpful and accommodating colleagues were key to making this part of it successful. I also essentially worked unpaid overtime in the weeks I did field work so that I could keep the office-based part of the research moving forward.
- Loose funding structure. We weren’t racing to complete a major project on a limited timeline, so that probably made it easier to work part-time.
As you can see from above, my experience was somewhat exceptional, so I’m not sure what advice I can give for those seeking to find a part-time post-doc. Then again, I suspect that all part-time post-docs are exceptional simply because they are not that common. Readers, have you seen/been/hired part-time post-docs? What were the circumstances?
I’d imagine that the possibilities for part-time post-docs are somewhat limited by the short funding cycles of a lot of granting agencies. If a PI has a grant where a post-doc is funded and needed for, say, 2 years, the PI can’t hire someone half-time for four years, because the project must be completed in the granting period. On the other hand, if you can make a post-doc out of a series of smaller projects, where the grants might each only cover a couple of months of funding, then it can be easier to convert, say 6 months of full-time funding to 1 year of half-time funding. The problem with going this route is that you never really feel financially secure and stable and you are continually hunting for research dollars. For someone hoping to move into the tenure track, these smaller grants might turn into time sinks that don’t net the sort of research progress necessary to really move your career along. This scenario was basically what my post-doc was like. I worked on three projects and I’ll probably end up with one publication, and that pub is requiring an awful lot of work well after the post-doc has concluded.
Now as a PI myself, would I hire a part-time post-doc? If I had funding for a one-year post-doc and two years before the project needed to be completed (or similarly suitable ratios), I would certainly consider it. If the project required field or laboratory work, I would want the part-time candidate to provide me with a plan as to how he/she would accomplish the tasks on a part-time schedule. Really, that would be my biggest concern. Once that fear was allayed, I wouldn’t hesitate to hire a part-time post-doc. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that more PIs should think about what it would take to make their post-doc positions more available to people wanting to work less than full-time. It’d be a great start towards making science a more people-friendly profession.
Good luck in you search! And let us know if you find anything.