Dr. Mieke Beth Thomeer Reflects On Pregnancy On The Job Market

Mieke HeadshotDr. Mieke Beth Thomeer (@MiekeBeth) is in her first year as an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (see full biography at the end). In this guest post, Dr. Thomeer reflects on the challenges she faced while pregnant during her academic job search.  In finding little advice while she was on the job market, she offers her experience and tips to help others who are or will be pregnant on the academic job market.

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Pregnant on the Academic Job Market

Three hours after I found out I was pregnant in the fall of 2013, I received a phone call inviting me to give my first job talk. I rushed to my adviser’s office to get her advice on navigating the job market, although I chose not to tell her about my pregnancy yet because of how early the pregnancy was. My adviser gave me wonderful advice on how to navigate the campus visit. As one piece of advice, she told me to feel free to have a glass of wine with dinner during the interview if everyone else was, as it was a social thing to do. I nodded, but internally started worrying about what the job market would be like when pregnant.

When I got back to my office, I immediately turned to the internet, finding several blog posts about pregnancy and motherhood on the job market: being on the academic job market in your second trimester and trying to hide your bump with business clothes; being on the academic job market in your third trimester and not being able to hide being pregnant at all; finding out that you’re pregnant after accepting the job and needing to take the first semester off; and being on the academic job market while breastfeeding and needing accommodations for pumping. I had heard stories from an academic mentor about successfully interviewing in her eighth month. But I couldn’t find anything about interviewing in your first trimester. As this was my first pregnancy and I really didn’t know what to expect, I hoped that the lack of information just meant that there wasn’t anything I needed to know and that pregnancy wouldn’t make any difference in the interviewing process for me.

A few weeks later I found myself at dinner at my first campus interview. Until that point, my pregnancy had been easy. I wasn’t showing and had experienced very few symptoms. Based on my personal decision to only tell family about my pregnancy during my first trimester, as well as general advice I’d received about not divulging too much of my personal life in interviews (e.g., marital status, parental status), I chose not to tell the department about my pregnancy. As an aside, there’s evidence that women with children are discriminated against in hiring, and based on this, I chose to not share about my family status. This discrimination against mothers may be lessening, and it certainly varies from department to department. Consequently, advice seems to be shifting regarding how much to divulge about your personal life during an academic interview. But I didn’t feel the need to risk it; I decided to stick to talking about research, the department, and Game of Thrones at dinner.

As timing would have it, two bites into that first dinner I was hit by a strong wave of nausea and found I couldn’t eat anything else. I sat through the many courses which characterize interview dinners, unable to eat anything on my plate, working hard to contribute to the conversation and hide how I was feeling. I ended up having a lot of nausea throughout the fall semester, and as I traveled for job interviews, this scene played out again and again at breakfast, lunch, and dinner at different job interviews. After my first visit, my doctor prescribed anti-nausea medicines, which I began to take regularly and made my other interviews so much easier than my first.

I was due in June, so I wasn’t overly concerned with parental leave policies; my child would be two months old when I started a new position. But I appreciated the departments that were very forthcoming with their parental leave policies and told me directly what children do to the tenure clock and teaching schedule. The departments that openly discussed these things would preface this discussion by telling me that they told everyone these policies, that way candidates who were planning to have children soon would not feel pressured to disclose this. This information tended to come up in my one-on-one meetings with women faculty who had recently had children themselves.  I am very grateful to the professors who shared their experiences with me.

Mieke

Graduation day!

Motivated by my own frustration with not finding resources on the internet to prepare me for my interviews, I have come up with some things I wish I had known or done during my job market experience during my first trimester:

  1. Talk to your doctor before you travel to job interviews. Even if you don’t have any “morning” sickness yet, it still may make sense to get and fill a prescription to minimize it, just in case it strikes.
  2. Ask for your campus interview schedule as early as possible, and if you find that there aren’t many breaks scheduled, ask whether one or more are possible. Even if you don’t think you’ll need them, it is better to be safe. You likely do not need to give a reason, but if you do, you may just be able to say that there are medical reasons.
  3. If you do struggle with morning sickness, ask for longer layovers for flights. I had one incredibly awful trip in which I was stuck on an airplane in the middle seat between two businessmen feeling absolutely miserable. That experience would’ve been avoided with a longer layover. Relatedly, if you struggle with morning sickness, don’t assume the plane will have barf bags—pack your own in a carry-on bag.
  4. Pack snacks and a water bottle, as well as ginger chews, hard candies, or peppermints. These are good on the plane, in between the never-ending meetings with faculty, and even after a long job talk.
  5. Don’t plan to work on your job talk in the hotel room. Interviews and pregnancy are both exhausting, and you need to give your body and mind a break.
  6. Be prepared with a response for when someone asks why you aren’t drinking or eating much (or eating a lot if that’s how it goes for you). It is likely that no one will, but it is still wise to be prepared. I found it easy just to say that I preferred not to drink on interviews and everyone was fine with that.
  7. Go to the bathroom as often as you need. It’s okay to be a little late to your next appointment or to leave a little early; professors don’t compare how often you peed. (“Mieke went to the bathroom right after her interview with me.” “Me too! How weird?” is likely an exchange that never happened at any of my interviews.)
  8. Do your research on parental leave policies. You may find this is easy to discuss discreetly with faculty, or you may find it makes more sense to call Human Resources. But it is better to find out now than when you show up at the job.
  9. Even if you’re not telling many people about your pregnancy during your first trimester, have someone close to you with whom you can talk about the stress of juggling pregnancy and job interviews. This is probably especially important if you find pregnancy brings a lot of mood swings for you—better to talk it out than internalize it and let it stress you out.

I realize everyone’s experiences will vary wildly, depending on the timing of your pregnancy and what your symptoms are like, with some people having a much easier and others having a much more difficult experience than me. It can be tricky to navigate the worries and excitements of the first trimester and the job market at the same time, but I was fortunate to survive both. After the whirlwind of the job market, I accepted a job at a very supportive university and department and let them know about my pregnancy when I showed up eight months pregnant for a housing search in the spring.

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Biography

Mieke Beth Thomeer, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Dr. Thomeer’s research and teaching interests include aging, family, health, gender, and sexuality. In her research, she addresses questions about how relationships influence and are influenced by physical and mental health, with particular attention to gender. Because the lived experiences of relationships are complex, she utilizes both qualitative and quantitative methodologies, with special emphasis on dyadic methods. Her research has been published in the American Journal of Public Health, Journal of Marriage and Family, Journal of Aging Studies, Journal of Gerontology, and Journal of Health and Social Behavior.