Pregnancy + the Academic Job Search: Part I

January 2016: 5 months pregnant. Shortly after an informal chat with a future colleague

January 2016: 5 months pregnant. Shortly after an informal chat with a future colleague

Oh. My. Gosh. People love to give advice about the academic job market in general. Add in the fact that you’re also pregnant and the desire to impart wisdom goes through the roof! And of course if you don’t follow their advice there are dire consequences (i.e., you won’t get the job). That being said, I got a whole lot of advice, and to the best of my memory, only one of those people had been pregnant while searching. I’m sharing my story today so that there’s one more example of a successful job search while pregnant out there for anyone who is wondering if it can be done! I was initially going to share tips in this post, but I think I’ll save them for the next one as it’s a long story! This will be part I of II.

Background is important here, I’m in a field (social work) that’s a lot more pregnancy/baby/child friendly than others (at least it seems like it based on stories I’ve read on the internet!), so my experiences may be quite different than pregnant mamas in other fields. As far as interview structure, you typically apply for positions during the summer and fall of the year before you plan to start your job. There are two major conferences, one in the fall and one in the winter, where initial first round interviews are usually held. If you can’t make an initial conference interview, or the conference meeting was an informal meet and greet, then you’ll typically have a video chat or phone interview with the search committee. After first round interviews come campus visits during the winter and spring. All of this hopefully ends with a job offer! I had been on the job market the previous year and really appreciated having those initial experiences as they helped me know what to expect and eased my nerves. Knowing that Mike had a stable job, I was going to graduate (fingers crossed), and we had a baby on the way, meant I approached the job search in a pretty carefree manner. If I got a job that seemed like a great fit, awesome! If I didn’t then we could ease our way into parenthood and I’d figure out the whole job thing at a later date.

I started applying to positions in September 2015, shortly after I found out I was pregnant. In mid-October I had ~4 first round conference interviews (@ ~2 months pregnant). At this point, only a handful of people knew I was pregnant. My biggest concern for these initial interviews was getting sick, as I was still learning to adapt to my new normal of constant nausea. I was on diclegis (the unisom + B6 extended release combo) which took the edge off and gave me enough of an appetite to eat. Always having something (esp. carbs) in my stomach kept the dry heaving/vomiting at bay. Before I went to the conference I created a spreadsheet of all the restaurants, cafes, markets, and convenience stores nearby, so that I always had something in my stomach! I packed a lot of snacks in my luggage that I carried in my bag at all times (along with grocery bags in case I got sick and wasn’t around a trash can or bathroom). Also, the hotel I stayed in included a hot breakfast, which also helped keep my stomach full. Before each interview I’d eat something to suppress the nausea. Being so concerned about getting sick meant that I wasn’t concerned about the interviews themselves! One school even supplied snacks during the interview which was amazing.

I do remember being pretty exhausted the entire conference and getting a splitting headache one of the days I was there (thanks to my spreadsheet with convenience stores I knew exactly where to go to get pain killer - which I failed to bring). I was sharing a room with a fellow academic mama and spilled the beans to her about being pregnant after I rushed to the bathroom to puke! I was pretty secretive about it, even with friends, which in hindsight, I’m not sure why I cared so much. However, given how early in the pregnancy I was, I did not share anything about being pregnant during my interviews as it didn’t seem necessary. I did decide that if I got sick or ended up dry heaving during an interview (you never know!) that I would mention being pregnant & having morning sickness, as I thought it would have been really weird to vomit/dry heave during an interview and have any other explanation.

In January (~5 months pregnant), I attended another conference where I had an informal chat with the search chair of my current university. At this point, it still wasn’t overly obvious that I was pregnant (see above pic where I’m trying to accentuate the bump!) and I didn’t see any reason to mention anything so I didn’t. The conference was in my home town, so I got to stay in the comfort of my childhood home, which was nice. I continued to pack snacks and take meds to help with nausea.

In February (~6 months pregnant), I received an invitation for an official first round interview with the search committee at my current employer via video chat. Doing an interview from the comfort of my own home was wonderful, plus they could only see me from the shoulders up so no need to wonder if they were wondering if I was pregnant! I did another interview via video chat with another school during this time too. A few weeks after the video interview with my current school, I was invited to come out for a campus visit in March. This was the only on campus interview I did, and I was thankful for it! It was the only school I was truly interested in and given my exhaustion, it would have seemed like a waste of my energy to travel anywhere else if I wasn’t feeling the school.

During my next prenatal appointment I talked to my obgyn about air travel. Given that everything in my pregnancy was going as planned (other than the nausea) she didn’t have any reservations about me traveling. She just mentioned that I should get up and move around during the cross country flight. The university booked my flights so I gave them seat preferences (i.e., an aisle seat so I could easily get up). I’m pretty sure I was able to go in and adjust the reservations once they made them, so I think I may also have moved my seat closer to the bathroom after the initial booking. During my flight out I was stuck in a middle seat, but I sat next to a family with 6 month old twins and a 4 y.o., and then another person who was moving to Hawaii for a job. With parents/kids on one side and someone making a big career move on the other side, the flight out felt serendipitous, a sign from the universe that I was on the right track!

I arrived the night before my full day of interviewing (~7 months pregnant). The university didn’t do airport pickups, which I was thankful for, as it gave me a chance to relax before the big day. Given that nausea/vomiting were still an issue I had done my “food homework” before the trip, so I had a long list of all the places I could potentially eat, having vetted their menus for food that wouldn’t trigger my morning sickness. As you can gather, my life revolved around food!

Interview day! I was given differing advice on how to “handle” being pregnant on the job market, everything from don’t say anything at all ever, to only bring it up if there’s an easy segue, to yes definitely bring it up. Before I traveled, I decided I’d bring it up with at least the search chair, as I felt pretty comfortable with him at that point. If it happened to come up in conversations with others, then I’d also share. I didn’t want to just bring it up out of the blue, like “Hi, nice to meet you, I’m Jill and I’m pregnant.” After all, this wasn't an interview about my pregnancy, it was an interview for a job. However, quality of life is important and I did want to know that they’d be supportive of people with kids. I figured if they were really weird about it that I didn’t want to work there anyway!

My hotel was within walking distance from the university so in the morning (after a breakfast sandwich from one of the cafes on my list!) one of the staff came to walk me over for my first meeting. I started off the day with some logistical paperwork, followed by a relaxed meeting with the search committee. We chatted casually about the school and everyday life in the area. A few people brought up their kids and I thought, seems like as good a time as any?! I asked what child care was like in the area, sharing that I was due in May. It wasn’t weird or awkward and seemed to flow with the conversation. People congratulated me and they gave me great suggestions about child care (like putting my name on the waitlist for university child care). For the rest of the day, I shared when it felt natural in the conversation and didn’t when it wasn’t. I love the fact that Ellie was there with me through the whole experience, I’d feel her kicking throughout the day and it felt comforting to know we were in it together!

The rest of the interview went smoothly. My bag was filled with snacks that I took bites of during breaks between meetings. The lunch place we went was morning sickness approved, so I made it through okay! During an afternoon meeting someone brought me a little snack, which was also much appreciated. By dinner time I was wiped (and also 3 hours ahead in terms of my body’s clock). I’d say dinner was probably the low point of the day for me. I was exhausted and just struggling to come up with conversation topics, and the food choices were limited in terms of things that wouldn’t trigger dry heaving. I just kept reminding myself that I could go back to my hotel room and pass out once it was over, and that pulled me through. After dinner, I ended up taking a walk back to the lunch spot to get an after dinner snack and pick up something to eat for the next morning. Overall, I was pleased with how it went. It was the one and only campus visit I did so I don’t have anything else to compare it to!

It took, what felt like, an eternity to hear back from the school! The chair would check in, just making sure I was still interested. I got to a point where I figured I hadn’t gotten the job, which in some ways felt like a relief. I could finish my dissertation at a more leisurely pace and we wouldn’t have to move or sell our house... but, at the end of April I got an offer (about a month before Ellie was actually born), which totally caught us off guard and then kicked things into high gear!

I’ll share tips based on my experiences after my weekly update is posted tomorrow! Thanks for reading!