From Academia to Parental Leave and Back Again: Making the Transition as Smooth as Possible

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You have been working hard for a long time to advance your academic career, often to the detriment of your social life. Now that you’re expecting, you might be starting to get anxious about being able to balance your parental leave with your research, classes, or dissertation. Having a child will trigger massive changes in your life, but that does not mean you can’t flourish professionally as a new parent.

Luckily, there are a number of ways to lay the foundation and construct a system that works before, during, and after your parental leave to make the transition stress-free. However, as with most things, preparation is key. Here are some suggestions for effectively organizing your life as you prepare to welcome a new member into your family. 

Before your leave 

You might feel like you’ll never be able to get everything done before you go on leave, but there’s plenty you can do to relieve the stress. Taking these steps in advance will also help settle the chaotic thoughts swirling around in your head as you embark on this new journey, allowing you to focus on the tasks at hand.

  1. Start composing emails now. Seriously. You might think that emails are the easy part and that you’ll be able to write them on your phone with one hand while feeding your baby, but babies don’t follow your schedule. Once your child is in your arms, you’ll be glad that you are already done with this time-consuming activity. Besides, you don’t want thoughts of unanswered emails swamping your mind when you have a newborn to care for. 

The first batch of emails should be out-of-office messages for your colleagues, collaborators, superiors, or research assistants. Once you have sent personalized messages to those who might require them, toggle on an auto-reply in your email settings. 

  1. Transcribe your audio and video lectures and presentations so that there’s no confusion regarding your content for your students and colleagues. This is a great way to ensure that those who need your work will be able to access it quickly and easily. Even if they can obtain the original audio or video files, they will undoubtedly appreciate professional transcripts, which are easy to search and skim. Check out our transcription service and have our experts transform your voice into professionally formatted text as soon as possible, thus eliminating one more item from your to-do list.
  1. Set realistic expectations for contact during your leave. Establish your communication boundaries now and state what your availability will be. Stay as connected as you want (your identity outside of parenthood is still important!) and make sure to note whether you will be available for any collaborations or grant opportunities while you’re away. If, however, you would like to focus on your home life for a while, be vocal about it so that you don’t get overwhelmed while on leave. 

If this is your first child, you may not know what to expect, and having a baby can completely reorder your priorities, possibly in ways you never would have anticipated. After the arrival of your little one, you may decide that you don’t want to be as available as you initially indicated, in which case be sure to communicate this politely.

  1. Make lists. Color-code, bullet, or do whatever you need to do to ensure that your mind feels organized. One important list to compile would be a list of projects, proposals, papers, or applications that can wait until you are back at work—just make sure you get to them first upon your return, and mark them clearly in your calendar! How you approach this step depends on your organizational style—as long as it helps you keep everything in order, it works!
  1. Understand the terms of your parental leave. This might seem obvious, but too often, people are blindsided by unexpected conditions. Thoroughly discuss the policies and terms with the human resources department, complete the paperwork, and collect all necessary signatures from bosses and/or department heads. Figure out what type of care and support you can expect both during your leave and upon your return. This is a good time to find out whether you’ll have opportunities for paid projects while you are away and what the protocol is if you need to extend your leave or cut it short. Even if you feel overwhelmed with all the other pre-leave tasks, don’t skip this one—you want to start your leave knowing what to expect.
  1. Build momentum on your papers. If you are currently writing a paper, finish conducting your research and analyzing your findings. Make your paper as manuscript- or journal-ready as possible so that you don’t have to stress over it while you’re gone. At the same time, though, don’t burn yourself out trying to accomplish too much before your leave—set realistic goals for yourself.

Similarly, if you are co-authoring a paper, try not to leave your team hanging. Do the bulk of your work, and discuss with your colleagues how frequently you will respond to suggestions and comments. If you must, be honest about needing to lighten your load. It’s always better for your team to know in advance so that they can plan their own schedules. 

During your leave

You took care of everything you needed to before your leave, and you’ve now had your baby—congratulations! Here is what you need to focus on before you return to work (other than spending quality time with your child, of course). Your newborn will be your top priority during this time, but there are still things you can do to make your transition back to academia easier.

  1. Arrange childcare in advance. Don’t wait until you are headed back to work to leave your baby with a nanny, a babysitter, or a daycare service—there might be unforeseen issues or separation anxiety that you won’t be able to easily deal with after you return to work. To begin with, leave your baby with your chosen childcare provider once or twice a week, gradually increasing the amount of time you and your child are apart until you’re both comfortable with the routine. An added bonus of this strategy is that you can devote more time to your academic work in the time leading up to your return.
  1. Be honest with yourself about your workload. If any new projects do happen to come to your attention, ask yourself if they are worth pursuing. Consider factors such as time commitments, financial gain, and benefit to your research in general. Is a project absolutely necessary? Could it eventually help your career? Will it boost your future funding opportunities? If you can answer any of those questions in the affirmative, then by all means, take it on, but be realistic and don’t be afraid to say no. If you need to reorganize your priorities as a new parent, that is totally okay.
  1. Schedule and attend meetings a month or two before you return. Keep in mind that these are strictly necessary meetings to discuss expectations, assignments, changes that may have occurred during your leave, and any paperwork you might have to do. Remember that you can request to have these meetings online—in this way, you can still participate even when you’re looking after your baby.

After your leave

You’re finally ready to return to work. Just as the period before your leave filled you with alarm, this prospect may have you feeling anxious, too. Here are some tips for making the transition easier.

  1. Finish the paper or project you began before your leave. You will likely need to spend some time reacquainting yourself with your research, so don’t stress if it takes a little while to get up to speed.
  1. Ask your colleagues to have coffee or lunch with you. It is quite possible that you haven’t had much adult interaction during your leave, so you’ll need to readjust your brain socially as well as professionally. A casual lunch with your colleagues also offers a great opportunity to catch up on the latest developments in your field and department.
  1. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t try to dive back in at full throttle. You will likely be dealing with a smorgasbord of emotions, and returning to your old life might feel bittersweet. Even if everything feels out of your control, focus on your immediate tasks, and accept that you’re doing the best you can with the tools you have been given. Take it as slowly as you need to, working your way back up to full speed. Prioritize your own well-being, and the rest will follow.

Now take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back, and if you don’t have time to give your research the care and attention it requires, use our editing service to polish your work so that you have more time to settle into your new life. 

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