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Grad students fight for maternity leave

Jenna Johnson

I wrote a story for today's paper about a group of University of Maryland graduate students who are fighting to get maternity and paternity leave. Currently, students can apply for a semester off to deal with a number of family issues, including having a baby, but their pay stops -- and they risk getting kicked off their student health insurance, losing student status required for a visa, receiving student loan bills and falling behind on their studies.

I hope you will take a few minutes to read it and let me know what you think in the comments section.

A lot of the students I interviewed for the story said they didn't even think about maternity and paternity leave when they were debating where to attend grad school. But once they or their partner became pregnant, they realized how difficult it is to be a parent while still in school.

In the last few years, a growing number of research-focused institutions have begun to offer their grad students a few weeks of paid time-off to have a baby. Often this is in an effort to keep more women in their programs and make their campuses more family friendly.

I couldn't fit all of the examples into the story, but here's a quick run-down of what some colleges are doing:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
MIT was one of the first universities to drastically revamp its maternity policy in 2004. The policy allows pregnant women to take up to two months off. During that time they continue to receive stipend pay and do not lose their student status. The policy is limited to pregnant women and does not apply to adoption, men or partners.

University of California, Berkeley
In 2007, Berkeley began to offer its research doctoral students six weeks of paid time off for childbirth. In a memo on the policy, academic departments are reminded that this is the minimum they are expected to do and encouraged "to be as generous as possible in accommodating student parents."

University of Michigan
All Rackham Graduate School students are eligible for six weeks of paid time-off following the birth or adoption of a child, according to the policy.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
In 2009, graduate students could begin to request up to 60 calendar days of paid parental leave following the birth or adoption of a child. If both parents are graduate students, they can both take simultaneous parental leave. Students continue to receive wages or stipends during this time.

Stanford University
In 2006, Stanford University began to give all female graduate students six weeks of paid leave, and its chemistry department allows pregnant women and new mothers to scale back their coursework or research for up to 12 weeks.

In detailing the policy in its graduate handbook, officials explain their rationale: "To increase the number of women pursuing advanced degrees, it is important to acknowledge that a woman's prime childbearing years are the same years she is likely to be in graduate school, doing postdoctoral training, and establishing herself in a career. This childbirth accommodation policy is designed to partially ameliorate the intrinsic conflict between the "biological" and the "research" and "training" clocks for women graduate students."

Princeton University
In 2007, Princeton enacted a policy that gives birth mothers three months of paid leave. It also provides accommodations for parents adopting a child and fathers who are the primary caregiver.

This is only a partial list. If you know of another university that you would like added to the list, shoot me an e-mail.

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By Jenna Johnson  |  March 22, 2010; 9:01 AM ET
Categories:  Grad Students , News Overload  | Tags: Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, University of Maryland, University of Michigan  
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