Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Post 90: Family Planning and Resources -- Considerations for Grad Students

This is another guest post with my lovely friend and colleague Dr. Garrett Richards!! The idea for this post came up during a catch-up the two of us had a few weeks ago, following the announcement that he and his wife would be expecting their first child in November. (So exciting!) So, here goes our post on parental leave and family resources on campus: 

As Garrett writes: "Early-career researchers (e.g. graduate students, postdoctoral fellows) tend to belong to the age group in which many people have their first child. As such, they may have to navigate the difficulties of parental leave and childcare without the standard benefits that apply to "typical" full-time employees. My partner and I will be having a baby in November. What follows are some of my thoughts on parental leave, based on my experiences as a postdoctoral fellow. I hope other early-career researchers might find the information useful. 

Gorgeous jasmine from the back deck! :)
Parental leave means getting some time off so that you can be with your new child and manage the transition, usually one year in total for each birth or adoption (i.e. having multiple children at once doesn't increase the time period). The parents can split this time however they like. For example, one partner could take a year off while the other remains at work, they could both take six months off at the same time, or they could each take six months off at different times to total one year. 

You should inform your supervisor of your plans several months ahead of time. For many graduate students, this will be a fairly simple request, unless your research is heavily integrated with that of someone else in your lab. You will generally need to get approval from both your university and anyone else that may be paying you. Check with your corresponding union to see if there are any particular provisions or procedures you should be aware of. By the way, it is a good idea for men to take some parental leave, since it helps break down the stereotype that only women make career sacrifices for their family. The far more complicated factor is parental benefits, which means getting paid while you are on parental leave, since you obviously cannot accept your normal stipend or scholarship while you are off work. 

Mystery flower down in Cadboro Bay.
Unions, again, are a good place to start your investigation on this, keeping in mind that you may belong to multiple unions. However, provisions for early-career researchers generally seem to be pretty scant. When I checked the collective agreement for sessional lecturers at my university, there was only a section on parental leave, not parental benefits (and when I phoned the union directly, they said no one had ever asked about that before, which I found surprising). Make sure to examine the provisions of your stipend or scholarship too, if you have one. For example, SSHRC fellowships (for both doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows) have a parental benefits program.

Although you should definitely look into these various avenues, your best chance of parental benefits is probably through employment insurance and the federal government. For information, head to the "Having a Baby" section of the Canada Service website ( While this page is a fountain of general information, you'll want to examine the "Maternity and Parental Benefits" link in particular ( Here, you can read about eligibility for parental leave. In general, if you have worked at least 600 insurable hours in the 52 weeks prior to the start of your leave, you can receive 55% of your insurable weekly earnings during the leave period. A good way to check on your accumulated insurable hours is to register for a "My Service Canada" account (, keeping in mind that they will have to send you an access code through the mail, which could take a few weeks.

Lovely summer hydrangea, their colours starting to fade out. 
The trickiest part of all this is that the main work done by early-career researchers generally does not qualify as insurable hours (after all, you are probably getting "paid" through a scholarship, not a salary). Only the work you do as a TA, RA, or sessional lecturer will count, and in my experience it's pretty rare for an early-career researcher to amass 600 hours of such work in a given year. This means that planning is very important when it comes to having a child at this stage of your career. I was fortunate in a few ways. First, since my partner and I are splitting the leave, and my half won't start until next May, I had some extra time to figure everything out. Second, I have a SSHRC fellowship, which will cover my parental benefits (although, interestingly enough, I have to decline those benefits if I am eligible for any others, which means I have to make sure I *do not* work 600 insurable hours in the 52 weeks prior to my leave). 

In reality, I think a lot of early-career researchers make do without parental benefits. Aside from the financial implications, it can actually be a pretty good time to have a child, given its flexibility. The best thing you can do is make sure you know what options are available to you. In short, check with your union, your funding, and the government. Finally, it's never too early to start thinking about childcare options, which are often available on university campuses if you put your name on the waiting list early enough."

A very cool looking but very dead bug on the sidewalk that ants were fighting over.
Garrett did a really good job (above) covering some of the general information and considerations for taking parental leave and the resources you should look at in Canada. I did some poking around about what other kinds of resources there are for child care on campus, and UVic's Childcare Services information can be found here. For childcare, there are, as Garrett points out above, very lengthy wait-times: a minimum of 2 years for children under the age of three, and between 3 and 5, it's about a year and a half. I also highly recommend checking out the program fees for said childcare, because keeping on top of your finances is also part of your health as a grad student.

As a grad student, you can also apply to live in family housing right on campus, which is pretty great. There's both apartment or townhouse style accommodation available.

UVic's Residences Services Family Resources page also provides information on public schools that are close by to campus (one elementary, two secondary, and one French immersion elementary school), and the Family Centre also provides information for a variety of things, including to health care resources on campus, connecting with the Family Centre, their programs, and fun things like their Welcome Back barbecue. 

Wishing all those out there planning families and with families under way lots of love! You have supports you can draw on, and I hope this post can help illuminate a few you may not have know about right off the bat. 

**Quick note: My next post will be covering my time at the Effective Altruism Global Conference in Berkeley, California this weekend. Keep your eyes open for it! :) 


  1. The subject in your last photo looks like a ten-lined June beetle (Polyphylla decemlineata), also known as the watermelon beetle, which is common in Western Canada.

  2. Excellent information and resource.
    Big thanks to Dr. Richards and Environmental Studies Master Candidate Heike Lettari for highlighting the challenges of, and options for, balancing home and work life while pursuing educational aspirations.