Postdoctoral associate Kaitlin Snider has wanted children for years, but she said that because Yale’s child care options are too expensive, she might have to wait at least two years.
A researcher’s stint as a postdoc — many of whom have just finished graduate school — can be an optimal time for many people to start a family. But despite these pressures, four researchers interviewed by the News said the cost of child care at the University presents a challenge for young families and those who plan to start one. Tuition for the University’s seven affiliated child care facilities can reach over $1,800 every month — which Snider said is over half of her take-home earnings. Unlike other members of the Yale community, including graduate students and faculty members, postdocs do not receive child care assistance. Snider pointed out that New Haven offers cheaper child care options than Yale does. But since many of these facilities are not on campus, Snider, who does not drive, cannot easily access these resources. As a result, she said her best option would be Phyllis Bodel Child Care Center, which is just minutes from her lab but costs more than her rent.
“I just can’t have a kid unless I want to quit science or be homeless,” Snider explained. “Neither of which are good options for me.”
Postdocs like Snider are in an especially tough position, even relative to other Yalies, they told the News. By contrast, Yale School of Medicine Deputy Dean for Education Richard Belitsky announced in 2018 that medical students with children can receive an annual subsidy for family expenses. Graduate students with a child under 18 can receive a $4,700 annual subsidy, according to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences website. For postdoctoral researchers, no such subsidies exist.
Molecular, cellular and developmental biology professor Valerie Horsley — who started a family during her time as a postdoc at Rockefeller University, which subsidized her child care costs — said that when she arrived at Yale, the University’s options were pricy and had long wait times, even for faculty members. As a result, she started her professorship at the University without having child care lined up.
“It was really stressful to start as a tenured faculty position and not know if you have full-time care for your kids,” she said. According to Horsley, when she did find child care, it was expensive — about as much as her mortgage.
Horsley spearheaded an initiative that led to the creation of The Nest at Yale, a child care center near the Yale Divinity School. She pointed to universities like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which subsidizes costs for postdoctoral fellows and has expanded its child care facilities, as a good model for the University to follow. But, she said, the “University just doesn’t think it’s a priority.”
Yale Provost Scott Strobel and Office for Postdoctoral Affairs Director John Alvaro did not respond to requests for comment. In an email statement to the News, new School of Medicine Dean Nancy Brown credited her predecessor — Robert Alpern — with investing in the Phyllis Bodel Childcare Center’s expansion. And, she said, she is still “in the fact-finding stage” surrounding the “scope of needs and resources.”
“Access to high quality childcare is extremely important for our faculty, staff, trainees and students,” she wrote.
According to Sean Edington, a postdoctoral associate who coordinates the Yale Postdoctoral Association’s Advocacy Committee, these obstacles can end up pushing female STEM researchers out of the workplace entirely.
“A lot of female scientists have been putting off having kids because, as a grad student … it’s really hard to make being a new parent fit into your lifestyle,” he said.
He pointed out that the risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth gets higher as women age, which can lead to tough choices for many female postdocs.
According to Edington, many women are forced “to choose between their career in science and having a child.”
“We don’t want to be forcing people into making that choice,” he said. “Yale talks a lot about … trying to diversify science. But there’s still this huge problem that Yale isn’t addressing.”
MCDB professor Akiko Iwasaki said that there is “no coincidence” that there is a drop in women researchers around childbearing age. On Sunday, she shared in a tweet — which has received nearly 400 retweets as of Tuesday night — that she “almost quit science” because of a lack of affordable daycare options at Yale.
When Iwasaki found out she was having a child, she requested a spot at nearby Phyllis Bodel Child Care Center. But she told the News she had to wait three years before securing a place at the facility. By then, she said, she had already found a daycare 15 minutes away from her workplace. On-site child care would have been “a huge help,” she said.
“I think it’s the responsibility of an institution to ensure that such things are provided for faculty, students and postdocs,” Iwasaki said.
In an email statement, Board Chair for Phyllis Bodel and associate professor of cardiology Erica Spatz said that the center has now been able to meet demand after opening another campus. But, she said, the cost of child care is “enormous” and acknowledged that tuition “puts a strain on families.” Still, Spatz explained that the center’s tuition rates are lower than peer centers and that it provides scholarships.
“Unfortunately, high-quality child care in this country is a privilege,” she wrote. “This needs to change.”
Edington’s group has hosted town halls in recent years to address issues most troubling to University postdocs. Through feedback from these meetings as well as takeaways from other private conversations, Edington said his team plans to present several policy proposals to the Yale administration within the next month. Among these proposals will be a push for subsidized child care and higher pay for postdocs, he said.
“Child care is tough for everybody. But I would argue that it’s especially tough for postdocs,” he added.
As of July 2019, a first-year postdoc earns a minimum of $50,004 per year.
Matt Kristoffersen | firstname.lastname@example.org