HermoineG

Advice on asking for pregnancy leave (intimidating professor)

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Hi all,

Here is my situation: I do not have funding for my PhD program. The way my program works - you find your own funding. It is a big school and I have never had any trouble finding funds, so I am okay so far. I mostly find TA positions as it pays more than research positions.

1. I was selected to be a TA for a whole year-class (same students for 3 quarters) back in May 2017. 

2. I found out I am pregnant and due in March (2018) in July 2017

3. I immediately contacted the prof and offered to back out since he really wants someone to be there for the whole year. He made it very clear during the interview that his priority is his students and he doesn't care about TA's personal problems. He actually said and I quote " if you accept this offer, I own you for a year. If you decide to leave in between I will put it on your employment record that you went back on your contract". I obviously had no reason to suspect that I would be going back on my contract - I was thrilled to be employed for a year. 

4. When I offered to back out in July, the professor had almost 2 months to find another TA - but he said "do it as long as you can and stop when you go into that delivery room". He also said "I am glad you didnt say you cannot do it because that would have been really bad". 

5.  I said I can do 2 quarters but my baby is due at the end of second quarter, during finals week and I dont know if I will be able to help after that. He said he can get someone for the 3rd quarter but expects me to work 2 full quarters. 

6. My pregnancy has been without complications but I am genetically anemic and there is no solution. My iron and hemoglobin levels are extremely low (they should be around 12, mine are around 8). This makes me tired, exhausted and frustrated. Even the walk from class to parking lot seems like a uphill hike to me at times. 

7. I talked to the TA-union representative and he let me know that I am entitled to 6-week paid leave and 4 months unpaid leave - this means I can only work next January and then go on leave, without having to break my contract.

8. This will be a big blow to the professor. He is a pretty big-shot. He has bought in millions of $$ in grants and has won awards. He is on several committees as well. I am almost certain that he will hate me for taking leave at the end of January and not working until 2nd week of March. But I am really not enjoying teaching - I am exhausted.

9. I am torn. What should I do? Should I just carry on until I can? How should I tell the professor? There are other 3 TAs and they will not like me handing them over my share of grading and responsibilities in next quarter - they are all very busy as well. 

Thanks for reading my long post. I will really appreciate your responses.

 

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I am mostly concerned that he will give me a really bad employment review that will hinder my ability to find TA-ships on campus after that. I want to advocate for myself but also want to make sure my advocacy does not annoy the professor. 

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So, some good news and some bad news. 

The good news is that you're not asking for pregnancy leave, you're telling. He doesn't get to say no, and if he tries to penalize you for taking it professionally, there are administrative and legal means to make him stop. If he's not someone you need to sign off on your dissertation, etc., then he isn't really a roadblock to your completion.

The bad news is that, if you're looking for a career in academia and this professor is in your field, he can almost certainly end that (or make it incredibly difficult) regardless of the above, and from your description, he sounds like the kind of asshole who would. 

So: if the professor is in a tangential or unrelated field, fuck it, burn the bridge. If he's someone who needs to at least not actively hate you, I would talk to your adviser or mentor, someone who knows him and how he likes to play ball, and see what they have to say.

In the future, I would suggest not signing any contract with anyone who uses the phrase "I own you".

Edited by telkanuru

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1 hour ago, HermoineG said:

9. I am torn. What should I do? Should I just carry on until I can? How should I tell the professor? There are other 3 TAs and they will not like me handing them over my share of grading and responsibilities in next quarter - they are all very busy as well. 

Thanks for reading my long post. I will really appreciate your responses.

I am so sorry to hear your situation. Not every pregnant woman can work till delivery, so it is uncaring and discriminating of him to think you "belong to" him and make you teach classes when you don't feel well. Some adjustments need to be made given your circumstances. Are there any equity offices in your school? There should be one in most universities. If not, how about you raise it to the graduate research school with supporting documents of your pregnancy? Your welfare should be better taken care of. I don't know how it works at your institute, but my uni offers maternity leave for up to 6 months, and scholarship to any PhD students who fall pregnant during their studies. I have not seen any PhD students got pregnant in my department though, but these policies are in place to ensure good welfare. Your health is the priority and you should not compromise with him if you cannot. 

Have you spoken to your doctor about your anemia? Iron supplement can be helpful for your case. Being anemic is just not good for your baby! 

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I think this would fall under Title IX. I would reach out to any relevant departments (my undergrad had an active women's center) and ask for advice about how to proceed. Doing so means that your actions will be somewhere in writing. 

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It most definitely falls under Title IX in the USA. This is 100% something where you should consult with a number of offices on campus: women's center; human resources; ombudsmen; and equity/inclusion are the first offices which come to mind for me. I'm sorry you're in such an awful situation.

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Congratulations! I second what everyone else said: This is not up to the shitty professor and in many countries, you do have protections (Title IX in USA, similar policies in many other places).

I think @telkanuru summed it up best: If this prof is someone you need on your good side for research purposes, then you would need to be a little more careful. Otherwise, it really doesn't matter too much if he's a superstar $$$ grant winner or not. If he's not related to your research field and your relationship with him goes bad, just make sure you have a faculty member on your side (e.g. your advisor?) to ensure this person doesn't end up with some major decision making power over you (i.e. do not have him on your thesis committee or any other exam committee).

I'm glad to hear that you have a union and you already talked to your union rep. Keep working with your union to ensure that you get all the paid leave you are entitled to. Then, work with campus offices as @rising_star suggested in order to help manage your relationship with this prof.

If your union was like mine, then you should have the right to view employment records after this year. You should do so after you are finished with this contract. If the prof wrote something unfair in it, you should work with your union to dispute it and potentially have it removed.

In the USA and Canada (and many other countries too but these are the ones I am familiar with), it is illegal to discriminate against a woman due to pregnancy and the employer is obligated by law to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant woman workers. Even right now, if you are tired due to anemia, you should be able to request some accomodations. Work with the on-campus resources to find out what's possible. I am not sure what your current duties are, or if there are other issues than the walk you mention. But to address the long walk, perhaps you can get a parking pass for a parking location closer to your workplace or be excused from attending some things in person (i.e. do more grading at your home/office instead).

It's nice to think about the other three TAs but it's not really your problem to worry about them. If the department is doing the right thing, they will hire another TA to take your place when you go on leave. Otherwise, it's the department's fault that the TAs are over-worked, not yours. In fact, the union that is helping you get the leave should also help to ensure that the other 3 TAs are **not penalized with more work when you leave**. At my last TA-unionized position, our hours of work are all in the contract and the employer cannot increase our duties without paying us more hours. So the dept would have to either hire someone else to work your hours or pay overtime to the TAs (depending on the contract, the TAs might be able to decline it or they might not, but they need to be compensated for the additional work). In any case, this is not your problem but after you have your leave and everything settled, you might want to let the other 3 TAs know to not stand for being given extra work.

Finally, when you talk to the professor, you should let them know how you feel. Be honest about what you need and don't feel pressured into saying "yes" to something you are not comfortable with. As @telkanuru said, you are informing the prof that you are exercising your right to maternity leave as per <whatever contract/collective agreement terms>, you are not asking permission (unless the contract requires permission). At my last TA-unionized workplace, you are allowed to have a union rep with you during these discussions. They will have your back and they will be there to help you in whatever way that works for you. For example, they might be able to step in and say, "sorry prof X, you cannot make that request of student because that would violate Section N.N of our collective agreement". That way, the union rep is the one going up against the prof, not you. When I was the dept union rep for the last school, every time I had to do this, I was acting in my position as union rep, which puts me on the same level as the prof. I did not feel the need to be deferential since as far as the union is concerned, the prof has the same power whether they bring in $0 of grants or millions. I always worked with professionalism and aimed for mutual respect, even though I got called some pretty bad names from some profs on some issues.

If you do want to bring in a union rep, make sure you talk to your union first so that you're all on the same page with what you need. Then when you request a meeting with the prof, you should inform him that you wish to have a union representative with you so that you can ensure it's scheduled at a time where your rep can be present. The prof probably also has the right to bring in their own rep and they might do that to intimidate you further but in the end, the law and the contract is likely on your side.

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17 hours ago, telkanuru said:

So: if the professor is in a tangential or unrelated field, fuck it, burn the bridge. If he's someone who needs to at least not actively hate you, I would talk to your adviser or mentor, someone who knows him and how he likes to play ball, and see what they have to say.

Yes, the professor is in tangential field and he cannot affect my career unless he decides to give me a bad rep if at all any of my future employers contact him. But I also have people who can give me glowing reviews.

 

17 hours ago, telkanuru said:

I would suggest not signing any contract with anyone who uses the phrase "I own you".

Completely agree. 

 

17 hours ago, Hope.for.the.best said:

my uni offers maternity leave for up to 6 months, and scholarship to any PhD students who fall pregnant during their studies

That is really progressive. 

 

17 hours ago, Hope.for.the.best said:

Have you spoken to your doctor about your anemia?

Yes, I am working with two different doctors on this issue. They think the problem will persist during pregnancy but wont be an issue after that.

 

 

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6 hours ago, TakeruK said:

If your union was like mine, then you should have the right to view employment records after this year. You should do so after you are finished with this contract. If the prof wrote something unfair in it, you should work with your union to dispute it and potentially have it removed.

Yes, we discussed this possibility. And he said there is a risk that he will call you a bad TA (unrelated to pregnancy leave) but if we have students reviews and other faculty reviews, we should be able to fight it. I hope it doesnt come to that. 

 

6 hours ago, TakeruK said:

That way, the union rep is the one going up against the prof, not you. When I was the dept union rep for the last school, every time I had to do this, I was acting in my position as union rep, which puts me on the same level as the prof. I did not feel the need to be deferential since as far as the union is concerned, the prof has the same power whether they bring in $0 of grants or millions. I always worked with professionalism and aimed for mutual respect, even though I got called some pretty bad names from some profs on some issues.

Yes, my union rep offered to accompany me. But I declined. I will talk to the professor and this time I wont be pressured to commit to something I cannot physically do. Thank you so much for some really good points. You sound a lot like the union rep I met with about this issue. I am so glad that I met the union rep because I wasn't aware of my options and I thought I would be breaking the contract. 

@ everyone - thank you so much for your thoughtful responses. It is very helpful to know that I am not totally in the wrong. I tend to please my professors (guilty of that) and this seems like a pretty big deal to me.  I have been thinking about this issue for past couple of weeks and finally decided to act on it and have a meeting with my TA rep. I will meet this professor this week and update you all about what happens. I hope he does not make it difficult for me. But even if he does, I am not going to be able to help it. 

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19 hours ago, HermoineG said:

Hi all,

3. I immediately contacted the prof and offered to back out since he really wants someone to be there for the whole year. He made it very clear during the interview that his priority is his students and he doesn't care about TA's personal problems. He actually said and I quote " if you accept this offer, I own you for a year. If you decide to leave in between I will put it on your employment record that you went back on your contract". I obviously had no reason to suspect that I would be going back on my contract - I was thrilled to be employed for a year. 

4. When I offered to back out in July, the professor had almost 2 months to find another TA - but he said "do it as long as you can and stop when you go into that delivery room". He also said "I am glad you didnt say you cannot do it because that would have been really bad". 

5.  I said I can do 2 quarters but my baby is due at the end of second quarter, during finals week and I dont know if I will be able to help after that. He said he can get someone for the 3rd quarter but expects me to work 2 full quarters. 

8. This will be a big blow to the professor. He is a pretty big-shot. He has bought in millions of $$ in grants and has won awards. He is on several committees as well. I am almost certain that he will hate me for taking leave at the end of January and not working until 2nd week of March. But I am really not enjoying teaching - I am exhausted.

9. I am torn. What should I do? Should I just carry on until I can? How should I tell the professor? There are other 3 TAs and they will not like me handing them over my share of grading and responsibilities in next quarter - they are all very busy as well. 

Thanks for reading my long post. I will really appreciate your responses.

 

I am sorry that you're in this difficult situation.

My recommendation differs slightly in that I recommend you consider going higher up the food chain as soon as possible. Develop a solution that gets you what you want now and preempts the professor's ability to retaliate. I would look at the university's policies regarding sexual harassment and work place harassment.

After you've found this arrow, put it in your quiver and think long and hard about the circumstances in which you'd use it. Among the many considerations (including the interconnected boxes of departmental and graduate school politics*) I recommend that you prioritize your heath and your baby's health. I urge you to keep a clear head: understand which actions need to be taken immediately, soon, and sooner than later, and which ones can be taken later.

IRT point #8, this will not be a big blow to him. The "worst" case scenario is that he does his  job and takes your students himself and misses a social event or two. It is as likely that he'll splits up your students among the other T.A.'s and say nothing positive when they grouse about you.

IRT point #9, it's good that you're torn. It means that you're not a jerk. You've done nothing wrong. It speaks to your character that you're concerned about how the impending birth of your child may impact your colleagues. I recommend that you acknowledge your feelings but not to the point where they impinge upon your ability to do what is the best for you. If you're colleagues are equally decent, they'll find a way to get the work done.

 

_________________________________

* The professor's conduct is inappropriate. And his conduct may reflect a widespread anger within the department and graduate school towards T.A.s who've backed out of contracts during an academic turn. It is possible that The Powers That Be may willing to sacrifice your interests to make a point. Such things can happen, even if a T.A. is technically correct. (Or so I have heard.)

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On 11/6/2017 at 5:39 PM, Sigaba said:

My recommendation differs slightly in that I recommend you consider going higher up the food chain as soon as possible. Develop a solution that gets you what you want now and preempts the professor's ability to retaliate.

 

On 11/6/2017 at 5:39 PM, Sigaba said:

IRT point #8, this will not be a big blow to him. The "worst" case scenario is that he does his  job and takes your students himself and misses a social event or two.

Thank you for these points! I did exactly this. I did go higher up and got myself informed as much as possible. 

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Hi everyone,

Really really appreciate you all taking time and giving me suggestions. Here is an update:

1. I met with the professor - the meeting did not go well obviously. He wasn't angry but visibly upset. I started with - I cannot work all next quarter.. I want to work until January end, because my health.. and then I started telling him my health issues. He did not let me finish my thought. He just cut me off and said "yeah okay, I understand. But what do I do now? What do I do with your students?" I had no response to that. He basically emphasized that this is a big inconvenience to him but he 'understands and will work with me to make sure my health is not compromised'. I said I want to work until January end and then start my 6 week paid leave so that I get paid for the quarter. He said 'it's not going to be possible. And no'. He asked me to stop working after this quarter and not teach at all in January.  He ended things on semi-positive note "you can apply again next year if you are not planning to get pregnant again". I don't know if he was kidding or being mean! 

2. I met with the university's teaching program coordinator. She was extremely helpful and understanding. She let me know my rights again. I told her about my conversation with the professor. She said you should not go on leave to make things easier for the professor and the class. Start your leave when you want to start. Do not go on a guilt-trip. She basically told me to tell the professor - no, but I am going to continue working until Jan end and not quitting like you suggested. She said "what to do once you go on leave is our problems. It is not your problem and you should not get financially penalized for being pregnant." She will let the professor know about what we talked during the meeting and she said she will send him an email telling him that the student will need to decide her leave schedule. The dept will have to worry about the administrative things. She said "prof might not know about this. Men generally dont know". okayyy... 

So now I have about a month to decide whether I want to do what I initially planned - work until January. I am legally allowed to. I have rights, thanks to my amazing TA union. But professor won't like it one bit. So there could be some hostility there. But I am going to think it through and decide what's best - financially, physically and for my mental health. I of course want to earn as much as I can. But at least I have about a month to decide. 

If I have learned anything at all from this experience - know your rights. Talk to people by reaching out. I would have never known about my options if I would not have reached out to the TA union. And if I would have just met with the professor - I would not even have received paid leave. Because that's what he had told me "I cannot pay you since you wont be working". I am just glad I have at least 2 people by my side if professor decides that he doesn't like me anymore because I am too much of a hassle. I understand - I could be a hassle for him, but I really cannot help it. Also, it is easy to advocate for others, but it is tough to advocate for yourself. 

Anyways, thanks everyone again! Really appreciate your time.

Edited by HermoineG

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It's always nice to hear updates. Sorry that the prof is trying to make it more difficult for you. But I am glad that ultimately, you will be able to choose what's best for you. The prof might not like it but with comments like, "if you're not planning to get pregnant again", I don't see much reason to be on their "good side" and even if you do what they ask, they will probably still be upset at you. 

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I am sorry your professor is being like that. I am not a PhD student, but does your school have an Ethics board? The professor is borderline breaking Code of Ethics (at least he would be at my university). And men never truly understand but that is their loss if they cannot understand pregnancy. Ultimately, make the best decision for you! Good luck! 

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8 minutes ago, TakeruK said:

... comments like, "if you're not planning to get pregnant again"

...may constitute harassment under your school's policies, if not also law.

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2 minutes ago, Sigaba said:

...may constitute harassment under your school's policies, if not also law.

Definitely. In fact, at my PhD school, some faculty members said something to this effect during a student recruitment weekend (not in my dept though). It was reported to the Title IX office and action was taken to remedy the situation (action proportionate to the deeds, so it's not like anyone lost their job or anything of course). I had thought about mentioning it in my original post but the OP should not feel like they need to be the one to report it and potentially make their life/relationship with this prof even more problematic. So I left it out. But what he said was certainly wrong.

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