New Policy Aids Doctoral Students With Leave for Birth or Adoption

GPSC president Alethea Duncan says the new policy reassures graduate students looking to balance work and family.

Graduate School officials are starting to receive the first applications for a new benefit that allows students pursuing doctoral degrees to take time off after the birth or adoption of a child.

The policy allows for Ph.D. students who are the primary caregiver to be relieved of full-time graduate studies and duties for up to seven weeks after the birth or adoption of a child. Non-primary care-giving parents may take a week off of work. Students who receive stipend support will continue to receive it during their parental leave period. (To read the policy, click here.)

"It's just the right thing to do. You have a group of students who come to do graduate work for five-plus years, and their lives change," said Jacqueline Looney, associate dean for graduate student affairs and associate vice provost for academic diversity. "Our major goal is to make sure these students have the kind of support they need to be successful."

Graduate School Dean Jo Rae Wright said the policy reflects the Graduate School's commitment to supporting graduate student parents and family life.

"We believe this new policy will make Duke more competitive with its peer institutions and will promote a healthy work-life balance for its students," Wright said.

Looney said the policy is in line with other ways Duke supports graduate students who also are parents. Duke offers childcare subsidies of up to $5,000 and hosts monthly speakers for a parenting support group. Another popular feature is a listserve for graduate school parents.

Alethea Duncan, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Council, said the policy shows students that they can achieve their academic and career goals and still have a family.

"A lot of people are thinking maybe I can do it now, instead of later," Duncan said. "Everyone is always wondering when they are going to have a family."

The policy wasn't in effect when Hisani Horne, a fifth-year pathology student, gave birth to her daughter, Ania, in July. But Horne was able to work out an agreement with her adviser that allowed her to take 10 weeks off to care for her baby.

The new policy will help students if their advisers aren't as accommodating as hers was, she said, adding that the new policy is a good recruiting tool.

"I think it probably is a good way to lure female students," Horne said. "I'm thinking about applying for a (postdoctoral fellowship) and I'm thinking about family-friendly postdocs, and so I think it would definitely lure students."