Nursing Mothers on the Academic Job Market

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The October 22, 2014 edition of the Chronicle ran an “Advice” column, Breastfeeding on the Job Market, by a pseudonymous professor in the humanities.  The professor describes her experiences as a job candidate and bringing her nursing infant with her to an on-campus interview:

I let the chair know I would be bringing my daughter and someone to take care of her, whose ticket I would of course cover. I asked for nursing breaks in the two-day schedule of talks, interviews, lunches, and dinners. The chair obliged in a professional manner. The administrative assistant who drew up my schedule slotted in half-hour blocks of discreetly named “free time” and found me a suitable vacant office in which to feed my daughter. * * *

When I arrived on the campus, no one seemed to know I had brought my daughter. People expressed surprise about the extra breaks padding my interview schedule. At first, I appreciated that my personal circumstances had remained undisclosed, but it soon caused confusion and even resentment. One dean hadn’t been told that dinner would be later than usual and seemed irritated with me about it, as if I had delayed the dinner just to go relax and powder my nose rather than feed my child. * * *

I did not get the job.

I can’t say how much or whether the presence of my daughter, and reactions to the impression of a laid-back interview schedule, contributed to the variety of factors behind that decision.

In one of the comments to the Chron article, a reader suggested that the job-seeker’s mistake was not the bringing of her baby, but rather failure to disclose (or to permit disclosure — I’m unclear on what the applicant asked of the department chair) the reasons for the break in the applicant’s schedule.

At least at my own school, my sense is that faculty would be understanding of the need for breaks in the schedule of a nursing mother.  Any deviation from the standard interviewing format — regardless of the reason — tends to raise questions, though, so from my perspective, there’s nothing to be gained from keeping nursing a “secret.” Plus, nursing should never have to be a secret!

For those who were nursing while doing call-backs at law schools or folks who have experience on the hiring side with candidates who need to breastfeed their infants, are there any words of advice that one can offer?  Every school is different and every candidate is different, so it is difficult to generalize, but are there best practices?

-Bridget Crawford

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