We asked dads in STEM: how to you manage parenthood and a career?

Publication date
Friday, 30 Aug 2019

If you’re a woman, and you take care of a child and have a job, then you’ve heard this question before:

‘How do you juggle being a mother with your work?’

When asked, you would be correct to respond: ‘Do you ask men the same question?’

Because how often are fathers asked to justify having both a family AND a career?

So in the interest of gender equality, I decided to talk to a couple of new dads at The Australian National University about their experiences navigating parenthood and a career.

Dr Anand Deopurkar is a researcher at the Mathematical Sciences Institute. As he talks about his one-month-old daughter, he smiles widely. 

“The only thing I want to do is hold her and just be with her,” he beams. “For as long as I can.”

Dr Anand Deopurkar and Dr Asilata Bapat with their daughter.

He is looking forward to spending more time with her when he takes paid partner parental leave at the beginning of next year.

The ANU Paid Partner Parental Leave scheme introduced in 2018, aims to increase flexibility for both parents while also addressing gender inequality.

“Without paid parental leave, the mum becomes the primary person who’s there to take care of the children, and the dad is only there when he gets the time,” says Dr Deopurkar.

“I want my daughter to know that both men and women should take responsibility for raising children.”

When it comes time to ask Dr Deopurkar about how his work has been affected by fatherhood, I feel awkward even asking. I’m sure I wouldn’t feel this way if I was asking a woman, highlighting just how powerful gender stereotypes can be.

Eventually I work up the courage to say: Has your approach to work changed now that you are a parent?

“I was able to work flexibly for the first three weeks after my daughter was born,” he answers. “I just had to be at work to present my lectures and could spend the rest of the time at home.”

Dr Deopurkar’s wife Dr Asilata Bapat is also a lecturer at the Mathematical Sciences Institute.

“We are working on a project to understand the connection between topology, which is a branch of mathematics that deals with curves and surfaces; and algebra which involves symmetries and equations,” he says.

“It’s important for us to be flexible and for the research team to schedule meetings around my wife, who is still currently on leave.”

He says that taking paid parental leave will make it easier for Dr Bapat to return to work.

“The fact that I’m going to be home, and she can focus full time on her work, is a big relief for her.”

In my quest to understand more about the paid partner parental leave scheme, I also asked Dr Onoriode Coast from the ANU Research School of Biology about managing parenthood and a career.

“Starting a family has been a really big change for me,” he says. 

Dr Coast is a Crop Physiologist, investigating how cereals, like rice and wheat, respond to temperature stress.

“We are trying to develop crops that are more adaptable to global warming.”

He has a 19-month-old son, and says that taking the paid parental leave offered at ANU helped his family adjust to life with a baby.

“I really enjoyed spending time with my son while he was very little,” he says.

“Most importantly, it gave my partner an opportunity to go back to work.”

Talking with Dr Coast, it is clear that paid partner parental leave has played a significant role in helping him bond with his son.

And yes, as a parent, he does have to juggle work with his responsibilities at home.

“I used to be able to stay late at work if I had to. But now I have to leave at a strict time because day care closes at 6pm.

“It has changed the way I work, and I try and be more productive.”

The success of paid parental leave is a topic of much interest at the moment. Specifically around why fathers are not taking paid parental leave if offered.

“Taking a break for six months might impact your career. So there is a downside that you really need to consider,” says Dr Coast, explaining why a career break is problematic when you are establishing yourself as a scientist.

“But I say, take it, and worry about the consequences later.”

When men take leave to look after their children, they’re able to see for themselves some of the challenges that women face in managing both career and parenthood — and this is exactly why paid partner parental leave schemes are so important.

Hopefully, with more men like Dr Coast and Dr Deopurkar taking paid parental leave, it will move the conversation of parenting away from being a ‘woman’s issue’ to what it really is, a discussion about how we can value child care so all parents are supported.

Regardless of gender.

*This piece was originally posted on the ANU Science website.