Navigating the Job Market in the First Trimester

Mieke Beth Thomeer gives tips for surviving long airplane flights, campus interviews and dinners with wine.

October 14, 2015

Three hours after I found out I was pregnant in the fall of 2013, I received a phone call inviting me to give my first job talk. I rushed to my adviser’s office to get her advice on navigating the job market, although I chose not to tell her about my pregnancy yet because of how early the pregnancy was. My adviser gave me wonderful advice on how to navigate the campus visit. As one piece of advice, she told me to feel free to have a glass of wine with dinner during the interview if everyone else was, as it was a social thing to do. I nodded, but internally started worrying about what the job market would be like when pregnant.

When I got back to my office, I immediately turned to the Internet, finding several blog posts about pregnancy and motherhood on the job market: being on the academic job market in your second trimester and trying to hide your bump with business clothes; being on the academic job market in your third trimester and not being able to hide being pregnant at all; finding out that you’re pregnant after accepting the job and needing to take the first semester off; and being on the academic job market while breastfeeding and needing accommodations for pumping. I had also heard stories from an academic mentor about successfully interviewing in her eighth month.

But I couldn’t find anything about interviewing in your first trimester. As this was my first pregnancy and I really didn’t know what to expect, I hoped that the lack of information just meant that there wasn’t anything I needed to know and that pregnancy wouldn’t make any difference in the interviewing process for me.

A few weeks later I found myself at dinner at my first campus interview. Until that point, my pregnancy had been easy. I wasn’t showing and had experienced very few symptoms. Based on my personal decision to only tell family about my pregnancy during my first trimester, as well as general advice I’d received about not divulging too much of my personal life in interviews (e.g., marital status, parental status), I chose not to tell the department about my pregnancy.

As an aside, there’s evidence that women with children are discriminated against in hiring, and partly based on this, I chose to not share my family status. This discrimination against mothers may be lessening, and it certainly varies from department to department. Consequently, advice seems to be shifting regarding how much to divulge about your personal life during an academic interview. But I didn’t feel the need to risk it; I decided to stick to talking about research, the department and Game of Thrones at dinner.

As timing would have it, two bites into that first dinner, a strong wave of nausea hit me, and I found that I couldn’t eat anything else. I sat through the many courses that characterize interview dinners, unable to eat anything on my plate, working hard to contribute to the conversation and hide how I was feeling. I ended up having a lot of nausea and exhaustion throughout the fall semester, and as I traveled for job interviews, this scene played out again and again at breakfast, lunch and dinner at different job interviews. After my first visit, my doctor prescribed antinausea medicines, which I began to take regularly, making my other interviews so much easier than my first.

I was due in June, so I wasn’t overly concerned with parental leave policies; my child would be two months old when I started a new position. But I appreciated the departments that were very forthcoming with their parental leave policies and told me directly what children do to the tenure clock and teaching schedule. The departments that openly discussed these things would preface this discussion by telling me that they told everyone these policies -- that way candidates who were planning to have children soon would not feel pressured to disclose this. This information tended to come up in my one-on-one meetings with women faculty who had recently had children themselves. I am very grateful to the professors who shared their experiences with me.

Motivated by my own frustration with not finding resources on the Internet to prepare me for my interviews, I have come up with some things I wish I had known or done during my job market experience during my first trimester:

  • Talk to your doctor before you travel to job interviews. Even if you don’t have any morning sickness yet, it still may make sense to get and fill a prescription to minimize nausea just in case it strikes.
  • Request to receive your campus interview schedule as early as possible, and if you find that many breaks aren’t scheduled, ask whether one or more are possible. Even if you don’t think you’ll need them, it is better to be safe. You likely do not need to give a reason, but if you do, you may just be able to say that there are medical reasons.
  • If you do struggle with morning sickness, ask for longer layovers for flights. I had one incredibly awful trip in which I was stuck on an airplane in the middle seat between two businessmen and feeling absolutely miserable. That experience would have been avoided with a longer layover. Relatedly, if you struggle with morning sickness, don’t assume the plane will have barf bags -- pack your own in a carry-on bag and try to get an aisle seat.
  • Pack snacks and a water bottle, as well as ginger chews, hard candies or peppermints. These are good on the plane, in between the never-ending meetings with faculty and after a long job talk.
  • Don’t plan to work on your job talk in the hotel room. Interviews and pregnancy are both exhausting, and you need to give your body and mind a break.
  • Be prepared with a response for when someone asks why you aren’t drinking or eating much (or eating a lot, if that’s how it goes for you). It is likely that no one will, but it is still wise to be prepared. I found it easy just to say that I preferred not to drink on interviews, and everyone was fine with that.
  • Go to the bathroom as often as you need. It’s okay to be a little late to your next appointment or to leave a little early; professors don’t compare how often you peed. (“Mieke went to the bathroom right after her interview with me.” “Me too! How weird?” is likely an exchange that never happened at any of my interviews.)
  • Do your research on parental leave policies. You may find this is easy to discuss discreetly with some faculty members, or you may find it makes more sense to call the human resources department. But it is better to find out now than when you show up at the job.
  • Even if you’re not telling many people about your pregnancy during your first trimester, have someone close to you with whom you can talk about the stress of juggling pregnancy and job interviews. This is probably especially important if you find pregnancy brings a lot of mood swings for you. It’s better to talk it out than internalize it and let it stress you out.

I realize everyone’s experiences will vary wildly, depending on the timing of your pregnancy and what your symptoms are like. Some people will have a much easier experience than me, and others will have a much more difficult one. Regardless, it can be tricky to navigate the worries and excitements of the first trimester and the job market at the same time.

I was fortunate to survive both. After the whirlwind of the job search, I accepted a position at a very supportive university and department and let them know about my pregnancy when I showed up eight months pregnant for a housing search in the spring.


Mieke Beth Thomeer is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. This article has been adapted with permission from a recent guest post on the blog Conditionally Accepted.


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