Campus Visit While Breastfeeding (A Guest Post)

I just accepted my dream academic position at a research-intensive university, with only two years before I can go up for tenure (they’re counting my whole publication record, including articles published while at my first T-T position). I’m absolutely thrilled.

This job offer is especially satisfying, because I had to juggle the packed two-day campus interview with my exclusively-breastfed infant in tow, who refuses to drink from a bottle. If you’re in a similar position, here’s some notes about my experience, and tips you might find useful:

  • I talked with the admin assistant on the phone to ask her to arrange my schedule with 40-minute breaks every 4 hours, and a private place to nurse. With an unusual request like this one, it was a lot more comfortable to ask on the phone than by email, and I expect she was more receptive to the request when made by a “real person”.
  • Don’t short-change your feeding times. My baby can reliably feed in 15 minutes by this point, but schedules often run late, and I figured I could probably use an extra few minutes to compose myself, even if everything was running on time. This was VERY true. I was EXHAUSTED by the end of this campus interview, even though I usually feel energized by interviews and conferences.
  • The school paid for my husband to fly out with me, to check out the city. We then rented a car, and my husband had a copy of my schedule with nursing spots and times. I don’t think it could have been done without his help.
  • Given my extra time constraints I should have followed Dr. Karen’s advice to stash some energy bars in my laptop bag. The last time I was on the market (This will be my second tenure-track position), I had more than enough time to eat. This time, I was HUNGRY THE WHOLE TIME (blame the eating-for-two), and never had time to finish a meal. Bring snacks, a small water bottle, and have a mini-pack of wipes on hand, in case of spit-up on your interview clothes.
  • You may want to consider asking the admin person to cancel any non-essential campus visit activities. For example, they had a real estate agent take me on a real estate tour, and a student took me on a campus tour. Neither of these activities would influence whether or not I would accept the position, and I should have respectfully declined. I was so tired by then, that I really could have used a nap instead. In fact, the real estate agent cut our tour short because she could see I was falling asleep in the car. Especially if you’re traveling with a baby who isn’t sleeping through the night, and who is thrown off by the time change (ours was 3 hours different from home), you’ll need the rest more than you’ll need a city or campus tour. Prioritize the essentials – meetings with faculty and administrators.
  • Don’t make a big deal of your unique circumstances to the faculty members you meet. The admin person will be your best friend, and he/she should be the only person you speak with at length about nursing. Otherwise, you are an academic, and that is the only identity you should be presenting. I didn’t hide the fact that I was there with my husband and baby, and I get the impression that many of the faculty members knew they’d come with me, but I also didn’t emphasize it. Even when my husband and baby were explicitly invited to the social events – dinner / drinks / breakfast at the hotel – they didn’t come. It’s too hard to present yourself as a professional when you have a baby clutching at your boobs, or crying. It wouldn’t have been worth it to have them join.
  • As a counter to the above point, think of this experience as a small window into how family-friendly the potential new faculty will be. How accommodating are they about your nursing needs? How do the faculty members react when they hear you’re there with an infant? Some faculty members on my campus visit met the baby if they happened to pass me in the hallway on my way to/from nursing, and they were universally doting on the baby. They also explicitly invited my husband and baby to some of the social events, and one person even offered to change the restaurant from a swanky one to a more family-friendly one if we preferred, which was unexpected. (as already mentioned, we declined and I got a swanky baby-free dinner while my husband got a CRANKY baby and room service at the hotel)
  • Funny story: They gave me someone’s ground floor office for nursing. One nursing session was in between my teaching demo and job talk, so I was in a rush. As soon as I got in the office, I threw off my blouse and blazer (can’t risk getting spitup on them), started nursing … and then noticed the open blinds with students doing a double-take as they passed. My husband kindly closed the blinds before a committee member passed! Perils of flashing your interviewers!

In sum, it can be done, but it takes a team and preparation. Good luck!


Comments

Campus Visit While Breastfeeding (A Guest Post) — 11 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this! As we speak, I am preparing for a campus visit with a (non-bottle taking) baby and partner in tow. Following the advice above, I just called the secretary to schedule in nursing sessions. (I had mentioned it to the search chair but had not heard back). Thank goodness I did, as she was just releasing a preliminary schedule to faculty for sign ups, and otherwise my husband would have had one very hungry, cranky baby on his hands.

  2. This is very useful, thanks, I will be going on at least one campus visit with a newborn next month and had no idea how I was going to manage everything. Is it normal for a spouse’s ticket to be paid for as well, how does one approach the issue of getting one’s spouse’s ticket paid for? thanks!

  3. my own humorous experience. I had a campus visit for a VAP a year ago. Because it was a leave fill the interview/visit was going to be about 1/2-3/4 of a day and somewhat less formal than a TT visit. My host (and the only person I spoke with beforehand) was a 60ish single (maybe never married) man. My baby was 3 months old. Since he said we’d be done around 3 I (anxiously) emailed him and said I was nursing and would need about 20 mins and a private place around lunchtime to pump. I knew once would be enough. He responded, somewhat cryptically at the time, “The interview with the committee will be over around 1130, but if your baby is hungry before hand, one of the women can escort you to the ladies room.” I went to the interview, dragging my briefcase and pump bag. Following the interview which ended around 1130, said male host was going to walk me around campus a little and we would have lunch together. After we left the seminar room, he looked at me and said, “I see you didn’t bring your baby, so you’re okay?” Since i figured I’d be leaving shortly, I said, “yeah, no problem.” He had NO clue!

  4. This could have almost been written by me! I had an exclusively breast fed (but occasionally took a bottle) 5 month old during my recent campus visit. The major diff is that I was not at a research intensive school and my husband could not fly out with me (I did request that the admin allow me a few extra days at the end of the visit so he could come after my interview was up). I pumped 2 times (ouch, engorgement) during my 13 hour day (but I did get a break to go back to the hotel before dinner, so that was only 10 hours away, to feed my son). My friend took care of my baby (so saintly and patient) during my interview. I also did not hide nor advertise the fact my child was there, although during casual conversation I did bring up my son to ask questions about childcare/raising children in the city.
    The prof in charge of my visit was so sweet, as she let me pump in her office and keep that heavy thing in there during the bulk of the visit (thank goodness, as tottering around on 2.5 inch heels isn’t easy) and I only got one tiny milk stain on my suit. In retrospect, it’s kind of crazy that I was able to manage it, but I’m pleased that it all worked out. (I got the offer and am now in negotiating stages). While I know it’s hard to be working mom these days, so many of the working moms before us did a lot to make the workplace more friendly to us today. Kudos!

  5. I wish I had read this before I arranged my on-campus job interview today! I have been so paranoid about employers even knowing I have a child, let alone an exclusively breast-fed child because of comments by friends and family that I may not be taken seriously by employers. The university requested that I come for the visit very soon–only a week’s notice and I won’t be able to pump enough for day care this week and the visit so I’ll be taking my 6-month-old and leaving him with family near the university. I’ve only been in touch with the search chair, not the administrative assistant. Should I request to speak with her/him or talk about my breast pumping/feeding needs with the search chair?

  6. Like GH says, I’m afraid to say that I decided not to mention my breastfeeding baby at a recent interview, certainly not to the department, but for different reasons. I was concerned that my having a young baby may have impacted on the decision to hire. I know it shouldn’t, but the role included 6 months of participant observation and I did think they might feel it was impractical, or at least not expect someone with complicated family responsibilities (I didn’t get it anyway, came a close 2nd to an internal who had to be hired by law!). I don’t plan to disclose my family situation in any job interview situation in the near future. Perhaps it’s just because I am looking for post-docs of limited duration but don’t other women in the baby-making phase feel that this would be viewed negatively by employers who are not up for covering your maternity leave?

  7. I have a one year old and was recently on two campus visits. I didn’t get one position; am still waiting to hear about the other. Currently I am in a TT job elsewhere so this would be my second TT job. In the first visit I was upfront about my son; in the second one I didn’t mention him. I pumped for both visits. I did not even think to ask about accommodation for a baby and another caregiver.

    Why? Most literature on working mothers indicates that employers STILL don’t take working moms as seriously as women without kids. There is STILL an expectation that working moms do most of the domestic labour and hence prioritize their kids over their jobs (google “motherhood wall” for excellent research on this). My own experience in academia reveals this to be true. Especially if you are interviewing in a conservative department such as economics or philosophy, if you are too forthcoming about your children, you might face invisible discrimination as a result.

  8. PS, for evidence of my above observation that discrimination exists against working moms in academia, here are 2 anecdotes:
    1. a president of a national association told me that she would wait to nominate me for a prestigious position until after my child was “out of diapers.”
    2. a senior colleague told me he had forgotten about a major contribution I had made because he had become accustomed to thinking of me as a mother, not a scholar.

  9. Pingback: Conditionally Accepted | Dr. Mieke Beth Thomeer Reflects On Pregnancy On The Job Market

  10. I just had a 13 hour campus visit with my 9 week old nursing infant. Like so many on here, I was incredibly hesitant to mention it to the search committee for fear of looking primarily like a mother, rather than a scholar. I wrote to my former adviser, who happened to know the chair of the department and told her my situation. As luck would have it, the chair was very receptive and arranged 2 separate 30-minute breaks throughout the day (one of which was in her office right before the the talk). In all honesty, trying to strategize around feeding the baby was more stressful than actually pumping during the visit.

    Like others who have shared their experiences, this was possible because my husband came along and stayed with the baby in the hotel room while I pumped and did my thing since it was not possible for me to stockpile enough milk at home by the time of the interview (had about 4 days notice and a hungry baby).

    One thing I will say is that this seemed to be a very family-friendly department. Because of that, I felt I had to work against having much of the conversation lean toward kid-related activities/topics. Everyone was being very generous, but I did feel that made it necessary for me to do the work of keeping my scholarship at the forefront of our interactions.

    Lastly, the need for small snacks cannot be overstated. I had a few snack bars stashed in my tote bag/pump which saved me several times throughout the day. My “lunch” was a lunch meeting with students in the cafeteria–from which I got an awful stomach bug. Bring snacks!

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