Maternity leave ... academic Annette Dowd and her son, Aidan.

Maternity leave ... academic Annette Dowd and her son, Aidan. Photo: Marco Del Grande

Annette Dowd took seven months' leave after the birth of her son, Aidan, in June 2010. The experience was full of positives for her family, said the 36-year-old research physicist from Enmore. A generous maternity leave package from her employer gave her the financial freedom to take the time she needed, and she took advantage of the opportunity for a phased return, working part-time since January.

''[Aidan] was a bit of a handful, so I was really pleased that I was able to spend all that time with him,'' Dr Dowd said.

Working in the higher education sector, where a lot of funding is awarded annually, has presented some challenges. Dr Dowd said it was not practical to apply for research grants or take on sole supervision of research students in 2010 and 2011, which has reduced her research output.

''When you take extended leave for any reason, it can be harder to find people to collaborate with,'' she said.

Dr Dowd said research output is a key part of gaining promotions in academia. ''If I cannot get promotion, then my salary is pretty much fixed,'' she said.

''The scientific world is so competitive that even the slightest hint of a disadvantage rules you out of the race,'' she said.

But Dr Dowd said the temporary setback is surmountable in the scheme of her career.

''The environment is supportive enough that I will get back on track soon,'' she said.

Aaron Cook