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Graduate School with A Baby
I would so very much appreciate advice/perspectives on finishing my neuroscience PhD with a baby. I'm a 6th-year student, officially at Boston University but doing my research in my partner's lab (he unexpectedly was offered a job on this coast). For various reasons -- incl. moving across the country just as my experiments started working -- and despite doing my very best to finish running experiments before my baby was born, I find myself with a darling 6-month-old, 1 1/2 hours commuting each day, and 2-12 months of experimental work left. 2 months if all goes well and I am satisfied with completing my thesis but not publishing; closer to a year for good controls and really excellent work.
My darling child is so rewarding and sweet, and I know this time flies by, and while I spend a full 2 days a week with him as well as some time in mornings and evenings I am exhausted and also trying to get all the house-things done. My partner does his full share, incl. 2 days/week caring for our son (grandma has the other 3 days) but I am ''pickier'' about the clean-ness of the house, having nutritious meals, etc. The graduate work has been extremely difficult, my philosophy being that high risk = high reward, and I am correspondingly depressed about it given so many failures and the possibility that I might not have anything at all to show for my work if the experiments fail (too late to switch to something easier). I'm not at all convinced I want a job in academia, but I love science and hate to quit the PhD. I'd love to be around more for my son, to not be such a weepy mess, to be a more present partner, and to have time for other things ... including reading journal articles in my field! I sometimes think I'd learn more science if I left my PhD. If I could work from home most of the time that would be lovely, but I simply can't. I don't want to be full of regrets down the road. help? overwhelmed
And now here's my personal advice. Leave it and go back if you want to. This is your BABY. In my field (high tech), a PhD is actually a liability because it indicates the opposite of a goal-oriented high-achieving type (amusingly enough.) In high tech, people used to think that if you have a PhD, you like to go long and deep into things and you're more suited to academia than for the multi-tasking, go for the gusto vibe of startup life.
I am 45. I started trying to have a child at 35 and am now in year 10 of infertility. Five and a half years ago I had a little boy and ... you BET I have enjoyed every single minute of life with him. This stuff doesn't come back. You can ALWAYS go back to school when he's in school.
One more thing: what is this 1.5 hours of commute time thing? That's flat-out insane. You shouldn't be that far away from where you're working when you're also trying to be there for your kid! Perhaps if you just ... stop, then when you start again,you'll be able to do it in circumstances that are better for you.
And there's one more thing. People in fields such as yours don't necessarily get *rewarded* for finishing their PhD, unless you're using the metric of a (IMHO overrated) academic job. IMHO you should take the time off. Stand tall. Hug your kid. Look at the sky and smile. You have plenty of time, but your kid only has one childhood. Namaste. You sound very accomplished but way too stressed!
Regarding your home life, I'd recommend dropping the cleaning and cooking for now. That will give you more time to spend with your kid and you'll have more energy. You can get pretty nutritious instant food at trader joes and establish a pickier cleaning routine when your kid is old enough to help.
If you want to stay in science there are a lot of things you can do with a Ph.D. If you don't finish your Ph.D. you could probably still work in science, though it would always be for somebody else as a technician. With a Ph.D you could be an editor, you could work in industry (there's a LOT of that in the bay area) or if you want, stay in academia. You are so close to finishing! You can email me if you want. Erica
If not, you can definitely make some changes to ease your life and still finish--ease up on your expectations of a clean house. Find an undergrad looking to get into grad school who can assist in the lab.
Best wishes with whatever you decide to do. Deborah
Good luck! Ari
I love my job. I have the perfect amount of responsibility. Because I have the PhD I get to design and lead research projects for my center. And now I publish all the time from my current work which I find more interesting anyway. I am building up my CV, and really I have the rest of my life to pursue an academic tenure track career when the kids are older. My friends who published a lot from their dissertations and are doing the academic tenure track thing now are WAY too busy to have kids. So don't worry, and don't quit. Just get it done however you have to. And as quickly as you can. Your PhD will really help you get back into the working world when you feel ready. And once you have your PhD, it is something that can never be taken away! happy PhD mom
I finished a Ph.D. in the humanities when my son was 8 months old; he was born about four years into my research and writing, so when I was really winding everything up to finish.
Here's my two cents: give up on the sparkling clean house. It's the least significant problem of all the things you mention. And when your child gets older it will get harder to be as neat as you might have earlier anyway. You might as well learn how to live with it!
Can you afford to compromise on meals? Buy organic frozen meals sometimes? Prepare food yourself but in bulk and/or for the freezer? Have a set of familiar nutritious recipes you turn to regularly?
Do you have a time limit on when to finish you degree? Can you talk to your committee about a realistic time frame -- with a big buffer zone? Do you have to commute every day (work from home?)
I can't speak to the frustration of a being a sciences Ph.D candidate and having to face the prospect of ''no result'' from your research because that's not usually how humanities research works. But if you really want to finish and just can't figure out how to, I'd encourage you to give it your best shot, all the while knowing that this is a short phase of your life, that you can finish if you work out a plan with your advisors (and family!) and that -- to be brutally honest -- the older your baby gets the harder it _will_ be to schedule dissertation time! Good luck! anon
Hang tough, get that degree, and raise your son to admire women with brains instead of pristine housekeeping. Chris
(And being able to take a break from both? Fuhgeddaboutit!) And it sounds like you are feeling a little guilt that you are somehow shortchanging your baby. Try to put that out of your mind. Your baby has 3 loving caregivers! My main piece of hopefully helpful advice, is that having committed to finishing the Ph.D. do some serious planning and scheduling for how you and your family will get through the next year (or whatever time frame you decide to shoot for.) Include times that you expect to be more stressful and who will pick up the slack. (And don't forget to cut yourself some slack while you're at it!) p.s. I did them separately, but I still look back at both finishing my degree and new motherhood as being all a blur. So don't think that other people somehow calmly and serenely sail through, capturing and appreciating each precious moment! --Good luck!
I'm a grad student in the humanities, currently writing a dissertation, with a new baby (first child). Having a baby has made me rethink my career choice mainly because I don't know if I'll be able to finish my degree. And by the time I did, I'd probably be ready to have a second child but would also be entering the job market. I'm stressed out by the difficulty all grad students feel starting their dissertation, but the internal pressure and the emotional ambivalence and questions about my future make it even harder to get to work. And I'd rather be with my baby than work all day anyway. I'd be interested in hearing perspectives, thoughts, and feelings from others who are or have been in a similar position, especially mothers in the humanities. Thanks. ABD
This wasn't the way I imagined starting my family, necessarily, but I'm not sure if it didn't work just as well as any other way. And there are many things about the experience--namely the flexibility to take several months off or partially off--that could only happen in an academic job or in grad school. I was lucky enough to have a partner that was working full time and could support me financially and emotionally during some of the rough stretches as well.
For me, it was pretty definite that I wanted to go back to teaching. I did/do miss spending all my time with my baby, but I also get a lot of rewards out of my research and teaching that I do not want to give up. It helped that I got a lot of external support and validation of my research, so I felt like my dissertation was a project that was valuable to others as well as to me. Considering the uncertain nature of the job market in the humanities, however, I think you need to have a gut sense that of the importance of your research work to your own self to get through a dissertation, with or without a baby. A baby just throws some of the questions into sharper relief. Proud to be Dr. Mama
Good luck to you! It is a hard road, but manageable. Just take time and stay focused on your goals. PhD and Mommy to 2!
Sometimes I go to cafes at night while the baby is sleeping. Progress is slow but steady. The nice thing is, I have real perspective on my project now, and don't get all caught up in the details. By the time I am done, my son will probably be ready for preschool, and I might be able to teach part-time, or start looking for a new career. I'm certainly disenchanted with academia now that I see how incompatible it is with having kids. Sympathies and good luck, ekc
I have obviously been trying to say too much, b/c BPN tells me my post is too long! So feel free to email me if you have any more questions.
In a nutshell--
I set a rough and realistic deadline to finish. I repeatedly told my advisor and committee when I would finish. I think when your committee somehow imagines you finishing at a certain point they take you seriously and read your chapters and get back to you with comments in good time. I worked (sometimes only 15 min) on the diss EVERY day while my baby was napping.
Writing gets harder as the baby gets older, so don't be too hard on yourself if you're you're struggling to balance playtime with work time. Be realistic and don't beat yourself up if you have a bad day. Just squeeze in 10 min before bed, even proofreading footnotes.
If you know don't want to finish, withdraw right now. Having something you're not going to continue with hanging over your head is too much unnecessary stress when you've got a kid to take care of. Or, talk to your committee about withdrawing or about an extension.
I hope this is helpful. Be kind to yourself and enjoy your baby while you can. They grow up fast, believe me!
Good luck with whatever you decide! brigid
I had my first child while writing my dissertation (humanities) and honestly didn't really return to much active work until about nine months later. By then I was ready to have the intellectual outlet of a couple hours of writing a day and was able to hire college sitters for 10-15 hours a week. I am now a year out and just had a second baby. I'm home with this one, working on my book manuscript and job apps during naps, and I'll probably hire sitters again.
My flexibility is made possible by my husband's job. Our older child is in daycare 6 hours a day, and the baby is with me, so I'm a strange hybrid: both a working mom and a stay at home mom. I am extremely grateful to have had time with my babies but also then time to pursue my career. I have no idea whether I will end up successfully getting an academic job, and we'll obviously be reconsidering our situation over the next few years (and job application cycles). Perhaps I'll decide that an academic job isn't for me, but I personally won't regret my Ph.D. Ph.D. Mom
Since I've spent several years in my program, I feel that I'll be better off in the long run if I write the dissertation and get my Ph.D., no matter what I decide to do with it...even if I work on it part-time so I can still have ample time with my baby. But right now I'm OK with the idea of trying to put my baby in day care 4 hours a day starting around 4 months, and trying to focus on getting some writing in then, for I think I'll still have plenty of time with the baby...and I've accepted the fact that it will take me a bit longer to finish than other childless grad students. I have also stopped trying to project ahead too much, for I also might be wanting a second child around the time I'd be going on the job market or starting a new job...I've just decided that I will write the diss and finish, and then take it from there and decide what to do.
I empathize with your situation, but your decision to forge ahead
with the diss or not is a very personal one. I know I would be
upset with myself later in life if I did not get my Ph.D. and
write about what I learned during my research. So my advice is to
go with your gut and be honest with yourself about how much you
care about finishing your program.
Also a new mom and grad student
Hi, It was always clear to me that I wanted to stay home with my kids for the first few years, to give them a strong and healthy foundation. So since my daughter was born last year, I have been staying home - and I LOVED it. I have never had as much fun in my life and I can see that my daughter is very happy too.
This fall, I am going to Graduate School (Masters in International Studies) and I am scared and confused. Part of me is so incredibly sad to no longer spend much time with my baby. In fact, I am so upset about it that I almost don't want to go to school. But on the other hand, I have worked very hard over the past few years to get accepted at those schools. How could I throw this away? Sure, I can always go back to school later, but not to these schools. And wouldn't it be harder once I have two kids??
I have never left my baby (12 months) in the care of somebody else. I talked to quite a few nannies and baby sitters and didn't feel comfortable with any. (I thought my baby and I should try to get used to spending time apart..) I am also worried about the amount of time I could spend with her. How many hours on average do Master's students spend on school & studying? And what kind of child care arrangements did you try? (baby sitter, nanny, day care etc.) My mother-in-law offered to come live with us, - is that a good idea?
I always had this romantic idea that studying and having a baby would work really well - until I realized how much work each a baby - and graduate school is. Help - is anybody in a similar situation? Any advice?
My concern for you is that you have never had childcare to date. There is nothing wrong with occasional childcare at any age. You need the break and they need the separation. If separation is an issue for you, then you will not do well ''on the outside''. You will need to do school work and this can't be done with a one-year-old around. My sense from your email is that you don't want to find care that is suitable - you are the only one that can care the best for your child. While I believe this is true - none of our childcare experiences would have been better overall than if I stayed home, BUT they were close enough. I think you need to decide that you REALLY want to do this, because it is a hard road, but can be very gratifying. Anon
I had already been a grad student for four years and was wrapping up my M.A. thesis when I found out I was pregnant. I took my orals two week before I was due, and then ended up staying at home with baby, ostensibly 'doing research' on my diss. but actually being entirely engrossed with the new experience of motherhood. I didn't plan it this way, but I ended up withdrawing from CAL for two entire years-- I had anticipated placing baby (okay, her name is Maia) in some kind of a care program, but when the time came for the *separation,* I couldn't do it. Call me whatever combination of weak / obsessive you like, but the bottom line for me, at the time, was that I did not feel comfortable with non-family care without my first having built up some confidence in the ''being a mom'' sector of my life. And like most folks in the Bay Area, I did not have family close-by that was willing to participate in consistent care for my child. Does this make sense?
It was when my daughter was two years old that I felt I knew what I was doing, and that I knew in my heart that it was a good time for her to start some kind of part-time care program. It was at that point that I re-entered grad school (my advisors wer GREAT. you MUST have UNDERSTANDING advisors for this sort of unconventional back-and- forth), putting Maia initially in a small, Montessori-based preschool twice a week, and eventually switching her to the CAL on-campus daycare program three days a week. Having an intense personality (gee, I wonder she gets it?) and having only had Mom or Dad as caretaker, Maia did better in the Montessori than at the CAL facility. I don't think it had as much to do with the teachers as much as it did the teaching philosophies. Maia had a VERY difficult time adjusting to the structured format of the CAL daily routine.
She defied teacher authority constantly, to the point at which the teachers called my husband and myself in for a 'consultation' with suggestions that we better discipline our daughter at home. . . It was frustrating. Since my husband and I were both grad students, we received a GENEROUS subsidy for this care, and without it, frankly, I would never have been able to go back to grad school with any real hope of finishing. We were probably poor enough to qualify for welfare, but alas, pride reared its (insert your adjective) head. It seemed that the choices were either / or. We either keep Maia where she is so that I could continue grad school, or we take her out, and I stay at home. We kept her there, thank goodness. And I stayed in school. This was two years ago. I am now a Fulbright scholar sharing a teaching position with my husband at CU Boulder, and the proud mother of a second baby, now 14 months old. Because my husband and I share a position, we can work our schedules in such a way that he is at home with the new baby while I am teaching, and vice versa.
He was not so much involved with the early care of our first, which was a strain on our marriage, to say the least. But I have to say, he has changed more diapers of baby #2 than I have, and at the dinner table, her high chair is ALWAYS at his setting. But that's another story. As for childcare for baby#2. I have the luxury of keeping her at home because of my job-share with my husband. Yes, work is slow, and yes, it can be extremely frustrating not to be able to write when I'm 'inspired.'
Besides, faculty doesn't get a nice subsidy, and childcare is atrociously expensive. My current thought is to keep her at home until she's about 2 or 2 1/2. We'll see.
Bottom line: If I can do it, you can too. It's not easy, and grad school really does take a longer time to get through with kids than without. And you will be forever poor, until you get your degree & attendant salary. Sometimes, I DO have regrets about having had mine so 'young,' the greatest being that I realize NOW the importance of financial stability.
When I had my first, I seriously thought that 'love would lead the way,' but of course, love only gets you so far, and it doesn't pay the rent. But we survived. We've been married for nine years now, have *a* job, have two kids. We don't have a dog yet, or a picket-fence kind of dwelling, but something like that will eventually be possible. Good luck with your decision-making. Hope this spiel helps. Please feel free to contact me with questions and / or support. I think many of us who have gone through this experience know how isolating and lonely it can be at times. C. M.
I'd really like to hear people's stories [STRUGGLES & TECHNIQUES] of juggling parenthood & school commitments when both parents are students. Also, experiences of student parents who have/had YOUNG KIDS while they are/were in school would be more helpful than those with older ones. My husband of five years and I are starting doctoral programs with 15 mnth old in tow. Thank goodness my mom, who gets along well with my husband, is staying for atleast the first semester to assist with the transition...still the anxiousness persists.
I read the ''advice given'' for the mom with husband in law school, and the thoughts/experiences articulated were helpful. Our situation is a bit different since we're BOTH students. While we're used to financial tightness [and actually with fellowships & financial aid between us, we're a little better off than when husband was working and i was home with sUn], advice on dealing with the tightening of TIME & ENERGY would be great!
Usually when I tell people in UC Village where we live that ''we'll both be in school'', I get an ''OHHH!'' that translates ''you've got a dante-ish road ahead of you'' with a ''good luck'' that translates ''glad i'm not you.'' point being, i'd like to hear from people who have the balls in the air... for perspective & encouragement
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