Work, Study and Scholarship as an Academic Parent, Part I: Grad School Babies


On July 19-21 I attended the biennial conference, Console-ing Passions: A Conference on Television, Audio, Video, New Media, and Feminism, hosted by Suffolk University (on a side note, if you write about or study anything related to these themes, I strongly encourage you to apply to Console-ing Passions in 2o14. You won’t regret it). In addition to presenting a paper on Teen Mom (don’t you judge me), I also chaired a workshop entitled “Work, Study and Scholarship as an Academic Parent.” During this workshop, Eleanor Patterson, Jason Mittell, and Melissa Click, three media studies scholars at different points in their academic careers, candidly discussed the challenges and rewards, both personal and professional, related to being a parent in academia.

The reason I’m sharing what transpired during this workshop here is twofold. First, as anyone who has ever attended an academic conference knows, the turn out at individual panels and workshops is precarious. You could have 50 people in your audience or 5 (we had more than 5, less than 50). I thought the stories and advice that circulated during our 90-minute workshop would be useful reading for other parents who live and work in the Ivory Tower as well as those who are pondering whether or not to become parents. Second, for my part of the workshop I explored definitions of the “child friendly department” — and what academics with children have a right to expect (or not expect) from their employers, colleagues, and students — and conducted a survey to see how other folks in the academy defined this term. I am grateful that 180 busy parents agreed to participate in my survey. Since many of them told me they were curious about its findings, I wanted share the results here.

I will cover the workshop in two parts to make reading and sharing more manageable. In Part I I will be discussing the challenges and rewards of having a child while still in graduate school and in Part II I will address the challenges and rewards of post-doc life with children.

“Navigating Motherhood as a Media Studies Graduate Student”

During our workshop Eleanor Patterson, a doctoral student in the Media & Cultural Studies program at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, discussed her experiences being a parent while still in graduate school. I asked Eleanor if she would participate in this workshop after reading her smart, funny, and insightful post, “So You Want to be a Grad Student Mama.”  Here are some (but not all) of the key points Eleanor addressed during our workshop, with additional commentary by me (because I just can’t help sharing my own war stories):

Parenting is a feminist issue

Eleanor began her presentation with this statement: “being a parent in academia is a site where power is literally exercised over the body, in how we reproduce and parent. As a grad student, our labor has less political and social power within academic institutions.” It is difficult to be a new parent in any context but when you become a new parent as a graduate student, the low man/woman on the academic totem pole, navigating the field becomes even more difficult. New parents often find themselves in situations where they must request “special considerations” (flexible scheduling, missing meetings to care for sick children, etc.) and asking for these considerations is daunting when you feel like you have no power or that the very act of asking could somehow tarnish your reputation as a “serious” scholar. You become paranoid, constantly wondering how your choice to have a child will impact how others see you. You become extra determined to not let being a parent impact the way you function professionally (which is impossible, by the way).

As the authors of “Making Space for Graduate Student Parents: Practice and Politics” point out, being a parent and being an academic are similar in many ways: “The intensity and reverence with which academics and parents undertake their respective ‘labors of love’ is undoubtedly similar. And certainly both vocations can be marked by constant self scrutiny and a nagging sense of incompletion and imperfection.” It’s true. Nevertheless…

Being a parent and a graduate student are two roles that frequently appear to be at odds

TEEN MOM’s Maci can tell you how difficult it is to study with a young child in the house

During our workshop, Eleanor rightly pointed out that unlike faculty parents, grad students must adjust to “the new demands of academia while simultaneously adjusting to the new life of parent.” Although very little research has been done on graduate student parents, what is known is that there is a lower attrition rate for graduate student moms. After citing this fact, Eleanor was quick to add “I don’t mean to suggest that grad students shouldn’t be moms, but I bring this up to say that being a grad parent is complicated and there are concrete, material incongruences with how academia is structured and being a grad parent.” To name just one example, graduate students often struggle financially as they are sandwiched between student loans stemming from college and a highly uncertain economic future. And new babies? Well, they cost a lot of money. They need clothing and diapers and constant visits to the doctor and toys that are made with lead-free paint. How can a grad student, who can barely pay her rent, support the life of another human being?

It should not be surprising then that the majority of graduate students decide to wait until after they finish their degrees, or later, to have children. According to Mary Ann Mason’s 2009 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education “Exact figures are elusive, but a study we did of doctoral students at the University of California indicated that about 13 percent become parents by the time they graduate.” This is a problem for female academics in particular since the median age for women to complete a doctoral degree is 33 and for most women, fertility begins to drop starting at age 30. In her aforementioned blog post on parenting as a grad student, Eleanor explains “I also believe that the general discourse that encourages women who want children to wait until they’ve completed their Ph.D. is part of a greater patriarchal discourse that disciplines our bodies. I  think it is similar in many ways to the advice female faculty often receive to have their children over the summer. As if taming our biological reproduction to match the academic school calendar would make academia more amenable to parenting or mothering.”

Graph courtesy of babycentre.com

After my husband and I got together in my early twenties, we began to have earnest conversations about when we could start having children. I was emotionally ready for kids, but I was terrified about how it would impact my academic career. How would I finish my degree with a child in the house? Would I ever get a job if I had a kid first? I asked some of the professors and older graduate students in my department for advice and received lots of conflicting opinions. One popular answer was to wait to start my family until I was awarded tenure. Allow me to explain why this is problematic logic: I started my Masters degree in the Fall of 1999 and finished my PhD in the summer of 2007. Other than taking one year off after my MA to work for AmeriCorps  so that I didn’t start drawing symbols and formulas all over the windows of my Pittsburgh apartment, Beautiful Mind-style (a story for another time, perhaps),  I moved relatively quickly through my degrees. Then I won the academic lottery by snagging a tenure track job for the fall of 2007. If all goes well and I am awarded tenure in the spring of 2013 (fingers crossed), I will be 36 years old.

Me, several months before completing my MA

If I had waited to have children until tenure, I would be trying for my first at age 36. I know many women who were able to get pregnant with healthy babies at age 36 and beyond. But I also know a lot of women my age and older who are suffering through the stress and financial burden (not to mention the heartache) of infertility. Simply put, it is more difficult (and expensive) to get pregnant in your mid-30s. So, for many female academics who want to start a family, having a child while still in graduate school is probably the only way to do both. As Mason points out “[Many women] can see their biological clocks running out before they achieve the golden ring of tenure.”

Grad students are urged to “hide” their pregnancies and/or babies when they go on the job market

Imagine this scenario, but in a tiny bathroom and with lots of nervous sweat

Eleanor explains that “Graduate student mothers are not only confronted with logistical difficulties, limited support, and potentially constrained career paths; they must also contend with conflicting and powerful ideologies that surround academia and motherhood. I know this is an issue, because every professionalization workshop on job talks, and being on the job market, have emphasized that you should not discuss your position as a parent, or your partner, at all, unless once you have an offer, you might angle for a spousal hire.” I was given the same advice when I went on the academic job market in the winter of 2006. At the time, I was still breastfeeding my 7 month-old daughter, so keeping my status as a parent under wraps was challenging. Breast feeding mothers who are away from their babies need to pump every few hours or else they risk diminishing or losing their milk supply.

During my campus interviews I had to ask for a bathroom break every few hours so I could hide in a stall and pump, praying that no one would inquire about the weird “whoosh whoosh” sound of my battery-powered pump.  I would emerge from the bathroom 20 minutes later, with a wrinkled suit and sweaty brow, pretending like nothing unusual had just occurred.  When I finally gave up this exhausting ruse and told one of my future colleagues what I was up to (this was my third campus interview in the space of 2 weeks and I was just fed up with lying), he breathed a sigh of relief and said “Oh great, I’m glad you told me you have a kid. Now I can tell you about child friendly our department is!” How silly I felt for keeping it a secret. I’m not saying that all of you parents should out yourself during your job interviews this fall but a good question to ask yourself is this: do you want to spend the next 40 years working in a department that sees your children as a liability?

Grad students are inadvertently penalized for having kids

“Don’t worry Mama! If you don’t finish your dissertation, you can just hang out with me ALL OF THE TIME!”

Part of being a graduate student is immersing yourself in your field. In addition to taking classes, teaching classes and writing, graduate students benefit from attending talks given by guest speakers, participating in colloquia, and (if you are a film studies scholar like myself), going to (or renting) movies with your fellow students. But when you are a parent, your time becomes limited. Once you have shelled out money to cover daycare while you go to class, teach and write, you are unlikely to have additional funds for a sitter so you can go to a talk, much less a movie. While your friends are having cocktails with Dr. Famous Scholar after her amazing, intellectually stimulating talk, you’re at home stacking blocks with your baby. Yes, your baby is wonderful, but you are definitely missing out on some key grad student experiences.

During her presentation Eleanor cited a study by the American Sociological Association that found that many crucial resources — including help with publishing, mentoring, effective teaching training, and fellowships — were less available to graduate student parents, particularly mothers, than to other students (Spalter-Roth & Kennelly, 2004). Graduate mothers are also less likely to be enrolled in higher ranking departments (Kennelly & Spalter-Roth, 2006). Furthermore, having a child in graduate school often comes with little to no support. Mason found that “Only 13 percent of institutions in the Association of American Universities (the 62 top-tanked research universities) offer paid maternity leave to doctoral students, and only 5 percent provide dependent health care for a child.”

What to do if you want to have a child while in graduate school:

“Hey Girl, let’s make some grad school babies. I won’t tell Wanda.”

Unless you have had a Doogie Howser-like educational trajectory and thus finished your Ph.D. in your mid-twenties, having a child while still in grad school may be the only option for women (and men) who want both an academic career and a family. Eleanor offered up some great questions to ask yourself before you make the decision to have a child while finishing up your graduate degree:

*How much university/departmental support is available for graduate students with children?

*Will you get paid parental leave and/or continuation of health insurance when you take parental leave?

*Will your health insurance cover dependents?

*Will your department “stop the clock” on your funding while you take parental leave?

*Is there an on-campus daycare (or any daycare) that you can afford?

*Are professors in your department willing to give you some leeway (in terms of paper extensions, missed classes, etc) after your child is born?

*How far along are you in your degree? The final years of dissertation work are often the most conducive to parenting since you no longer need to be on campus daily for classes.

Saranna Thornton outlines similar ways to make parenting more amenable to graduate students here.

It’s still hard

“Hey Mama, your dissertation is great…for me to puke on.”

Finishing a Ph.D. is hard. Raising a child is hard. Putting those two jobs together? Very, very hard. Eleanor offers some of the highlights “To get things turned in on time, I have to plan my weeks out in advance, and no longer have the luxury of waiting for my muse to hit before I begin writing. I regularly have to write during my ‘free’ time between class/teaching to get stuff finished.” She also describes typing papers with a sleeping child on her lap. I have clear memories of breastfeeding my newborn daughter while simultaneously typing up my job application letters. I’m not sure that I would ever want to relive the year in which I had my first baby, completed my dissertation, taught two classes, and applied to 40 jobs. But what kept me going that year (and what continues to keep me going) is the realization that the pay off for all of that stress, the many sleepless nights, and endless hustle to write during the isolated gaps of my day (being a parent teaches you how to write any time), is a job that makes me happy when I am away from my children and a personal life that makes me happy when I am away from my job.

Of course, I should add that I had an ideal situation for having a baby during graduate school. My husband worked from home and made a good salary so that we could afford to hire a nanny for 25 hours each week. This gave me just enough time to finish my dissertation and apply to jobs (even though I still did a lot of this work while holding a baby in my lap). But even if you don’t have a partner with a great job, here are some reasons why having a child during graduate school can be a great choice:

* your schedule is far more flexible as a graduate student (especially an ABD) than it is as a full-time faculty member (remember a TT job involves research, teaching, service, and meetingsmeetingsmeetings)

* when things get crazy in the first years of the job, your child will be older and less likely to be keeping you up all night with his/her blood-curdling screams

*since most of your graduate student cohorts don’t have (and don’t plan to have) kids, you will have a built-in community of eager aunties and uncles who will genuinely enjoy taking a break from “the life of the mind” to play with your kid for a few hours while you work on dissertation revisions (or at least, this was my experience)

*the push to publish a book (or two) once you are on the tenure track often scares faculty away from having kids. I know several academics who fully intended to have children before landing their first job and who now say “Who has the time?”

I hope this section doesn’t come off as “this worked for me so it must work for everyone” advice. My point is that graduate students are often under the impression that they must put having children on hold until they finish their degrees or get tenure. I don’t think this is necessarily the best advice.

Embrace your choice

As Eleanor concluded her presentation she offered up a great piece of advice to graduate student parents: “perform legitimacy.” In other words, don’t apologize for your decision to have a child or hide this fact. The more visible student parents are, the better the environment will be for all graduate student parents. She also emphasized the importance of good mentors, both at the graduate student and at the faculty level.

I mentioned earlier in this piece that as a graduate student I was advised by many to wait until tenure to have children. However, I had one faculty mentor who gave me very different advice. She was one of the few professors in my department who brought her child to receptions and events and discussed the fact that she was a mother openly. As a graduate student I watched her do this and I mentally noted: “This is possible. This is okay.” One day I asked her to meet me for coffee and she told me about her experiences having a child in graduate school and why it was a great decision for her. I view this conversation as one of the most pivotal in my entire academic career and I will forever be grateful to this mentor. I hope to do the same for someone else some day.

*****

This post, as well as Eleanor’s workshop presentation, are based almost entirely on personal experiences. I would love for readers to share their experiences below. What kind of advice (if any) did you receive about having children in graduate school? If you ended up having kids as a student, what was the biggest challenge and the biggest benefit of this decision? What advice would you give to graduate students who are contemplating having kids right now? Although this post focused more on the experiences of female graduate student parents, it would be great to hear from all of the men out there who had children while in graduate school (we know it’s hard for you guys too). How did your experiences differ from those outlined in this post?

Works Cited (& further reading)

Collett, Jessica. “Navigating Graduate School as a (Single) Parent.” scatterplot 5 Apr 2010. <http://scatter.wordpress.com/2010/04/05/navigating-graduate-school-as-a-single-parent/&gt;.

Kennelly, Ivy and Roberta M. Spalter-Roth. “Parents on the Job Market: Resources and Strategies that Help Sociologists Attain Tenure-Track Jobs.” The American Sociologist 37.4 (2006): 29-49.

Mason, Mary Ann. “Why So Few Doctoral-Student Parents?” The Chronicle of Higher Education. 21 Oct 2009. <http://chronicle.com/article/Why-So-Few-Doctoral-Student/48872/&gt;.

Patterson, Eleanor. “So You Want to be a Grad Student Mama.” Antenna 2 Aug 2011. <http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2011/08/02/grad-student-mama/&gt;.

Springer, Kristen W., Brenda K. Parker and Catherine Leviten-Reid.  “Making Space for Graduate Student Parents: Practice and Politics.” Journal of Family Issues 30.4 (2009): 435-457.

Thornton, Saranna. “Faculty Forum: Making Graduate School More Parent Friendly.” Academe Online Nov 2005. <http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/pubsres/academe/2005/ND/Col/ff.htm&gt;.

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21 thoughts on “Work, Study and Scholarship as an Academic Parent, Part I: Grad School Babies

  1. Thanks for sharing the workshop and your own experiences, this is such an interesting (and daunting) subject and one that I think about a lot! As someone who would very much like to have children, I often think it might have made more sense to start during my PhD, as now I’m 31 and although i finished my PhD in 2010, I am only just about to start a full-time academic role, albeit one that is fixed term, and therefore still I don’t feel it is possible to think about having children for a while, even though I would have liked to have done so by now. The hardest thing is, having left it (and continuing to until I reach the point when it seems possible financially etc), I feel like the wanting to have children has frequently contributed to my demoralised feelings about the struggle to get a job post-PhD – supporting the urge to just forget about an academic career after you get yet another rejection from a job. Also, to be honest, I’ve never felt comfortable even asking advice (though I have people who are approachable and I’m sure would be very helpful) about this issue – it really feels like something no one talks about or has time to talk about. I look forward to the next post!

    • Hi Lucy
      Congrats on finishing the PhD and on the new full-time job!

      I can relate to all of the fears you’ve outlined above.

      I can also see why you’d be hesitant to get pregnant just after starting a new job, esp. one that is fixed term. But perhaps you can (discreetly) ask around after you start you new job and find out how parental leave and other benefits are handled in your department.

      One piece of advice to take with a grain of salt is this: although you feel uncomfortable asking questions/talking about having children with academic colleagues, I will bet that posing these questions to any colleague (but most especially female colleagues) with young children will be “safe.”

      • I’m aware that it is slightly ridiculous due to the time gap of your reply and now, but I meant to say this at the time and then obviously my brain failed me, but thank you for replying to my comment in such a useful way, and thanks again for this very interesting post and subsequent thread of discussion. Very important!

      • I know this is faintly ridiculous now, considering the gap between your reply and now, but I’ve been meaning to say for ages thank you very much for your thoughtful and very useful response to my comment, and for raising this in your post and discussion thread. Very important things to talk about, so much appreciated! (sorry my brain failed me till now!)

  2. Great post! One wrinkle I’d add to the conversation: if your partner is not an academic, you need to figure out how the timing will impact his/her career. For me, my wife & I wanted to start having kids while I was ABD, in large part because she had a job with some paid maternity leave that would have been helpful to use. Alas, biology didn’t cooperate, so we ended up with the worst possible timing: she was 5-months pregnant when we moved for my first job, meaning she couldn’t use her leave and it was impossible for her to find employment that would provide leave (or even want to hire her knowing what was coming) in the new location. (And thank goodness that the new insurance didn’t treat pregnancy as a pre-existing condition…) Thus we had our first kid in a new city, with no paid parental leave, and me in my hectic first year.

    But the real takeaway is this: there is never a perfect time to have your first kid, as there will always be tradeoffs, compromises, sacrifices, and “if-only”s.

    • Lots of good points here, namely, no matter how well you plan it, you cannot control when and if you or your partner gets pregnant. So always be prepared for that. I lucked out with both of my kids–when I was a grad student with no parental leave, I had my child in June, which gave me 2.5 months home with her before I needed to hire childcare. And when I was a faculty member with a semester-long leave, I had my son in early Jan. I didn’t plan those serendipitous due dates. Pure luck.

      Glad your wife survived her ordeal and agreed to have more kids!

  3. I had my son very early in my academic life. I took about 2 years off from my masters when I had him, so I didn’t have to navigate those early years juggling classes w/ nursing etc. I also wasn’t sure I’d ever go back to complete my degree either. I was very unfocused about where I was going and what I wanted to do. I suffered from post-postpartum depression and getting on meds and deciding to go back to finish my masters kept me from going off the deep-end. Once I went back, my son went to day care/pre-school then elementary school. When submitting schedules for courses each semester, the department was fine with scheduling me with kid-friendly hours. He’s ten now and I’m just starting my first full time position this year. I can’t imagine starting the whole parenting gig now, or later while doing my graduate work. By the time I got to the dissertation phase, I was able to complete a lot of work while he was in school and then in the evenings – leaving afternoons open for family time. I also had a partner with a good job and benefits with a fairly flexible schedule (hey I need to take me kid to the DR. I’m going to be late today), which was also helpful. There were quite a few other grad moms and dads around and I don’t remember it ever being an issue for anyone. No complaints from the childfree people about parents getting preference for scheduling or complaining when kids would show up at meetings, but I do know that this was not the case in other departments.

  4. I will say that the influence of faculty mentors were a vital part of my decision to have a baby in grad school, too. I’d done as much reading, list-making, and soul-searching as I felt I could, but talking to two tenured mamas who encouraged me to have a baby if I wanted one really made all the difference. I’m lucky to have great, affordable health insurance, access to campus-subsidized childcare (at least in theory–we’ve been waitlisted), and a partner with a job outside of the academy. All of that said, I’m beyond anxious about how I’m going to get a dissertation written. My May baby is still new, but he’s also very high-needs (he’s generally only happy if he’s being held) and I’m not sure how I’m going to manage both writing and my job with the minimal amount of childcare we’re going to be able to afford.

    I’m still entertaining the Big Dream of a TT position at somewhere that doesn’t suck, and I’ve already felt some of the pressure to hide my baby. I was told outright by someone that they were relieved I’d had a baby this early–my first year dissertating–since I wouldn’t be able to hide a pregnancy on the job search. It’s a relief to hear and participate in this conversation.

    • Chelsea, remember you are in the weeds right now in terms of parenting. It’s all diaper changing and screaming and short, unpredictable naps. There is no way you could work on a dissertation right now. But you will! Babies nap, and sleep (at least for a little bit) at night. You’ll learn to type with a baby on your lap. You are going to be fine.

  5. In a weird way, I think I would have finished my degree faster if I had a kid while in grad school (I just work faster under the gun). But my situation made it so that I didn’t have a choice but to wait: no partner, no money for alternative child acquisition routes. But it always seemed like the best time to have a child in an academic career otherwise.

    In the end, things worked out, though: I did finish my degree eventually and got that TT job, and that job came with insurance that covers fertility treatments (mostly). I knew I couldn’t wait until age 42 to start trying to have a kid, so waiting until after tenure was definitely out. I am far more afraid of what my new colleagues would think of me having a child than I ever was of what my grad professors would have thought. I worry whether it will be impossible for me to write 1.5 books as a single parent, or whether it would have been possible if only my colleagues hadn’t been dicks about it. We’ll see what happens: I’m the first person in the department to be pregnant in over 30 years, I’m told. But ultimately, I decided that if I could only have one thing, an academic job or a family, I’d rather have a family. Hopefully I can have both.

    It still annoys me that there’s a campus daycare center, but only students can use it. But on the other hand, I’m getting 14-16 weeks paid leave, which is hardly standard in this country. You win some, you lose some.

    • On the one hand I am really pleased to hear that your university’s insurance covered fertility treatments but on the other hand, it’s terrible that you feel like the odd woman out (the first in 30 years???).
      You also raise a great point here–having a kid has the possibility of derailing your career so you need to decide if you want kids enough that damaging your career is an acceptable risk. For me it was and it seems to be for you too. I think we had this very conversation a few years ago, right?
      But as you say, hopefully you can have both. Good luck and I can’t wait for the arrival of the babies!

  6. Having a baby in grad school was one of the best decisions my husband and I have made. My husband was an undergrad at the time, and although we’d been living the poor student life, I was finished with my coursework and together we had the flexibility that having a kid demands. Finishing the dissertation took 2 extra years, but it made more financial sense to remain a student, if you can believe it, while my husband started on his master’s degree.

    Timing on the second kid was a little more hectic (born during spring break this year). I was an adjunct in the same dept where I got my PhD, and I was on the job market while I was pregnant, thinking that starting a full-time TT job would be a good idea when the baby was 5 months old. But when a campus interview invite came my way, I had to seriously reevaluate if I was willing to move my family across the country to spend that hectic first couple of years working while my kids are little. I realized that I want to spend more time with my kids now (plus, I was 7.5 mos pregnant at the time and just couldn’t wrap my head around a 10-12 hour interview day). I emailed the search chair to decline the interview, and I was very honest about why I was turning down the interview. Family is very important, so why hide it? I think that if a department isn’t family friendly, it’s not a place I want to work anyway. The search chair replied with a very encouraging and understanding message, saying he understood my struggle to balance work and family, as he had gone through the same thing a few years earlier. The reality is that a LOT of people, women and men – especially younger faculty and grad students – are dealing with these same issues of family and raising kids.

    That’s been a hard pill to swallow, academic-ego-wise, to stick around the same ole university where I got my PhD and be a poorly paid adjunct. But then I remember why I’m doing it: I get to spend lots of time with the little munchkins in a community that I like and not be a plane-ride away from family. It’s hard to get motivated to do research when it’s all free labor, and it’s hard to give a sh** sometimes in the classroom when I’m getting paid sh** wages as an adjunct. There’s that compromise that I’m hoping Future Me will thank me for. And my kids too.

  7. I abruptly decided to change jobs during the third year of marriage to my wife. Already in her late 20s, we were not thrilled with the idea of waiting 7+ years for me to finish both my M.A. and Ph.D, and, as a public school teacher, she had decent benefits. We wound up having our daughter during the final class of my master’s coursework. For the first year, I elected to stay home with my daughter during the day, wrote my thesis between her naps, and taught 3 courses (over 2 semesters) to keep up my assistantship. The biggest strain was that I fell behind on the thesis and had to work at night, limiting any leisure time with my wife. Needless to say, it was an exhausting and trying year.

    I continued on into the doctorate program, but life got more manageable once my daughter entered daycare (and once I received a slightly higher-paying assistantship). Now, with my daughter now 3 1/2, we face the decision again: do we have a second child? My wife, pushing her mid-30s, recognizes that conception becomes more difficult later and life. Moreover, we’d like our kids to be somewhat close in age. But I should be on the job market in 2 years, and the prospects of not finding work right away terrifies me. All of this is to echo what Jason said: there is no perfect time for kids while in grad school. We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve managed fairly well despite the difficulties and pressures.

    Thanks for the post, Amanda, and for the thoughtful discussion, all.

    • Ugh, the debate over baby # 2. That is a tough one, no matter what your profession is. My husband was desperate for baby #1 (I held him off for years) and soon after he wanted baby # 2. I told him we needed to wait a bit. But then, as baby #1 got bigger and potty-trained and less of a pain-in-the-ass (relatively speaking) he changed his tune. He didn’t want to go back to the beginning again now that he had a taste of the good life. But I told him “too bad, I’m getting knocked up.” And that’s how we got #2.

  8. Outstanding advice here, and I’ll echo others’ points about timing not always (or even often) being in your control. We waited quite a while to have children (our mid 30s), for various reasons, and while it has resulted in a great deal of juggling and exhaustion and frustration, and a lot of missed nighttime events, our kids are amazing, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. That said, I do wish we would have started earlier not for the early impact but for the long term. I’m going to be 56 when my daughter finishes high school, and worry sometimes about lost time on that end of our lives. Regardless, it’s a big decision, but if you know you want children at some point, don’t keep putting it off till everything is perfect, because it never will be!

  9. Thanks so much for writing about this and bringing it all out in the open, Amanda! The more we talk about this stuff, the easier it will get for those following us. I had my first child as a graduate student, yet because I couldn’t have my baby during the summer or my dissertation fellowship year (god knows, I tried!), I had to ask for time off and was surprised to be one of the first grad students ever to do this, even with a very large department with various grad programs that are decades old (same as Amanda’s). I really wanted to wait to get a TT job before having #2 (that semester long maternity leave sounded sooo appealing), but ended up having him during the first semester of a postdoc. This didn’t seem like great timing at first, but now I’m glad that I’m not under the gun to publish a book and get tenure while also dealing with two kids under the age of 3. With the tenuous job market nowadays, it seems crazy to advise anyone to wait until tenure to have a baby. It seems more and more common for people to do a year (or two or more) of adjuncting or postdocs before landing that TT, so having to wait all the way until tenure would probably put a lot of women past their fertility windows.

  10. With the little money graduate students make, it is important to budget a good amount of it for the best place you can afford to live and write. Finding roommates can often significantly reduce your expenses; just be sure to find someone who understands that you are a full-time graduate student. Our lifestyles can be much different from those working a 9-to-5 job.

  11. Pingback: Work, Study and Scholarship as an Academic Parent, Part II: Parenting on the Job « judgmental observer

  12. I started grad school already in my 30s, so the clock was ticking. I had my child while ABD, which in retrospect worked out very well–I didn’t have to juggle coursework and an infant. I was a trailing spouse and full time parent for a few years. I adjuncted and published during the ABD time, but I didn’t have to deal with the TT clock pressure. By the time I finished my PhD, my child was school age, and I was lucky to get a TT job. Although I have paid a career price for my indirect path, I am very happy I had the opportunity to be a full time parent for a few years and that I was able to rejoin academia full time as a much less stressed parent of an older child.
    One more note: by extending my ABD status until my child was older and I was ready to go full time, I had a “fresh” PhD when I did go on the job market. I worry about parents who rush to finish the PhD and then, for family reasons, cannot get on the TT, and then the PhD goes “stale,” making it harder to get on the TT.

  13. Pingback: (Aca) Blogs are Like Assholes… | judgmental observer

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