June 14, 2013

Babies in Grad School?

It’s the question I had three years ago. Do Babies and Grad School Mix? Domingo and I had just gotten married and were emotionally ready, but questioning whether the timing was right to take the parenthood plunge. So we started asking everyone we could think of who either had kids in gradschool, or shortly thereafter. There were obvious pitfalls, but where there also benefits? Now, nearing the end of gradschool tenure and with a baby about to become a toddler, I can add my own perspective to the advice I received.

First the cons because they’re kind of obvious, then the pros to end on a positive note.

Cons:

Grad School Insurance Sucks. And by sucks I mean really sucks. Unlike large companies where good insurance is often a perk of employment, grad student insurance generally just covers the basics and comes with large deductibles. I had already experienced grad student insurance and jumped ship to my husband’s plan even though it had higher premiums. That’s saying a lot as I hate to be parted from my money. I think this lack of coverage may be changing with the current health care laws, but you may want to look into what exactly your insurance covers before getting pregnant. You can sign up for supplemental insurance, but be warned: pregnancy counts as a pre-existing condition so plan ahead!

No Paid Maternity Leave (and not really much of a leave…). Technically you can take off as much as you want (Quarter? Semester? Year?!) but it won’t be paid. If you’re pursuing a PhD, you’re expected to remain current. That means keeping on top of the research in your field. The longer break you take, the more work you’ll have to do to get caught back up.

It can also be very difficult to completely disconnect from graduate school even for a short time. Very early into my maternity leave I was asked to do a review for a journal article. I felt pressured into doing the review, even though I was as exhausted and technically “on break” and completed the review before being 4 weeks postpartum. I also had several meetings with my adviser to plan for our next user study, which ended up cutting my maternity leave shorter than I wanted to. In my exhausted, sleep deprived state, being asked to do work while not being paid made me question my resolve to continue with graduate school.

It can be difficult to strike a good work/life balance. Babies are exhausting and time consuming. You’ll likely find yourself struggling to keep up with your pre-baby work pace. Grad school can be incredibly competitive, and even the best of us question our decision to go to grad school at some point. Add the stress of kids into the mix, and it can be even harder to find the motivation to keep going.

The best peace of advice I can give is get really good at setting limits and sticking to them. If you need to designate family only time, or put one paper idea on hold, do it. Block off the time on your calender. Keep in mind that if you are working the required hours, it is okay to tell your adviser ‘no’. Like any boss, he or she relies on you to determine what is a reasonable work load and what is asking too much. Better to do two things well, than three things poorly. One paper published counts more than three rejected papers.

Pros:

Flexibility! This one was huge for us. While you need to do your work, you have a lot of flexibility when those work hours are. A lot of flexibility. The kind you only get when you are self employed, because, effectively you are. Up all night with the baby and need a mid day nap? Go for it. Need to work at home because your child (or your care giver) is sick? No problem.

I took a midday nap throughout most of my third trimester, which I think is one of the reasons I was felt so good during the later half of my pregnancy. I went back to grad school part time after having Nicki, and will always cherish those two days a week I stayed home with her. My most productive hours have been between 7 and midnight lately.

Stress Relief I know that’s crazy, but hear me out: having a baby can help put grad school stress in perspective. I’ve found it easier to deal with the typical grad school upsets (paper rejections, failed experiments, etc) when I have Nicki to come home to. Whether I would get a paper published or not, graduate or walk away, I knew the best thing in my life would continue to be there for me. That thought helped me persevere.

It can be a little intimidating, but I there are some perks to starting your family while still in grad school. I’m very happy with our decision. Obviously every situation is different. You should take my advice with a grain of salt, I haven’t technically finished yet!

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Posted in Family Life, Student Life


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