Grad school

Elaine Ingham inghame at AVA.BCC.ORST.EDU
Fri Nov 11 19:39:22 EST 1994

Just two cents worth on my own experience with regard to children and 
graduate school.  I went from college to my masters, to my Ph.D., to a 
post-doc, to a faculty position and am now an Associate Professor.  I had 
one child just after finishing my masters, and another just after my 
Ph.D.  Because of the nature of my research, I could arrange my 
own research schedule.  Thus, I could juxtapose having a new baby and 
doing research without having to give up either one.  You have to assess 
your research and ask whether you can postpone what you do (assays, 
sampling, whatever) for 
two to 24 hours when your child comes down suddenly sick and there is no 
one but you to take care of the child. 

You have to assess the ability of your spouse to do the same thing.
Consider whether you have some kind of alternative
support system in place that could serve the same function.  One support 
person is not enough.  Two is ok (yourself and your spouse which is what 
I had), three is even better, a whole family of reliable adults is the 

If you think a child will cause you to go slower in your pursuit of a 
degree, then discuss it with your major prof.  Otherwise, it's really not 
any of their business.  Your major prof does not own all the hours in 
your day and grad students do have a life outside the lab and school.  

But your major prof may only have a certain number of dollars to support 
the research you're doing, which means if you don't finish on schedule, 
you may never finish.  As a major prof myself, I worry about these 
things.  Outside distractions that keep a student from finishing in the 
time I have funding for them may make me think about taking them on as a 
student.  But if I can be convinced that the student has considered how 
these outside distractions will NOT be a problem, I'll give them the 
benefit of the doubt.  Babies are not the only outside distractions that 
might prevent students from completing their course of study. 

If your spouse does not seem really capable of dealing with 
children, I'd be leery of trying to do both grad school and children
at the same time.  In addition, you had better be organized.  If you have 
trouble juggling two crises at once, then both children and grad school
is probably not wise.  But if you can 
juggle lots of things at the same time, then I see no trouble with doing 
grad school and children.  It's entirely possible, but stressful.

If you want to take time off from your career to have kids, that's 
probably easier, but then you have to get back into the career track, and 
that can be hard.  Consider what you really want -- if you're getting a 
degree to become a technical support person, then take the time off to
have children.  It's definately easier.  But if you are going the 
academic route, consider that some people may question your comittment to 
the academic world.  I've gone straight through the academic route, and 
because I have children, some people STILL question my commitment.  No 
matter what you do, someone's always going give you trouble.  Develop a 
thick skin, and ignore them.

Consider which thing you have more trouble doing - juggling lots of
things, or pushing your way into a place where there 
will be skepticism about your commitment to your career.  If it 
doesn't bother you to prove someone wrong, then take time off, have 
the kid(s), and then come back into academia.  If you aren't so good 
at pushing your way through that, then try to juggle.  Take the
easiest way for you --- and no one can tell you that but yourself.

One last point - at each step along the career ladder, you have less 
time for yourself and your family.  You may not believe that your major 
prof, who just seems to sit in that office all day long talking on the 
phone and writing, is really all that busy.  But I'm at that stage -- all 
I seem to do is talk on the phone.  It's frightening how much is 
sliding by the wayside because I don't have time to deal with it.  If I 
were thinking of having a child now - whoa!  It's not possible!  Not and 
keep the prof position!  Much less jump the hurdle to full professor!

Consider that all-night child care, and running after kids while they are 
playing is a task for the young.  In my 20's it was no problem going full 
out all day, every day, for months on end.  By the time I was into my 
post-doc, I wasn't so sure that was possible.  By the time I was an 
Associate Professor, I'd spent too many hours at the computer, in 
committee meetings, and not enough time out in the field running around. 
I'm not saying it's not possible to keep up with a baby or a toddler when 
you're in your late 30's or 40's, it's was just alot easier when I was 

Elaine Ingham
inghame at

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