Grad school

wijsman at wijsman at
Sat Nov 12 18:51:43 EST 1994

I would like to counter the suggestion that one should wait to have kids
til after graduate school.  This will illustrate among other things that
obviously different people have different opinions on this.  I think that
graduate school is a good time to have 1 kid (probably not 4, however :-) )
if it is done after you have your coursework and qualifying exams done. 
You could have another child during your postdoctoral years if you wanted. 
If you take an extra year to finish up a Ph.D. or a postdoc, it won't count
against you in the long run, and by the time you are up against the demands
of promotion, your kids will be older and not as demanding as young kids. 
The problem of waiting until you are out of grad school is that, as much as
you think grad school is demanding, each step up is more demanding and more
stressful (except maybe the postdoc years).  Preschool children are a LOT
of work, and you need a lot of flexibility in your schedule to meet their
needs.  It gets harder and harder to have that flexibility as you move up,
travel more, and are responsible for meeting deadlines (e.g., grant
deadlines) on which other people depend.

There are 2 caveats - one is expense, and the other is spousal support. 
Daycare is expensive (don't doubt it!), but a coop arrangement can reduce
costs substantially, some universities will even subsidize daycare, and
there are sometimes other subsidies (through, e.g., DSHS).  A staggered
schedule between spouses can also pick up some of the childcare needs, so
with a flexible schedule & some creativity it needn't be a prohibitive
cost.  Other than daycare, (and health care if you don't have insurance!)
small children need very little - used/hand-me-downs/etc. are all fine for
clothes, furniture, etc.

A fully-participating spouse is essential.  But this is not only true for a
student, but also for a postdoc, faculty person, or anyone in a demanding
career.  That means taking care of getting up in the night, cooking, taking
kids to the doctor & daycare, and all the odd & sundry chores which need to
be done.  I think this is the single most critical factor in whether or not
one should contemplate kids while in grad school.  Later on, you can afford
to buy some help (a housekeeper, convenience food, etc.).  In grad school
that can be hard.  If your spouse is committed to kids, then you will find
a way of dealing with the finances & childcare.  Then in 10 years when you
are working towards promotion, you will have much less stress than if you
wait another 5 years, and have younger children at that crucial time.

Ellen Wijsman
Research Associate Professor
Div of Medical Genetics, RG-25
and Dept of Biostatistics
University of Washington
Seattle, WA   98195
wijsman at

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