Graduate school and parents

Susan Hough hough at seismo.gps.caltech.edu
Thu Mar 16 16:55:31 EST 1995


In article <barb-100395145524 at bal.biochem.wisc.edu> barb at nmrfam.wisc.edu (Barb Lewis) writes:
>In article <Pine.OSF.3.91.950309192952.23948A-100000 at ucs.orst.edu>, Mary
>Jane Nather <natherm at ucs.orst.edu> wrote:
>> 
>> So, my question is this:  For those of you with families, did you have
>> children while you were in graduate school or wait until you had started
>> your first "real" job?  If you could do it over, would you do anything
>> differently?  I've been thinking that conceiving after most of my work at
>> the bench is completed, but before defending would be ideal (I wonder if
>> the stress would warp the poor baby?!).  Oregon State has great student
>> health insurance, so that's not a consideration. 
>
>I think this a great plan. Having had kids in my mid 30s and after a
>postdoc, I wish now that I'd done it earlier.
>
>Several women I know have been pregnant while writing their thesis - it's a
>great time because a few extra months or a year or two at this point are
>really not a big deal on the resume. Later than this, then I think you risk
>getting into worse career-family conflicts, unless you wait until you are
>very securely established (i.e., tenured or such). And possibly less
>fertile then.

Can a renegade earth scientist chime in here?  Barb Lewis (Hi Barb!  :o)
told me about this thread & thought I might have some worthwhile comments
to add; she knows me from over in misc.kids.  One concern that I
don't have to worry about is chemicals: the worst things I have
to deal with are small amounts of leaking battery acid and White-out :o}
Anyway, my husband & I had our first two kids when 
we were in our 2nd & last years of our respective
PhD programs (he actually is a biochemist; I'm in seismology). 
I am glad that we did it this way; for our situation, at least, it
worked well.  One key was that graduate school for me was not the
all-consuming endeavor that it is for some people; if your
research/work style/advisor/program is such that you don't feel 
like you have 10 minutes left for yourself at the end of the day, 
then kids probably aren't a good idea.  If the pace feels more like
a slightly-more-than-fulltime job, then you might have room to
consider parenthood.  As Barb says, taking a couple of extra months
to finish writing your thesis really isn't that big a deal.
What I found is that post-doc years were considerably more
demanding--the first 2-4 years after your PhD when the field is
really looking to see if you can PROVE YOURSELF:  get grants
funded, lead field expeditions (well, in Earth Sciences, anyway),
publish papers apart from your advisor.  I also travelled a LOT more
in those years than I ever did as a student, including serving 
on committees, panels, etc., going to more meetings, and doing
more fieldwork.  We actually ended up having a 3rd child  
when I'd been out of school about 3 years; by then I was pretty
confident with the parenthood thing & this kid got schlepped
all over the world for his first couple years (literally--he
had been to Italy twice before he turned 2).  Plus it was less
traumatic if I did have to leave him home--he has a sister 6.5 yrs
older who has just naturally been very maternal with him.

Anyway, there's a lot about being a relatively young parent that
I like; as far as a downside goes, there's the following: 1) The
burden is definitely on you as a grad student to prove that you're
still serious once the world knows that you are pregnant; you
may suffer from the bias of superiors who may be inclined to
write you off; 2) If you are in a department that has trouble
dealing with women in general, they are very likely to have more
trouble dealing with pregnant women (not a problem in my case,
mercifully); 3) FINANCIAL.  Your family economy does much better
if you can save up the house downpayment before you start paying
the costs of childcare & larger living space; 4) LOGISTICAL/emotional.
Kids take a LOT of emotional energy, and your pregnancy may or may not  
be easy.  It's a big crap shoot...are you going to have 6 straight
months of severe morning sickness?  Threatened pre-term labor
that requires bedrest?  A colicky baby who never sleeps?  These are
risks no matter when you have children, but it's worth considering
what it would do to your ambitions to deal with them at
different stages of your career.

(more than?) long enough, I suppose,

Sue



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