1) "Giving Birth to 2 Babies"
A woman compares the pregnancy and birth of her child and the development and "birth" of her dissertation.
2) "Why So Few Doctoral-Student Parents?"
This one looks at the benefits and downsides of having a child during graduate school:
"Why do so few people use the graduate-school years to start a family? After all, it's a period when students have more flexible schedules and the possibility of a community with which to share the experience of parenting."
3) "Graduate School With Children" Parts 1, 2, and 3 (requires Chronicle subscription)
A father with two children reflects on his return to graduate studies:
"Certainly, I am as passionate about my research interests and as eager to expand the breadth of knowledge in my field as any doctoral candidate.4) "Giving Birth in Graduate School"
But at the same time, I worry that when my adviser asks about my intellectual ambitions, I will respond with concerns about child-care costs or about Dora's monkey friend, Boots."
This is a woman's account of her pregnancy during graduate school and the subsequent job search.
So, I've read through these and there are several things that I want to look at in more detail. For simplicity's sake, I'm going to split them into two blog posts: timing and the graduate school father v. the graduate school mother.
Much of the discussion (both positive and negative) about graduate school and parenting focuses on timing. Many of the parents in these articles used timing to defend their decision to have children.
From the third article:
"Much of the time-to-degree fatigue in graduate school is blamed on a lack of perspective, in which qualified students burn out as they become further and further removed from the outside world. I will not have that option. My life will contain all of the responsibilities of a doctoral student combined with the joys and sleep deprivation of parenthood."
From the fourth article:
"I chose to have my first child during my graduate studies for several reasons. One is my biological clock, but an even stronger one was the desire not be pregnant and on maternity leave during my first years as a tenure-track faculty member."
From this perspective, the timing of having children in graduate school makes sense on a biological and professional level. Personally, we decided to have a child now because we know that (if we decide to have another child) we want our children several years apart in age. Waiting until after I finish my PhD (which was already on the long track because I chose to take a full-time position at the university) would have made that difficult.
The last quote gets at the problem of timing, though. She's viewing her choice to have a child now as the lesser of two timing evils--God forbid that you try to get a tenure-track job while pregnant. There's a running theme through all of these articles that suggests potential colleagues take a pregnant or new parent less serious than other applicants. The implication is that someone's entire focus needs to be devoted to the career, and that a baby can only distract from that.
While I haven't been on the job market for a tenure-track job, I do agree with the articles' suggestion that this same idea is played out again and again for graduate-student parents before they get their degrees. The suggestion, for many, is that graduate school should be a time of intense (perhaps even sacrificially so) focus. As one commenter (superdude) on the first article said:
"The young woman was beginning her seventh year of a Ph.D. program in Political Science..." sums is up right there. It should never take seven years or more to get a Ph.D. in anything.
Ph.D. students should not have kids.
But why this pressure? Why can't someone take seven years to get a PhD? Being able to balance the responsibility of parenting with the demands of a career or graduate school (or both) necessarily requires that the intense focus gets shifted a little. Last semester I took one class, not three. My professor didn't know I was pregnant until after the class ended, and I promise that my focus on that one class was as intense as it would have been under any other circumstances. How does that make me a less serious graduate student?
Finally, there's the issue of the physical timing of a birth (and the inevitable debilitation that follows):
From the fourth article:
"I am due to defend on October 2nd and to deliver two days later. No problem, I tell myself, my first child was two weeks late."And the first:
"The baby's due date, however, was firm. Sometime on or around May 28, 2009, the baby was coming. I couldn't apply for an extension, and whether I'd finished the reading or not, I was about to face the ultimate comprehensive exam."I'm feeling a little of this pressure myself since I teach a class that doesn't technically end until December 14 and I'm due at the end of November. I've crafted a syllabus like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book that allows me alternate possibilities, but I know I can't possibly plan for all of the things that could happen. I've covered the big ones: I deliver on time, I deliver a little early, I deliver a little late. If things get complicated and I'm put on bed rest a month out, I don't have a good plan.
Timing is complicated, and everyone has such a personal grasp on his/her own responsibilities, goals, and abilities. There were tons of comments on all of these articles of parents who made the balance work, and I find these refreshing and hopeful. Unfortunately, many of them also talk about having to do it in the face of doubting committees and tongue-clucking advisers.
I got some of the same reaction when I declared that I was dropping to part time status to take my current position. It was as if I somehow diminished in ability and importance to some of the faculty. I wonder if some people are so convinced that their path through graduate school is the path that they can't even envision another one?
What do you think? How has the concept of timing affected your parenting balance?