Six Tips on Being a Parent and A Grad Student

AshLee Smith- PhD candidate, University of Minnesota
  1. Have a life outside of your work. If you want children, have children. Too many people seem to push off their life in grad school. I’ve hear many colleagues say that they’ll do x, y, or z once they get a tenure track job or move to a certain location. That isn’t my approach. I actually think having a child at anytime would be hard, so if you want to go for it, do it. Also, it can be a difficult and long journey to conceive, so there’s that too. 
  2. Are you unsure if your department is child friendly?  Well, once you have a child, you’ll find out! Even if they aren’t child friendly per se, I say break the norms- bring your kiddos with you to events. My baby is only four months old but I’ve already brought her to talks, a conference, meetings, etc.
  3. Accept help and reach out! My husband and I are pretty prideful people and love that “we can do it on our own,” but that’s the wrong approach. Accept any help that you can get. Accept food. Even if you’re the only grad student in your department with a kid, accept help from your colleagues/friends. Being a parent is isolating in and of itself, so reach out. I’ve asked my advisors or friends to meet for coffee or dinner and even swung by their offices with baby in tow. One of the best things I did was accept help from a friend and colleague. She offered to help us out when we were hardly sleeping at night and came over to our place to hold our two month old for 4 hours while we slept.  It. Was. Glorious.
  4. Tell people what you need! Be upfront with your advisors/committee about your needs. Not to ask for permission (you’re an adult), but so that everyone is on the same page and you can communicate what you need and want both personally and professionally. We had a rough pregnancy and my comps were scheduled during a week that I was going to go through a lot of testing to figure out if our baby had major health issues. Needless to say, as soon as I found out, I asked my advisor if I could take my exams a week earlier. Obviously this was inconvenient for my committee, but they worked with me and let me take them earlier which in turn pushed my oral defense a week earlier too.
  5. Eventually, you will get back at it. The first 12 weeks after my baby was born, I focused on being a mother and didn’t worry too much about work. However, now that we’re in more of a routine, I’ve actually been way more productive than before the baby.  I really have an intense drive to get my stuff done. I want to do my research but I also want to spend time with her. That means the time I am away from her I’ve been super focused and productive.
  6. A few tips for parents of a newborn:
    • Start looking for childcare like yesterday. There are ridiculous wait-lists and it can be expensive! (Even more than rent in some areas)
    • Find your local Facebook swap/sell group for baby stuff. I believe every baby item is basically recycled 😉
    • Take people up on their offers to help, especially your colleagues
    • Enjoy it! I’m so thankful that we were able to get pregnant and have our daughter. My schedule is flexible. I’m able to put her in daycare part-time, work on my dissertation and TA while still spending some quality time with her.

To all grad student parents:

Take care of yourself. You can do it!