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Living away from your spouse for grad school?

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Hello everyone,

 

I didn't know where to post this, but I am curious...

 

How many of you applied to programs that will force you to live in a different city/state than your spouse/significant other? If so, what are your plans for figuring out housing and visiting arrangements? How far away would you be from your spouse?

 

It is possible I might have to live away from my SO and our 6 year old daughter for me to attend grad school. I'm just wondering if this type of situation is common.

 

Thanks =)

 

 

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Wow I definitely could't live in a different city than my spouse but I do know a couple who did it for her whole phd.

 

My fiance and I have narrowed down the list of schools I am applying to based on where he can succeed in his field. Is there no way for your spouse to move with you?

 

My person opinion is that once you have a kid, things like living away from them for grad school arent really an option. They need you there with them and their needs come before desires of the parents. This is a personal opinion though and I don't mean it as a criticism. You have to do what is best for your family of course and no one but you guys can judge what that is.

 

Good luck in whatever you decide!

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I agree with bsharpe269.  

 

I looked for schools around areas where my husband could get a job and it luckily worked out for us that he has a job near the grad school I got accepted into.  However, if I had a child I wouldn't live away from she/he. Being absent for 2-6 years of their life at a young age is a long time.  I would try to work something out, either where I was in the same area as my child or my husband could get a job in the other state.  

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Plenty of academics - grad school, postdoc, and professors - do two-city or even bicoastal arrangements, often with children.  Visit the Chronicle of Higher Education forums and just lurk in the "Balancing Work and Life" forums and you'll see all sorts of living arrangements emerge in families.  And this isn't just limited to academics, either - lots of people in high-powered careers that necessitate moves or are only located in a few cities - or overseas - have a variety of non-traditional living arrangements and their children are just fine.  OP, you and your spouse and child have to work out what works the best for you - but not everyone gets lucky and can live in the same city with their spouse and/or family.

 

I lived apart from my long-term SO for the first 4 years of graduate school.  We'd already been together for around 7 years before I started grad school.  He was in the military, so for the first 6 months he was several states away and I saw him once, and then he was stationed about 80 miles away from my city - easily reachable by train.  We saw each other 1-2 times a month, and during breaks I either stayed with him or he took off and he stayed with me, or we went home together.  We took turns traveling on the train the 2-3 hours it took to see each other.  I tried to arrange my class schedule so that I could take a long weekend out to see him, and he would come whenever his 2 consecutive off days were (they weren't always weekends).  It's tough and there are definitely sacrifices to be made, but being the short-distance apart made a bit easier than living a plane ride away.  We had two separate apartments and paid for them with our separate salaries (the military gave him a housing allowance), but we helped each other out where possible and necessary.  He separated from the military in 2012 and joined me in NYC.

 

Starting in August I will be beginning a postdoc about 250 miles (~4-5 hour drive or ~5-6 hour bus ride) away from our current city, and he's begun an academic program at my university, so ironically I'll be leaving him again to go do the postdoc for 2 years.

 

For the doctoral program, my SO and I made the decision that I would look nationwide and not worry about where he might be stationed.  Our reasoning is that the program was only 5-6 years and that going to a better program might offer us more flexibility when it came to settling down (since a degree from a better-known program might net me better postdocs and eventual positions).  We did end up getting lucky with husband getting stationed 80 miles away from me.  For the postdoc, I talked to him about it once I was offered it.  There weren't really any suitable postdocs in NYC for my area of research, and the one I was offered was literally perfect for me and they were offering me a higher postdoc salary than all of the other ones I was considering.  Again, we reasoned it was just 2 years, and that after this great postdoc at this great university - more flexibility.

 

Personally, though, neither one of us is willing to live apart for a permanent position.  So I wouldn't take a position in Postdoc Town because there's just no jobs for my husband there.  I'll only apply to jobs in areas where I think husband can get jobs, and where we're willing to live long-term.  That means potentially not going into academia, but academia was never my plan from the beginning so *shrug*

 

But like I said, there are thousands (potentially millions) of people out there who do this every year.  I have LOTS of friends in grad programs and postdocs who live long-distance from their long-term SOs and spouses.  Yes, it is fairly common.  A discussion with your spouse is key to deciding whether it's something you want to do - and personally, I don't think you should feel bad regardless of what you decide, as this is a personal thing and it's difficult to judge the best course of action fron the outside.

Edited by juilletmercredi

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I commuted from a different continent to complete my Masters. I had 3 children under 10. Professors were sympathetic and I was never gone for more than 6 weeks at a shot. Remembering you are doing your degree to give THEM a better life will keep you together.

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Or you can just decide which is more important to you, your passion for your career or you relationship. Hmmm priorities. If your relationship is important then follow him wherever he goes... If it isn't then don't, I don't see why this is so complicated and I don't see how there are so many questions about it yet people keep asking. If you care about your relationship FIGURE IT OUT obviously other people do.

Edited by CorruptedInnocence

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My SO and I have been together for 3.5 years, 2.5 of which have been long distance, and it works for us. He has two more years of undergraduate work (we are the same age, just different programs and paces), so he's going to move in with me some time after completing that. He doesn't know if he wants to live with his parents to pay off his loan debt first, or move in with me first, and I respect his decision either way. He'll be in California and I'll (probably) be in Michigan, so he can fly in to see my a couple times each year. My PhD work is going to be very abroad field-work heavy, so we wouldn't see each other much anyway, but we understand that. If it really matters to you, you can have the relationship and the career.

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My husband is in the military and can't follow me. I don't know how common it is (mainly because I think a lot of people in this situation went from high school STRAIGHT to college STRAIGHT to grad school and maybe aren't married), but I do think it's doable.

 

There were a few schools that I decided not to apply to solely because of the distance and cost of train/plane tickets. I definitely tried to apply more to schools that were in the geographic south vs other parts of the country. I completely ruled out the west coast, though if I don't get in this year I'll have to expand my school radius... 

 

Overall, I think the most important thing is to have a spouse that is fully committed and okay with the idea of you moving away. I mean, it's not like you're taking off in a covered wagon for Oregon never to be heard from again. You can Skype with them, you can visit them during breaks...it'll be tough, but like MDIV2014 said, you're doing it to give them a better life as well. It will be good for your daughter to see you pursing your dreams even though it will be tough on you :)

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My SO and I have been together about 3 years. We were both born and raised in North Carolina, but now I'm highly considering going to graduate school in Seattle, Washington. The University of Washington was by-far the best program for me, and I'm really excited to go. I think it's a little different when you're married or have children, but if that's not the case, I say you just have to make the decision that's best for you. If I made a decision to go to another school just because of the distance, and then our relationship DIDN'T work out, I would probably regret it for the rest of my life.

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In my case, my husband has agreed to follow me anywhere. He has the choice to either get a new job in our new city, or telecommute with his current job. He is in computer science, so it's an easy field to get a job. However, my oldest 2 children might not be able to move with me because we still have to figure out a custody arrangement, probably based on whatever the courts tell us we have to do (we can't agree on anything, ever!), so I am also facing the possibility of being away from my children (who will be 7 and 5). I do understand how hard it is to consider! In my case, I know that if they are with their father, they will be fine. I'll arrange to see them often, at least once a month if I can, and I'll try to get them all summer long, plus holidays and weekly Skype dates. 

 

One question always bothers me... why is is always OK for a father to move away for work, school, military, etc, but it's never ok for the mother? It's pretty sexist, IMO. 

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One question always bothers me... why is is always OK for a father to move away for work, school, military, etc, but it's never ok for the mother? It's pretty sexist, IMO. 

 

I agree that this is sometimes the mindset and is sexist. 

 

I think that it gets even more complicated with divorced parents because now you dont only have to get your husband to move with you but also your ex husband if you want everyone to be together!

 

I dont think there is a right answer... on one hand, once you have kids you just dont get the same options as someone who doesnt. You have added responsibilities and children's needs come before parents. I think that childrens needs include seeing their parents regularly. I think the best thing to do is maybe compromise. Even if you get into harvard, you might have to go to nowherhe state university instead to be near your kids. You can still get a phd but maybe not the same as you could have before kids. This is such a hard situation... I have been dealing with the same sort of situation with my fiance but that is much easier than what you guys are dealing with. We are compromising. I am only applying to schools that are in cities that he could get great jobs in in his field and he will come with me where I decide.

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I agree that this is sometimes the mindset and is sexist. 

 

I think that it gets even more complicated with divorced parents because now you dont only have to get your husband to move with you but also your ex husband if you want everyone to be together!

 

I dont think there is a right answer... on one hand, once you have kids you just dont get the same options as someone who doesnt. You have added responsibilities and children's needs come before parents. I think that childrens needs include seeing their parents regularly. I think the best thing to do is maybe compromise. Even if you get into harvard, you might have to go to nowherhe state university instead to be near your kids. You can still get a phd but maybe not the same as you could have before kids. This is such a hard situation... I have been dealing with the same sort of situation with my fiance but that is much easier than what you guys are dealing with. We are compromising. I am only applying to schools that are in cities that he could get great jobs in in his field and he will come with me where I decide.

 

Sort of.. it's complicated, and it's hard to say what you'll do before having kids and what you actually do once you do have kids (not just about this, but everything really, haha)! 

 

Grad school has been on the radar since I started going to school when my oldest was 3 months old. I've done really well at school, all of my professors think I am going to go great places and do great things, and they have all encouraged me to go to grad school. It's my dream job. It's what I want to do, and who I want to be. Why should I give up on my dreams, and take some $10/hr job, knowing that I can do better- for myself AND my family, just because I have children? They have a loving parent who is fully capable of taking care of them. My ex is never going to amount to anything more than being unemployed and living with his mother. They've got to get a good future from one of us, and it's not going to be him! If we're going to talk gender roles, he has happily taken on the role of a stay at home mom. That's fine- it's his life, and my kids are in good hands. It really comes down to what I posted above.. it's ok for fathers to move away for work, school, and military, but not for mothers. I think that's crap. I love my kids as much as any mother, and part of my going to grad school is FOR my kids. That would be unquestionable if I were a man. 

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The grad student I worked under when I was an undergraduate had a child she sent back to China to be raised by her parents for about two years. Her husband worked two states away, so that just shows her level of dedication. She is now together with her husband and child, but it must have been heart wrenching! I know that she didn't go back to China ONCE to visit her child in fear of having her visa revoked. She is an incredibly diligent student and it's just sad that because she's not a citizen a lot of the amazing gov't research positions in our area aren't open to her. That's commitment right there. :) 

 

If I get into my #1 program, I'll be 4 hours away from my SO of 4+ years but it's only a year. We promise to visit each other once or twice a month if not more (thank cthulhu for Chinatown buses). He is going to be working concurrently while doing his EdD while I'm working on my masters so we'll be extremely busy so it's not like proximity would miraculously create more opportunities to spend more time with each other even if we were living together. We plan on moving the heck out of DC after he's done with his EdD and we'll probably go to where I plan on pursuing my PhD afterwards. Because we're in education and we're both fairly intelligent people, we have a lot of job flexibility in terms of location. 

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The grad student I worked under when I was an undergraduate had a child she sent back to China to be raised by her parents for about two years. Her husband worked two states away, so that just shows her level of dedication. She is now together with her husband and child, but it must have been heart wrenching! I know that she didn't go back to China ONCE to visit her child in fear of having her visa revoked. She is an incredibly diligent student and it's just sad that because she's not a citizen a lot of the amazing gov't research positions in our area aren't open to her. That's commitment right there. :)

 

 

You know, this is a really good point. I know of many (non-American) families where this happens all the time. A good friend of mine with Jamaican parents was sent to Jamaica for 2 years to live with her grandparents while her parents moved from the U.S. to Canada and set up a good life for her to come back to. She is just fine. In fact she has very fond memories of that time, and is very close to her parents with absolutely no hard feelings about it. 

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The grad student I worked under when I was an undergraduate had a child she sent back to China to be raised by her parents for about two years. Her husband worked two states away, so that just shows her level of dedication. She is now together with her husband and child, but it must have been heart wrenching! I know that she didn't go back to China ONCE to visit her child in fear of having her visa revoked. She is an incredibly diligent student and it's just sad that because she's not a citizen a lot of the amazing gov't research positions in our area aren't open to her. That's commitment right there. :)

 

This is probably a really personal decision and people's views on it may vary a ton. This doesnt seem to me like "commitment" that should be looked up to... it seems like shelfishness and putting your own desires way above your children.

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This is probably a really personal decision and people's views on it may vary a ton. This doesnt seem to me like "commitment" that should be looked up to... it seems like shelfishness and putting your own desires way above your children.

 

Really, it is a personal decision- one to be made with one's own family. It doesn't need judgement. Going to school to make a good future for your children does not seem selfish to me. Also, this is very much a cultural standard, and typical American "mommy-wars." in many, many places around the world mothers and fathers have to make sacrifices for their children, and sometimes that involves moving a way for a time period to make a better life for your family. 

 

I am in no way a privileged person. My kids really don't have a chance to succeed in life with my family history of working-class, blue-collar, and welfare parents. I have no inheritance, no financial support and have had no help getting to where I am. I choose to go to school after having kids. After I took my GED. I am the first in my entire family to even graduate college, let alone go to grad school! My childhood was hard, and I had to figure a lot of stuff out on my own. Do I want the same for my own kids? No. I want them to have a better life, and a better start to making a life for themselves than I had. I don't want to have them be high school drop outs like I was to work a minimum wage job. I don't want them to have to wait until they are 25 and a parent to finally figure out how to make going to college work for them. 

 

Do I need people like you to judge people like me? No thank you. I really have no other way to make a better life, and a better future for my children. Their father is an unemployed, and will remain so as long as he can, living with his mother. He's never going to do anything good with his life, anything to make their future better. It is up to me to do that. Does this mean I might have to live apart from them for a while? I might. Isn't it hard enough without people like you telling me I am a bad mother for making a sacrifice different than what you consider to be acceptable? And, WHY, would I not be judged for this decision had I been a man? 

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Really, it is a personal decision- one to be made with one's own family. It doesn't need judgement. Going to school to make a good future for your children does not seem selfish to me. Also, this is very much a cultural standard, and typical American "mommy-wars." in many, many places around the world mothers and fathers have to make sacrifices for their children, and sometimes that involves moving a way for a time period to make a better life for your family. 

 

I am in no way a privileged person. My kids really don't have a chance to succeed in life with my family history of working-class, blue-collar, and welfare parents. I have no inheritance, no financial support and have had no help getting to where I am. I choose to go to school after having kids. After I took my GED. I am the first in my entire family to even graduate college, let alone go to grad school! My childhood was hard, and I had to figure a lot of stuff out on my own. Do I want the same for my own kids? No. I want them to have a better life, and a better start to making a life for themselves than I had. I don't want to have them be high school drop outs like I was to work a minimum wage job. I don't want them to have to wait until they are 25 and a parent to finally figure out how to make going to college work for them. 

 

Do I need people like you to judge people like me? No thank you. I really have no other way to make a better life, and a better future for my children. Their father is an unemployed, and will remain so as long as he can, living with his mother. He's never going to do anything good with his life, anything to make their future better. It is up to me to do that. Does this mean I might have to live apart from them for a while? I might. Isn't it hard enough without people like you telling me I am a bad mother for making a sacrifice different than what you consider to be acceptable? And, WHY, would I not be judged for this decision had I been a man? 

 

I wasnt judging you at all! I was commenting on someone who would go two years without seeing their kids. That seems really unfair to the kids and traumatic to me. That comment wasnt directed to you at all.

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I wasnt judging you at all! I was commenting on someone who would go two years without seeing their kids. That seems really unfair to the kids and traumatic to me. That comment wasnt directed to you at all.

 

I understand. But in a way, I feel like it was, and maybe not on purpose. I wouldn't go 2 years without seeing my older kids, I would still see them regularly. But it is still a decision that I have to make: stay close to them and take a $10/hr job until they're adults, or go to grad school so that we can all have a better future. I am sure that mother had to make the same heart-wrenching choice. 

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On 3/1/2014 at 4:09 AM, LittleDarlings said:

Or you can just decide which is more important to you, your passion for your career or you relationship. Hmmm priorities. If your relationship is important then follow him wherever he goes... If it isn't then don't, I don't see why this is so complicated and I don't see how there are so many questions about it yet people keep asking. If you care about your relationship FIGURE IT OUT obviously other people do.

This is so unbelievably rude.

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Just saw this topic, and since it applies to my situation, here's how we're handling:

My significant other and I have been together about three years and have been long-distancing it for the most part. When I start grad program this fall, it will be intercontinental. It will not be easy, but we've made it thus far and will continue to do it in the future. There's no other way. She's got her own specialist physician training and I have mine. Our plan is to spend as many holidays together as we can and spend our vacations together as well, so that'll be a few times a year, hopefully.

Obviously, it won't be easy or cheap. But it's easier than if we had children. Good luck to everyone who has to deal with this situation.

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Replying to the OP's original question:

My husband and I own a home near where we currently work, but I will be starting my PhD next year most likely at a school that is 3 hours away.  Because he has a good job and I intend to get another job where we currently are located (we're both aero engineers near a good hub for our field), he will be staying here while I go to school.  Our plan is for me to rent a room near my university where I will live during the week, and since 3 hours really isn't that far I will be driving home during the weekends.  So really we're only pseudo-long-distance, but to even do that I decided to forgo applying to any schools that were even further away.

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You do not have to choose between a relationship and a career, as long as both of you are on the same page and communicate (like is key to most long-term relationships), and in the end whatever you and your partner are willing to agree to is what matters. No, it won't be an easy decision and there will likely be sacrifices on some level, but it is a very personal decision. You simply can take in the advice/experiences of others and determine what works best for your family.

Also adding my own experience of dealing with this currently, and what we plan to do this fall when I attend graduate school, in case it is helpful. 

My spouse is currently in a PhD program in a different state than I work, although on the same coast. We actually got married while we were doing this arrangement. We both had an understanding that at this point in our lives while our relationship was important to us, so are our academics to take us to our careers and passions, and as such we would manage and make it work whatever is the case (and wouldn't have it any other way). We currently ensure we physically see each other at least once a month and on long weekends. This has been manageable, although difficult (and with its ups and downs) to make sure we see each other often while balancing career, academics and other aspects of life (such as health and extended family). 

Now that I am applying to a Master's program, this makes things a bit more complicated. We have had many a conversation about where I was going to apply to, as we agreed that two years of a long-distance marriage is about all we can handle, and thus we both want to be living together again this fall. I have applied to schools that fit me all over the country, plus a few more options in the state he currently resides. Once I hear back on acceptances, it then becomes a conversation about fit (academics/general area), finances (as I would no longer be working) and personal life stuff etc. We have agreed that it is a decision for both of us to make, but that is a bit easier as I only applied to programs that I could see myself at and really advancing in. It then comes down to a decision of what program is best for me, and for both of us. I don't think it will be an easy decision as there is always a lot going on in personal lives that affect these kinds of decisions, but we are on the same general page. So whatever happens/decision we make, neither of us will feel like we have missed out on something, though that doesn't mean that there won't be some kind of give and take. 

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My husband is staying in Illinois for another year to finish his PhD while I start my first year of my PhD. (We pretty much knew when he started that I would do mine when he was done with his.) Then he has a year-long internship. We're hoping he can find an internship near me, but if not, then that will be another year apart. I'm not worried about the first year (9 months, really) apart, but if we're apart for two years (two very important, busy years,) I worry that we could grow apart. :( 

But, as friends have reminded me, at least we're cognizant of the complications and stressors involved. I think since we're very committed to our relationship and supportive of one another's goals, we can do this. It will take extra work communicating and finding quality time (weekends, face time, etc) to stay connected. And to be honest, the happiest, longest lasting couples I've known have allowed one another to have their own lives too. Your relationship can't be everything. It's not fair for either of you.

Anyway, I might be rambling now. It seems like a lot of people here are saying you can do it and succeed. I'm hopeful. :) 

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