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Any Science PhD Students With Kids??


quanto

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Are there any PhD students, particularly in the sciences, that have a child or had a child while in school? This may well become the case for me. I'll be starting my PhD in about half a year and my girlfriend wants to have kids as soon as possible. She's willing to wait a little, but definitely not until after I finish school (her age is a factor so I can't really ask her to wait much longer).

So without delving too much more into my personal situation, let me just ask: is it doable to have a child while in a PhD program? I'm particularly interested in hearing from people in science, but I'll take advice from anyone who's been through this or is currently going through it. Also, if you know anyone who has done this, how did if work out for them?

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I feel like this is a really hard question to answer since it's so vague! But here are some thoughts. Briefly, the answer is YES!

1. About 5% of the science PhD students in my school are parents. I think the number at my school is actually lower than the national average, but I don't have the numbers right now to back it up.

2. The parents I know are mostly doing well. My school has decent support structure for parents. The biggest problems seem to be financial rather than advisor support (however, it may be a observational bias in that the students without good advisor support might feel pressure to delay children further). 

3. I do know there are students that do want to have children now but they cannot because of the cost of childcare.

4. I made childcare a priority for me when visiting schools. I asked the current students about the support available. Asking around helps---students I met with first did not know but they connected me to students who did have children. I chose my school in part because of its support for parents---leave policies better than minimums, benefits to help pay for childcare (up to $4000 per year) and preferential housing with subsidized rents. I did this asking around "quietly" because when I don't know the climate, I don't want to put myself in a bad way.

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Second hand experience, and not in the sciences, so take it as you will: 

It is most definitely doable to do a PhD and have a family, although it's not easy. There are two kinds of difficulties I see my friends facing. One has to do with institutional support and the other with finances. The financial aspect seems relatively straightforward: having a child is expensive. Childcare can cost a fortune, medical expenses rise, and your spouse might want to work less. Having subsidized daycare or last-minute babysitting services at your university can make a big difference. Similarly, babysitting services at conferences can make a big difference for parents. These are things that you can ask about at prospective schools. I think one very important thing you can do is ask to be put in touch with student-parents at prospective departments and get their perspective and advice as it relates to their particular department. Usually they will be very forthcoming and helpful. You can ask about the proportion of students who've had children in the past 5-10 years. If there hasn't been anyone, that's a red flag.

Which brings me to the issue of institutional support. As a young parent, you need to learn to adjust your priorities. Your time isn't your own. Your child might get sick or keep you up all night, so it can be hard to make deadlines or you might have to cancel or reschedule appointments. Some advisors will be very understanding, but you might also run into advisors who are really not. If you are a female student, you might perceive a change in how you are treated once you become pregnant (= you get "mommy-tracked": people stop taking you seriously because they just assume that now you won't invest the time/energy necessary to be successful, so you are not worth their time anymore; this is sad but a real thing that happens). If you are a man, you might face the opposite problem: you will still be expected to show up and do all the things you did before, because the baby's mother will be expected to do all the childcare, even though you might want to take time off to be with your child. Again, this is where talking to other parents is important. They can help you identify more and less supportive advisors. You might also want to ask about departmental policies: if you need an extension on a deadline, can you get one? If you are stuck last minute without an arrangement for your child, are there babysitting services on campus? what happens if you have to miss class because of a sick child? 

But since you're a man (guessing based on the post), the short version of the answer is that having a child is not only doable, but actually good for your career: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/07/upshot/a-child-helps-your-career-if-youre-a-man.html?_r=0

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One of the students in my cohort had a child at the beginning of our first semester. He has definitely had a rougher go of it than the rest of us as far as course work is concerned. If children are in the future, I would wait till you have gotten through quals (that's the deal my wife and I made). After that, you will basically be working a 9-5 (depending on how efficient you are). 

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18 minutes ago, ballwera said:

One of the students in my cohort had a child at the beginning of our first semester. He has definitely had a rougher go of it than the rest of us as far as course work is concerned. If children are in the future, I would wait till you have gotten through quals (that's the deal my wife and I made). After that, you will basically be working a 9-5 (depending on how efficient you are). 

Yea this was my plan actually! Wanna get through the first year and make sure I do really well, get into the swing of things, etc

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I'm not in the sciences, and I'm not yet in a PhD program, but I thought I'd give share a few thoughts because I've been working full-time, going to school full-time, and the only money-earned in our family (with kid) for over three years now.

After all these years, I can definitively state that anything is possible with kids, but you have to have realistic expectations. You'll probably have to give up a great deal and focus on nothing but school, work, and child. I've historically had little down time. I have no time for hobbies or past times to speak of. I work, go to school, do homework, and spend time with my daughter. 

Just be ready for to slog through mental exhaustion, but it's definitely doable if its important. Very hard, but very doable.

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