• April 17, 2014

Why So Few Doctoral-Student Parents?

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Brian Taylor

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Brian Taylor

"I had my first child when I was a first-year graduate student and my second, two years later. I plan to finish this year and I am three months pregnant. They grounded me and made me focus." This young mother was beginning her seventh year of a Ph.D. program in political science at a well-known Midwestern university. But her remarks drew a skeptical reaction from the group of graduate students who had come to an informal lunch meeting to talk about babies and careers.

"I failed my Ph.D. exams when my son was 6 months old and breast-feeding," countered another woman at the lunch who is an engineer. "My adviser suggested I finish with a master's."

Not many babies are born during the graduate-student years. Exact figures are elusive, but a study we did of doctoral students at the University of California indicated that about 13 percent become parents by the time they graduate. Universities that offer part-time degree programs and a large number of master's programs are likely to attract older adults who have more children.

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. These years offer many benefits for young parents. The mother of two and would-be political scientist credited family housing—a place where children played freely under many adult eyes and baby sitters were always available—with her ability to balance family and work.

Most of the women in graduate school are there during their peak childbearing years. More than two-thirds of the women in our doctoral survey agreed that the ages between 28 and 34 would be the optimal time to have a first child—the very years in which they are struggling to obtain a Ph.D. Yet 33 is now the average age at which women receive a Ph.D., and they cannot expect to achieve tenure before they are 39. They can see their biological clocks running out before they achieve the golden ring of tenure.

Given those fact, the question remains: Why don't more women start having children while they are pursuing a Ph.D.?

Money is a major consideration. Only 13 percent of institutions in the Association of American Universities (the 62 top-tanked research universities) offer paid maternity leave to doctoral students, and only 5 percent provide dependent health care for a child.

Lack of time is also a problem. But many students defer the decision on whether to start a family for the same reasons that I did 30 years ago: They fear they will not be taken seriously and that their professors, mentors, and future employers will discourage them from continuing their studies.

In our doctoral-student survey, one student commented on her department's view of pregnant students: "There is a pervasive attitude that the female graduate student in question must now prove to the faculty that she is capable of completing her degree, even when prior to the pregnancy there were absolutely no doubts about her capabilities and ambition."

The majority of women we surveyed, as opposed to only 16 percent of the men, were concerned that pregnancy would be similarly perceived by future employers.

Science offers even more challenges for student parents, particularly mothers. The competitive race to achieve scientific breakthroughs and prove oneself offers little respite for childbirth or child rearing. The effect of parenthood on the future career options for female doctoral students whose research is supported by federal grants (the source of support for most students in science) is dramatic. Forty-six percent of the female graduate students we surveyed said they began their careers with an eye toward obtaining a faculty position at a research university. Babies changed that; only 11 percent of the students who were new mothers said they wanted to continue on that career path. Fatherhood for men similarly situated appears to have far less of an impact on their career choices—59 percent of men began their programs planning to pursue a research-intensive academic career, and 45 percent who were new fathers still planned to do so.

So what needs to happen for women to be able to start families during the student years? The experience of Anna Westerstahl Stenport, a Swedish graduate student at Berkeley, provides some insight. I interviewed her several years ago when Anna had an 18-month-old daughter, Marta, and was working on her doctorate in comparative literature. Anna was enthusiastic about having a child as a doctoral student because of the subsidized early-childhood programs and free health care available at the university.

"Marta has had two particular teachers who were absolutely wonderful," Anna said. "One of my best friends and colleagues in the department, whose son is one of Marta's best friends, is in the same day-care group, so that worked out very well too."

Surprisingly, being a student parent made economic sense. In Anna's case, she had recently switched from graduate student to lecturer status while seeking her first tenure-track job. As a result, she was no longer eligible for that top-flight child-care program and couldn't afford to pay for the care.

Anna believed that her student schedule worked fairly well with motherhood. She worked about 45 to 50 hours a week, but those hours were flexible. Having a committed partner willing to share the parenting workload was crucial: Anna's husband had a work schedule that permitted him to take care of Marta when she couldn't. Anna's experience with her faculty adviser was also positive. The adviser herself had a 4-year-old daughter and completely supported her student's maternity.

I asked if Anna thought that having a family might be an impediment on the job market. "Not right now, right here," she said, "but when I went to the job fair for the Modern Language Association last November I did not wear my wedding band nor did I bring up my family."

Time passed. I heard from Anna again about a year after her MLA trip. "You will be happy to know," she said triumphantly, "that I got a job at [a major research university], and I was pregnant at the time of the interview. Guess what? They offered me my first semester off for parental leave!"

That was indeed a happy outcome for this student parent, and a hopeful sign that the culture is inching toward "family friendliness."

Student life, as Anna relates, can offer a fairly nurturing environment for young mothers—particularly if they are not in the sciences—and there are signs that the climate is improving. Our university, like many others, stops the clock for student parents, who are allowed to leave for a semester and return without penalty. We also offer six weeks of paid maternity leave and a substantial grant to help student parents with their child-raising costs. Yale University has pioneered a five-year medical-school plan for student parents who wish to withdraw for a year.

There are indications that attitudes are changing as well. At a recent faculty meeting, a distinguished senior scientist took me aside and proudly announced that two of his students were pregnant. He assured me that this would not hinder their careers, and that he had organized a baby shower for them.

So what are you hearing? Are more graduate students choosing to have children while they pursue a doctorate? Should they?

Mary Ann Mason is a professor and co-director of the Berkeley Center on Health, Economic & Family Security and the author (with her daughter, Eve Ekman), of "Mothers on the Fast Track." She writes regularly on work and family issues for our Balancing Act column, and invites readers to send in questions or personal concerns about those issues to careers@chronicle.com or to mamason@law.berkeley.edu.

Comments

1. timebandit - October 21, 2009 at 08:42 am

Hm, I'm not sure that a time when we're earning a whole $15,000 stipend, if that, really creates a great situation to have a kid. Also, not everybody is married in grad school...

2. uidaho1 - October 21, 2009 at 08:49 am

The problem isn't just PhD programs. I adopted while in grad school and so was told I probably wasn't serious about school even though a fellow male phD student had 4 kids, 2 while in school. At my first job when I went to adopt my child's biological sibling the opinion was that I wasn't as serious about being a scholar as the rest of the faculty. I am unmarreid, straight and female. The issue was kids for both programs combined with sex and possibly that I was single.

3. mignon - October 21, 2009 at 09:16 am

I had my first baby in grad school, with the support of WIC and Medicare. More people would likely have babies in grad school if they had adequate health care and did not have to turn to stigmatized "welfare" programs.

4. johnny_sevier - October 21, 2009 at 10:28 am

Right you are, mignon. This article doesn't need to be any longer than this:

"Money is a major consideration. Only 13 percent of institutions in the Association of American Universities (the 62 top-tanked research universities) offer paid maternity leave to doctoral students, and only 5 percent provide dependent health care for a child."

There you have it. If the money situation were different, the status issue would change, too. Of course, the status problem is why the money situation is so awful.

5. lstanavage - October 21, 2009 at 10:38 am

I think a large part of it really involves faculty attitudes. I was lucky enough to have a number of supportive faculty when I had my daughter, including one who told me and another grad student mother that we could bring our infants to her seminar if we needed to.

Talking to people in other departments (with the same institutional support), it seems like having a child is much harder if faculty are antagonistic, even with the same benefits.

It's still often a difficult balance, particularly with the scheduling of events or conferences outside day care hours, but having faculty who ask after my daughter and stress the importance of family makes a huge difference.

6. amyshuffelton - October 21, 2009 at 12:03 pm

There's also the problem of isolation. Having a baby can be (not always -- but can be) very isolating, and so can graduate school.

7. fritzvandover - October 21, 2009 at 12:18 pm

I'm ABD as of Sept. 2008, two months before my daughter was born. Since then, finding time to work on my dissertation in the context of parenthood, marriage, and full-time employment has been very difficult.

It was much simpler when I was single and before we had a child. I could sit for hours and read, write, think, attend talks, go to conferences, and feel academic, in general.

There is no easy answer except to keep slogging away at it as best as I can and balance, balance, balance along the way. I'm not going to phone-in fatherhood. That's a recipe for familial disaster.

8. shallot - October 21, 2009 at 12:18 pm

I think a very big piece of this has to do with when students partner up. Many highly educated people don't partner up until the early thirties. When I was a graduate student, almost all the graduate students I knew who came to grad school partnered or partnered early had babies while in grad school. Those who found their partners late (like me, in my 7th year of grad school) did not have them during grad school. I don't think that many grad students are ready to become single parents if they've still got time on their biological clocks and time to meet a partner, but those in committed relationships often choose to.

9. minnesotan - October 21, 2009 at 01:30 pm

"[graduate school is] a period when students have more flexible schedules"


Right. I get to pick which 20 hours a day I work.

The reason we're not breeding is because there's no time for sex, let alone the consequences. Stop expecting us to publish so much before we even apply for our first job, and maybe you'd see more munchkins around, biting ankles in the English building.

But, in the end, having children is a choice. Don't get pissed at the world when you make it, then realize you don't have time for one of the most demanding jobs around. All I can say is, DUH!

10. superdude - October 21, 2009 at 02:36 pm

"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.

11. beversole1 - October 21, 2009 at 02:47 pm

I began my doctoral program 6-months pregnant with my first child at 38. I had my second child while in the doctoral program. I was married and had the full support of my partner and full insurance coverage that even covered some infertility costs. With a supportive partner, it can be done. It took me 9 years. Anyone who says it shouldn't take more than 7 years does not have children. If PhD students should not have kids, what about tenure-track faculty? They shouldn't have kids either? Why should the academy only be open to women who choose not to have their own biological children? I am now 50 years old and an assistant professor, with two school-age children, and my husband works part-time and is Mr.Mom. With a supportive spouse, it can be done. Otherwise, it is difficult, but don't let anyone tell you it should not or can't be done. More than 50% of the PhDs awarded now go to women--should they all wait until they are on a tenure-track to have kids? When should they have kids? It is not unacceptable to say children and graduate school don't mix for women but is ok for men.

12. forester_barbie - October 21, 2009 at 02:56 pm

It can be done in any combination, with or without partners and with a minimal amount of money. I began my PhD (at Berkeley) with a 4yr old, got divorced in the middle, came out at the end with multiple tenure-track job offers and 5 years to completion (in the sciences). I am now in my 4th year TT and my first MS student finished last spring - a single mother who went on to a PhD program. It takes mentoring and faculty support, as others have mentioned, but anything is possible. My now 13 year old says she had no idea money was tight when we were at Berkeley and I don't thing either of us would change the way our lives have turned out. I never hid the fact that I was a single mother while interviewing and I received offers anyway.

13. d_f_b - October 21, 2009 at 03:24 pm

First, a chime for shallot's (#8) points.

Second, insurance coverage can be an issue. Beversole1 (#11) had insurance coverage--but the insurance coverage offered by my doctoral institution (and effectively required, since the university made sure to require certain things that most insurance didn't at the time) costed nearly 10% of its average doctoral stipend, and it didn't include maternity coverage! (And, of course, the average stipend was greater than 133% of the poverty level for one-person households at the time, so Medicaid was out for single pregnant women.)

Without insurance coverage from, say, a spouse's employment, having a child while a student at that institution was, effectively, setting oneself up for bankruptcy court.

14. mlevendusky - October 21, 2009 at 03:41 pm

I entered grad school with three small children. My advisor suggested that I might want to put them up for adoption.

15. 22271681 - October 21, 2009 at 04:28 pm

mlevendusky, ha!

16. angustias - October 21, 2009 at 04:35 pm

I realized early on while writing my PhD (8 yrs w/3 kids) that R1 university demands + 3 kids was a no starter for me, despite a supportive spouse. Now, looking at retirement in less than a decade, I can say that hving an intact marriage, happy, productive adult children and tenure at a SLAC with mostly C level students and a smattering of bright ones has been enough for me. My handful of articles won't shake the academy, but I'm happy with my life.

I could not be an involved wife and mother and do R1 level research. I know some bright, motivated colleagues do, but I knew I could not. If you are in grad school this is a decision you have to make. Academe is NOT nice to women with kids, even in 2009.

17. allimeyer - October 22, 2009 at 10:11 am

Becoming a parent in graduate school makes women vulnerable to the peculiar attitudes of her institution(s), which vary wildly from the creepy desires for reproductive control expressed by superdude above to those I encountered when I had my son last year. I am lucky to have a very supportive dissertation committee that has never, not even implicitly, made the hideous accusation that mothers can't be serious about their academic work. I am also lucky to have decent graduate student health care, live in an area with a low cost of living and in a state with universal health coverage for children, a low but living graduate student wage, a spouse with a secure job outside of academia, and a tenured-professor mother who insisted that if I wanted them, I could and should have children, regardless of my grad-student status. Without these practical benefits, becoming a parent as a PhD student would have been very hard; with them, it has been navigable. I will finish my degree on time, with evidence of scholarly activity and good teaching. Grad students who want an academia more welcoming to student parents fight a battle on two fronts: health care and wages, and pervasive sexist attitudes. Both are prohibitive, but the latter is scandalous--institutions of higher education that express core values of access to education, fairness, equality, and merit-based achievement undermine their own missions when they allow or condone such a climate. Students and faculty alike should refuse to buy into the idea that parenthood is a disease indicating intellectual weakness, and we should never just accept that academia is unfair to parents.

18. 5and2 - October 22, 2009 at 10:21 am

I finished in 5 years and had 2 kids. It's true, I finished broke, but my kids are awesome. And it's true that academia is not always kind to women with kids. But attitudes will only change if we force them to, if we show what it looks like to be smart, driven, and child-bearing.

19. tantucker - October 22, 2009 at 11:26 am

I think faculty opposition to female grad students having children during the PhD work is partly to blame, but the negative feelings your peers often have is just as damning. Having to stay up all night with a newborn is seen as treason since you should have been up writing a paper.

20. seankennedy - October 22, 2009 at 11:39 am

All good comments. I felt that there was a loss of collegiality with my younger or child-less peers. While they would get together before or after classes or on weekends for discussions and drinks, I was racing home to change diapers. The only time I could connect with them was in class, which was valuable but not quite what I envisioned my experience to be.

21. averah - October 22, 2009 at 12:02 pm

I would prefer a more balanced article, one that points out how many Ph.D parents are collecting welfare and food stamps rather than this dream situation of subsized health and child care (who HAS that?), and utilizing unlicensed and unbonded child care (because it is all they afford), and doing so because God knows, it is even harder to have a baby on the tenure track.

22. nursephd - October 22, 2009 at 01:30 pm

I had my first child 3 weeks after I successfully passed my qualifying exams. For me, this was the perfect time to have a child. I was done with the stressors of classwork, and I made my own schedule. I have a supportive, employed spouse, a non-service fellowship that supplies a stipend and health insurance, and a dissertation committee that was excited for me to start a family. I am also in the field of nursing, which is a child-friendly career to begin with. I was very pleasantly surprised by how positive this experience has been-- having a child in graduate school. I would encourage others to do the same, if they have the proper support networks in place.

23. bexbb - October 22, 2009 at 02:03 pm

I am so pleased that we are focusing on how gender impacts the decision to start a family in grad school! I have seen my female peers treated much differently than my male peers when it comes to this issue, and clearly it has to do with the expectation that motherhood requires more time and labor than fatherhood. Clearly, this expectation should be debunked.

But, as a peer, I also do get frustrated when tasks like group work or co-editing become tedious because peers with children simply have more time restrictions. I have often ended up doing the lion's share of the work in these instances in an effort to not sound anti-baby. I wouldn't feel guilty if the time restraint was due to a second job, other familial needs, etc...which leads me to question the primacy we are placing on heteronormative (yes, i said it) structures of kinship. Babies are a choice among many others we make.

24. minnesotan - October 22, 2009 at 02:08 pm

Why do women assume it's so easy for men? I'd hate to be one of your partners, who never get credit for contributing in the relationship.

When men get equal representation, support, and advising in the humanities, maybe then they can afford to start making babies and other optional life choices.

25. sportlady - October 22, 2009 at 02:27 pm

What everyone has failed to mention thus far is one's ability to succeed in the job market. Sure, I'm going to finish in 4.5 years with 2 kids along the way, but my resume isn't very strong due to the loss of research opportunities because of the demands of raising the kids. (and 2 kids were only possible because of my husband's job and health insurance). And I can't say in my cover letter, "Please note I did all of this while pregnant, raising two kids, and nursing for 2 years. Think of how much better my application could be if I hadn't taken one year of maternity leave!"

#20's comments about loss of collegiality amoung peers is especially relevant. Think of all of the times you came up with great research ideas or met a life long mentor when you were socializing. That is something that moms and to a lesser degree dads, are not always able to do. I can't tell you how bothered I am that my doctoral colleagues no longer include me in dinners, drinks out, a game of pick up basketball, or a trip to the college hockey game.

The bottom line is that children take time to raise, and in a profession where success is maximized by using time for teaching or research, there will always be a trade-off.

26. lms347 - October 22, 2009 at 08:49 pm

I was pregnant with my first child during my exams and pregnant with my second during my defense. For me, having kids in grad school was strategic--I knew I couldn't make a successful tenure run AND have the kids that we wanted to have. Now, though, I'm done with my degree and the market in English is dead. I'm not going to get a tenure track job, but I'm grateful that I didn't put my life on hold and that I have my sons.

Why don't more do it? Some believe that kids put a damper on their intellectualism. I also think that gender plays a major role. Being pregnant is a much more visable thing than being a father-- and it effects the way colleagues look at you. Finally, I think that a lot of grad students embrase the student in that designation. Having kids doesn't usually mesh well with the student life.

27. aliciagb - October 22, 2009 at 08:51 pm

One year into my PhD program I found out I was pregnant with identical triplet daughters. When I told some of my professors that I was pregnant with triplets, they were all supportive. I took a semester off to take care of my daughters, and then I got back to work on my PhD. It took me long, I was determined not to be the last person in my doctorate co-hort to graduate and I was not.

I did decide that life as a tenure faculty member was not for me. Too much time away from my family. This is what works for me and my family. I sometimes wish I could have that tenure job, but I could not do it.

28. drkatmack - October 23, 2009 at 09:18 am

I watched one colleague (male) get shunted to a terminal masters, and another (female) denied opportunities to teach masters students in the summers when she was a doctoral candidate (a big CV builder in our field), when they had the temerity to reproduce, due to faculty antagonism toward families in my doctoral program. And I had other colleagues (single, childless) who parroted faculty attitudes that anyone with small children must not be "serious" about their academic work. I took the lesson and went with a two-year institution in my job search, despite my Fulbright and top-tier doctoral degree in my field. Good thing, too, as my second child was born with a major physical disability: I can't imagine the hell my life would be now if I'd ended up in a department like the one I graduated from.

If US academia is going to truly put its money where its equal-opportunity mouth is, it MUST make room for intellectuals who want lives beyond their offices and computers. It's done elsewhere in the world (Europe immediately comes to mind); why not here? Purely and simply put, the US is behind on gender equity in the workforce...but you knew that already if you've looked lately at comparative family leave, childcare, and pay equity by gender stats and policies across countries.

29. rkomarek - October 23, 2009 at 01:10 pm

if phd students shouldn't have kids, that brings up the percentage of kids from other people not responsible enough to care for kids in the first place. if we care about the future, we should encourage phd candidates and attainees to procreate.

30. singlefather - October 23, 2009 at 06:25 pm

Of the dozens of graduate student mothers that I know, only one is a single mother, and her problems are an order of magnitude more numerous than those of married grad student mothers. I see too many affluent, married women who want to jump into the bandwagon of victimization when they go into grad school, just another opportunity for them to get what they are born entitled to. Poor, single mothers are the real exception. I'm a single father, and don't have to deal with the covert sexual discrimination that goes against women, but I know something about the plight of the single mother. Those with partners have no idea what they are talking about.

31. chistorian - October 23, 2009 at 07:30 pm

To echo the point of comment #8: the author of this piece has failed to take into account perhaps the most obvious reason more students aren't choosing to become parents during graduate school. If you go into graduate school not in any kind of relationship, the chances of you finding somebody that you're then going to have children with during the years of graduate school is pretty slim. Graduate school can be between 5 and 10 years of intense work that doesn't really lend itself to finding and creating the kind of relationship in which people feel like they want to have children. Not to mention the obvious fact (to me, at least) that a lot of graduate schools are not in places conducive to dating, especially for minority students. Add on top of that fieldwork that may take you out of the country for a few years. None of this adds up to a situation where the idea of having children is on the table, even if one's childbearing years are passing them by.

32. jimjames - October 23, 2009 at 11:02 pm

I was misled by the title. Save one sentence, the article should have been titled, "Why So Few Doctoral-Student Mothers?"

-PhD Student Father of 2

33. uidaho1 - October 24, 2009 at 09:12 am

As a single parent who chose to adopt because I knew it would slow me down and thought grad school was a better place to do it than tenure track - I want to comment on the "having a spouse in grad school" comment.

1) duel career couples have even more problems finding two real academic jobs which discourages some from putting themselves into a position to find a significant other

2) it is a toss up (I am out 4 years) which is worse - taking longer than the norm in grad school with kids or struggling as tenure track with kids

3) In order to find love you need to have a life. Many grad students don't have a life. When you have kids you have even less of a life.

4) Getting cancer while a single parent in grad school was the real deal breaker for me. Having one or the other would have been tough Both together coupled with an unsupportive department was horrendous. Took me 13 years to get out. Even with 2 national research awards, one as a student against faculty, it was tough to find a job.

There are no easy answers when the state of academia is still so medieval in some respects.

34. bghansel - October 24, 2009 at 12:10 pm

I feel a bit concerned that this is STILL a problem. I had my daughter 33 years ago, about 3 weeks after the end of my last semester of course work for my MA. Though I didn't mention my pregnancy for the first semester, and was given the job of covering for the secretaries at lunch for the last semester when I could no longer hide my pregnancy, I had very important practical support for completing my degree. I completed my MA thesis when my daughter was about 1 year. After my defense, my professors offered me the possibility to come back for the PhD, with a research assistantship again. So, with a daughter 18 months old and part time child care I headed back to school, and I felt that I had plenty of support, even when I took off for a while to move with my husband to another city. When I finally came back to complete my dissertation, I was welcomed back warmly, and every effort was made to ensure that I could get that final degree.

And, yes, we used food stamps for a while. But I am grateful to Syracuse University for the complete support of my graduate education, including the student health program that provided the insurance coverage for the birth of my daughter.

35. drdmh - October 25, 2009 at 10:14 pm

Time to stop forgetting that parenting is a deeply personal choice that generates profoundly public benefit. The children referenced (including mine) will be part of the generation supporting many of the same collegues who want to cast parent-hood as an individual's decision with consequences that should be born exclusively by the individual. Good to read recognition of the significant differences experienced by single parents (mothers or fathers), while recognizing that the academy fails parents, generally. I respect concerns of colleagues who feel their workload is increased by parents trying to negotiate the too-often colliding university, school, pre-school, and/or day-care schedules. It would be great if we could work together to create a better system (I know no faculty who enjoy feeling they are leaving early, interrupting programs, or failing to contribute their share to a project). It is quite amazing how few changes have been made in policy or practice--easy changes, nearly cost-free changes, socially just changes. I also respect the fact that demands on one member of a team do not determine meeting times or work schedules. Interestingly, I will hear "we can't meet past 5:00 because she has to pick-up her kid at day-care" but I will not hear "we can't meet Friday mornings because he reserves that for research." My incredulity normally limits my ability to respond to the proposal that a committee simply meet Saturday or Sunday as if that is an unproblematic remedy to our "busy" schedules. Why do we not turn our attention to redesigning the way in which we accomplish the other-than-teaching work of the university--at least to the extent we have been redesigning the work of teaching?

36. shrimp78 - October 25, 2009 at 10:49 pm

I just started a doctoral program this semester. I went to my interview 8 months pregnant and my first class 3 weeks after giving birth (my second child). It can be done. Anything can be done if you want it bad enough. I am grateful that Indiana University of Pennsylvania looked past my personal life and accepted me as a colleague. And I know my children are not suffering, we actually spend much more quality time together and my 2.5 year-old thinks it's neat mommy goes to school just like him.

37. geequegal - October 26, 2009 at 08:54 am

I entered my doctoral program as a single parent, and I was blessed to have the kind of ex-husband that would keep our son for the two years it took me to complete my coursework and have a true full-time, assistantship-supported grad student experience. I found out after my comps that I was pregnant with my second child. (Yep, the dreaded unwed pregnancy - in the Bible Belt! Apparently there *is* time for some things in grad school...) There was no way I could have remained on campus, even though family housing and an extended assistantship were available. My committee is also very supportive. However, the honest truth is that I could barely support MYSELF on $600 a month, much less myself and my kids.

A year after leaving campus, I have successfully defended my proposal, I am still single, and I have both sons with me. It can be done, but I have had tremendous support from my family, and I happen to be in a field with immediate practical application of my research. There have been many days when I am praying to make it to my next paycheck with the gas left in my car, and I have had to turn to public assistance to ensure that my kids have proper healthcare.

I echo that being a single parent carries many more challenges than being a married parent, but as has been said, it's a choice I gladly made. Yes, I have to plan my conference attendance strategically, but I do get to go. I know that I am not headed for an R1, but my kids will see Dr. Mommy every day. That tradeoff works for me.

38. nmckeen - October 27, 2009 at 12:16 am

It's simpler even than 3 and 4--Why don't doctoral students reproduce? Because they're educated.

39. inthelab - October 28, 2009 at 02:07 pm

Is this article a joke?

40. bexbb - October 28, 2009 at 04:25 pm

I don't think it is a joke? In fact, I am pretty sure that it is not.

What is funny, is thinking of how this discussion would play out if the question was what are so few MD students having children. My peers in the MD granting programs where schedules are relentless and "staying on track" does not allow for a semester off have un-funny stories about doing rounds 3 days after giving birth. No one likes this situation but there seems to be more acceptance that medical school/residency is not designed as a time to start a family. and, more so, that when to start a family is a deeply personal choice that always has financial and material effects on your life.

41. johnny_sevier - November 04, 2009 at 12:52 pm

I've got to single out rkomarek (#29) for derision. As a child of faculty who grew up in a faculty neighborhood and attended a university lab school with almost all faculty children, and now as a faculty parent myself, I can tell you first hand that there's no reason whatever to expect that advanced degree holders make better parents. In fact, I've seen many a situation in which the degree and the parenting seem to work at cross-purposes.

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