Sunday, November 15, 2009

Quick Thoughts on Pregnancy and Grad School

For some reason or another, a few recent online conversations have got me thinking about pregnancy and grad school. (I suppose visiting a friend with a month-old baby probably had something to do with it, too.)

One of the recent posts on Female Science Professor asked readers to explain whether they had children and why, giving a very brief statement of what you do (grad school, professor, other, etc..). At this point, the comment count is already up to 190. As I read through about half of them, I started to feel a little sad and discouraged by the number of people who said they didn't want kids (usually for environmental or career/productivity reasons). I'm not even sure why; I suppose it was partially due to the fact that these comments supported what I had heard at various gatherings for women in computer science before - having children is hard for academic women! Luckily, there were still many people who commented that they had children and didn't regret it at all.

I've had more than a couple of opportunities to ask other women their advice on good times to have a baby since starting with CU-WISE. The most common answer I get is that if you want one before you are done your PhD, a great opportunity is after courses and comprehensives, since you are really just getting into your research and can (hopefully) do some lit-review at home. Otherwise, if you wait until after your PhD, it seems that you more or less need to do your post-doc, get a job, and establish yourself at your new institution before it's a "good time." (Incidentally, this seems to be what a good number of FSP commenters did.)

So far, for me, it sounds like within the first two years of PhD might be best. I would like to take advantage of the only mat-leave money I'd ever be able to get via my NSERC scholarship, and I only have my NSERC for the first two years since I also had it for both years of my Masters. NSERC will give you an extra four months of your scholarship for leave. Plus, I want to have kids before I'm 30, so I can't wait until I'm done my PhD. The scariest part of this situation is that it means I have to try to get pregnant within about a year! Eep!

I would love to hear from some of my readers (male and female) about their experiences with babies in or after grad school. Or, if you want, just a little encouragement. ;)


Barbora Dej said...

oh boy, you had to start it!? In my opinion, there's never a good time to have kids... but they are the best thing that will ever happen to you. My best advice is to have them when you are able to get help from family, friends, boss, etc..

Kate said...

I have quite a few friends who don't want kids, for whatever reason - I think it's fine and probably better that they not have kids if that is their feeling.

With regards to time/scheduling children: I do think it is extremely tough and that there really isn't an optimal time, but I have heard that the early years of grad school are one of the better options - many schools have great day cares on campus for when you do go back to increasing your workload, and a lot of other supports for new parents (not to mention a nice community of other new parents). One prof I had told me it was great when her first child was born, because newborns sleep a lot and she was able to get a lot done while he was sleeping (of course, this meant she didn't sleep much either, but she was surprised at how much more productive she was than she had thought prior to having him).

The other thing I've noticed is that even men with partners who want children do not seem to have the worry and discussion on this topic that the women do. That is one of the most unfortunate things about the entire problem! :(

Gail Carmichael said...

It's so true; there is never a really really good time. That's why I look for little reasons to push me into trying at some point (which both of you gave). I also have to say that I'm particularly lucky to have an excellent family support network close to home (Barb reminded me of that). And Kate, yeah, it is interesting that it seems to be much more of a problem for women, though maybe that makes some sense given the role we play in the process?

Kate said...

Well possibly. But given stats I was reading lately that women still bear the burden of the majority of household tasks/chores, I think that it should change. A child can and should impact the lives of both partners, so why would one not seem to worry as much about it or have discussions about it as much (if ever)? I guess it's a subtlety but I think it's telling.

Gail Carmichael said...

I don't disagree with you, but let me clarify where my mind was with that one... I was thinking about the fact that we bear the children for nine months, give birth, and (possibly) breast feed. Not much the husband can really do there in comparison. ;)

Kate said...

Sure, I see your point. I'm just saying there is some impact, even in just supporting the mom throughout the process, and the proportion of discussion by gender doesn't seem to match that. :)

At any rate, sorry to get off topic! :D

Gail Carmichael said...

Totally agree - and I don't think it's off topic at all!

Unknown said...

I consider myself lucky. I work for a technology camp for kids - and at least half of the full time staff are women. MANY of them started having kids at the same time.

I don't have kids (yet - plan to!) but I'm going to try to time it during our "slow" season (the fall). Of course - you can plan all you want - but you never know when it's really going to happen!

Best of luck!

Jules said...


Just stopped over at your site to check out your Comp Sci mini-course materials and noticed this post. :) As we chatted about on twitter, I had a baby during my MA program. It was a bit of a surprise (I found out I was preggo nearly right after I was accepted). In any case, I enjoyed your post and can relate to the question of timing (among others) as my husband and I are looking at having another soon and the timing will coincide somewhat with the the phd program. Anyway, I'd love to chat with you more about these sorts of challenges anytime!



Gail Carmichael said...

Thanks Julie and Jules. :) Feel free to connect with me on Google chat, Facebook, etc.

Ioana Burcea said...

I'm here for the encouragement :)

A little bit of background: I don't have kids - yet. I do want kids and they are on my priority list. I'm on my last 2 years of my PhD.

This is my 0.02$ on the matter.

While there might never be a good time to have kids, there are definitely better periods to have kids :P

If I had the opportunity to plan my kids at the beginning of my PhD, with the experience I have now, I would do it the moment I found my research topic and I could see the next (research) steps somewhat aligned.

Don't worry too much about getting the paid leave from NSERC, unless money is a big problem. I would try to optimize for how "ready" I feel for the big step.

BTW, the best advice I've received when I was going through a personal crisis was from a female professor in my department: "don't listen to any advice you receive, you're the only one that can make a decision in your situation." It was a little bit hard to take her advice, but she was right. :)

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