On Grad School & Science Work With a Small Baby
- The later part of a PhD program can be a great time to have a baby
- If you are married to another PhD student, you can use the flexible scheduling to your advantage x2
- Be realistic about your goals – when someone tells you that you can get 2-4 hours of work done a day when your kid is 3 weeks old, believe them.
- Having a supportive partner, family, and friends makes a huge difference
- So does your own attitude.
- Take advantage of the help! If people offer to bring you a meal, take your kid for a walk so you can work/nap, run a load of laundry, etc – always say yes!
- Pay it forward when you can – always offer to help new moms in a way that makes sense to you. If babies aren’t your thing, bring over food or do a household chore 🙂
- Don’t be afraid of childcare – it is worth the money to not have stress over being able to get work done!
- Your baby and family are unique – work with what you have.
- Ultimately what your family does is up to your family – no one can tell you that you were wrong. It is your responsibility to make it work.
It was part luck and part careful planning, but I wound up being able to take a full 9 months off of work to spend with Joey during his first year. When he was born, Simon and I were still PhD students at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. I graduated when he was 3 months old, and since then have been on self-proclaimed ‘maternity leave.’ I start my new position as an NRC Postdoctoral Fellow on August 25 – a couple of weeks after Joey’s first birthday.
We spent a good amount of time before getting pregnant thinking about the best time to slot in a baby or two with our career plans. Several of our professors indicated to us that the end of grad school is actually a great time – the hours are super flexible since near the end your main task is writing and editing your dissertation and associated manuscripts. This was a little tough to believe during our hectic first years of classes, but we decided to give it a shot!
Soon after Simon’s and my joint field expedition to Hawaii, we found out we were pregnant with Joey.
Having a kid in grad school worked out very well for us. We had been in San Diego long enough to have a great support network, and at Scripps long enough to be established with our own shared office. We installed an electric baby swing, and within a couple weeks of Joey’s arrival we started bringing him into work with us. We would work during his naps, then feed and change him and periodically take him for walks along the beach.
We spent long hours at Scripps in the time immediately preceding our defenses. I remember still being there at 10:00pm on the night of Halloween and feeling guilty that I hadn’t gotten Joey a Halloween costume, so I took a photo of him wearing a dinosaur hat. He probably missed out on a few other things during his first few months since we were so caught up in work, but he was an incredibly good sport about letting us get what we needed done, and he also wound up getting to spend his entire days with one or both of his parents. We had some excellent friend babysitters that would take him for long walks when we needed to really focus, and my mom came to stay a couple of times before we graduated to help take some of the care duties so that Simon and I could both get our work done.
I had always intended to continue working after having kids. Simon and I dream of a joint science job somewhere beautiful along the water down the road. But after careful consultation with my advisors and assessment of our life situation, we decided to take 3 months off as a family after graduating to travel and visit Joey’s extended family/fatherland, and I stalled on my job search so that I could stay home with Joey until he was 1 year old. I’ve gotten less science work done during that time than I had hoped (two submitted papers instead of four), but more life work – updating the family photos, organizing our new townhouse, spending time with Joey and my family, and other good stuff like that.
Now that my start date is closing in, we are tackling the hardest parenting job we have faced yet – finding Joey suitable care while we work. The first daycare we visited us bluntly informed us that Joey would cry for the first several weeks after being dropped off at their house, may not eat, and probably would stop sleeping all night because he was so distressed by the change after being spoiled by a year at home with his mama. I imagine this was a poor example of a daycare provider (we haven’t visited another yet), but it was still a crummy first experience. We took the initiative to look into other daycares, nanny-shares, and part-time babysitters. We are still searching, but slowly honing in on the best choice for our family. Thank goodness I started this hunt six weeks before my job start date!
*UPDATE 11-20-14: Joey has a wonderful nanny that we all three love. She stays with him 3-4 days a week. On the other days, Simon & I work a split schedule*
I am so grateful for the extra time I got to spend with Joey, and also so excited to be returning to full-time work soon! Sometimes it is hard to keep the long-term perspective in our sights, but usually the other of Simon or I is quick to remind the distressed person why we are making these choices. The biggest key to our happiness is being realistic – how many hours a week could one work if providing 80% of the care for a small baby? What could one achieve in that time? If it isn’t enough, how can we pull in friends or childcare professionals to help us achieve our goals?
The academic and professional science environment can be a wonderful place to have a weird schedule, accommodate a growing family, and get in a lot of cool work travel. Ultimately it is up to you the scientist to be pro-active about making the situation meet your needs.