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12/02/2012

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Grad School Dad

I started grad school after a 6 year break after undergrad. So now my wife and I have to have the difficult conversations about exactly this question. The thing that helps me the most is being efficient with my time. I simply cannot afford to procrastinate at all because you never know when your almost-three-year-old son will come home with a stomach bug from day care (which happened about three weeks ago).

Brad Cokelet

I think it helps to reflect on what motivates you as an academic philosopher and what sort of a parent you want to be, and to try to foresee your risks for falling into some sort of work-family imbalance. This sort of reflection is probably best pursued over time, with input from a good spouse or friend.

Here are some thoughts to provoke reflection.

Some people are very ambitious and have a strong work ethic grounded in a desire for professional status or recognition. Hopefully they also have an intrinsic love of philosophy, but they are strongly motivated by ambition or a desire for status that will prop up their self-esteem. If you fall into this category, I think your challenge will be to make sure your commitment to work does not degrade or swamp the quality of your family relationships. To see if this is a risk, you might ask your friends and spouse if they can see you ending up as a workaholic who puts the job ahead of family, friends, personal happiness, etc., or as someone who lists in that direction. You might not want that outcome, and disavow any inordinate desire for status/success, but it might still be who you are right now, motivationally speaking.

Other people are concerned to get a job and a would like recognition or success but are not very animated by strong ambition. If you fall into this category, you will need to work hard to make sure you do not put your work on the back burner when the demands, and enjoyments, of family grow. It is easy to lose professional momentum and undercut productivity by regularly making small sacrifices on this front.

Once you have a general sense of where you fall between these poles, you might sit down with your spouse and talk about the likely imbalances that might arise and adopt strategies and plans to counteract those.

In general, I would say people should be careful to be realistic about how hard it is to know oneself and one's weaknesses. Philosophers are probably generally overconfident about their ability to know themselves and reform their motivations, so that is another thing to keep in mind.

Starting a family can be an occasion to learn more about oneself, what one values, and to improve oneself. Good communication with a spouse and kids is a great boon for figuring out when an imbalance is developing and what to do about it, so if communication might be lacking or might be improved, perhaps people should read about improving this.

Marcus Arvan

Hi David: I don't have any kids, but I am recently married and have a dog -- and I've found a couple things are useful in my own case. First, clear "rules for oneself" to ensure enough family time. My wife knows that the hours between 8-5 on the weekdays are work time for me. All other times are *not* work time (I refuse to work evenings or weekends). I find this kind of rule-setting crucial. I used to work all the time, and it was not fair to our relationship. Also, the rules have helped me become more efficient. If I know I *cannot* work nights or weekends, I spend my time much more effectively when I am working. Second, I've found it's good, if possible to arrange one's schedule so that one can be in the presence of one's family *while* one works. I teach only on Tue and Thu, for instance, and do almost all of my course prep and paper writing at the dog park. Not like having a kid I know, but here's a cute analogous case I remember reading about in an Einstein biography: he apparently did a lot of his early work bouncing his baby boy on his knee while he wrote. Although doing work in a family setting can obviously be distracting, I think it's a great thing to learn how to do, at least if you can pull it off (doing work outside with the dog did wonders for my psyche when I was struggling to publish anything -- sure beats the daily drudgery of doing work at the office!). Anyway, these are just some thoughts. Obviously, I have no idea what it's like to have children, so I don't know how useful either these suggestions might be for someone in that position. Still, I figured it can't hurt to share! ;)

Brad Cokelet

Great suggestions Marcus. I also remembered this bit from the preface to Graham Oddie's (awesome) book Value, Desire, and Reality...drives home the need to be creative about carving out work times and places..

"Although I have been thinking about these issues on and off for over a decade, various international moves mixed in with administrative roles always seemed to conspire against the completion of the book. So I thank my daughters, Miriam and Jessica, for serendipitously providing me with the time and opportunity to get thoughts down on disc. Most of the book was composed on a laptop in my van (which—with comfortable seats, air-conditioning, heating, and a good CD player—makes for a surprisingly spacious and congenial work environment) on Saturdays, somewhere in Denver, as I typed away the long rehearsals of the Denver Young Artists Orchestra."

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