At the beginning of last semester, a new graduate student asked me about my experience of having kids while in graduate school. This is an issue that the Cocoon touched on before [here here and here, but I thought I would share with you all what I shared with her. My goal in this post is not to argue that it is best to have kids during graduate school, but rather to point out that having kids in graduate school has worked out very well for my family. I hope others can add their thoughts.
My wife and I knew that we would, in all likelihood, have at least one kid before I left grad school. We wanted to have kids while we were young, and (as such) waiting until I had my dream job did not seem realistic. We had our first kid at the end of the second year of my PhD and our second halfway through my fourth year. My kids are now two and a half and one.
I was worried that my department would not be understanding—that my committee would think I was not serious about working in philosophy. Nothing could have been further from the truth. My supervisor dropped a crib off at my apartment, which we are still using, and told me to reach out to him if we needed meals when the baby came. I had great conversations about the pros and cons of doing home versus hospital birth with both graduate students and professors. These conversations assuaged a lot of my worries about home birth, which was my wife’s preferred plan.
York University (where I am doing my PhD) allows graduate students a great deal of flexibility in how much time they take off. I chose to take 12 weeks of paid leave (our semester is only 14 weeks). I still worked on my dissertation and attended department talks, but I considered myself working ‘half-time.’ [If you are applying to graduate school, it may be worth finding out how parental leave works in your prospective department].
For the most part, I work at home, and so I am around the kids a lot. This is a big plus. When the kids are being crazy, I walk down the street to a coffee shop. My family eats dinner at 5:30 and the kids go to bed at 7. This time is sacred, but I can always do some work after the kids go to bed, if I need to. An old friend and I had kids around the same time. He worked irregular hours, and saw his kids for less than an hour most days. After talking to him last summer, I realized just what an opportunity I really had to spend so much time with my kids.
One worry folks often have about kids in graduate school is that once you have kids, you don’t have time to be social in the department. This is true to some extent, but (I think) overblown. I certainly stopped going out for drinks as much. However, I still attend (almost) all department talks, and organize drinks afterwards every now and again. My wife and I hosted several department parties even after we had kids.
Certainly I have less time to work now than I did before. However, I don’t this actually makes any difference to my productivity. I just have to be efficient. I don’t put in 80 hour weeks, but I’m not convinced that so doing would actually help. Haven't Cocooners have argued that academics should only work 40 hours ?
I’m not claiming than anything I have said here generalizes. Your department or situation might be completely different. Also, my wife is not in academia and was working part time for a non-for-profit when we had our first kid. This helped—a lot. Finally, I am a male, and I recognize that there is a serious asymmetry between men and women having kids and working. However, I have talked to women in my program who have kids, and they have great things to say about having kids in grad school too. My main point here is that I was worried that my profs would shun me as ‘not serious’ about academia after having kids, and I thought that I would lose all productivity. On the contrary, my department has been supportive, and having kids has helped me learn to be more efficient with my time.
Anyway, I leave you with my son's two favorite song: