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11/07/2016

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Tom

Really interesting question; I look forward to what others have to say!

The first thing I'll say is that I don't think there are something like general criteria to apply in making this decision. What "stability" means will vary a great deal depending on individual temperaments and there are many factors to consider that will be weighted differently by different folks.

My wife and I had our first (and only, for now) child while I was in grad school. We waited until I had finished course work and qualifying exams so that I'd have a bit more flexible a schedule, but we didn't want to wait until I was on the market or (hopefully, someday) in a full-time job because we were both in our late 20s when I started my PhD. One factor that made this decision much easier for us was that my wife is not an academic and has a stable career that makes our financial situation (even when paying for daycare, which costs almost as much as rent in our area!) pretty stable if not outright comfortable.

That said...parenting isn't easy, and trying to teach and write a dissertation while doing it can feel pretty daunting at times. The hardest thing for me was the complete change in work schedule. I was used to getting up, pouring coffee, and getting to work in the morning. Now I've got to make breakfast, wrestle him into clothes, play blocks, get him to daycare, etc. I was used to working right up until dinner time, and then usually going back to work after. Now I have to pick him up from daycare first, get dinner made, more playing with blocks, bathtime, reading books, etc. Most evenings, I don't do anything productive than answer some emails, write lecture notes, or read after he's in bed because I'm exhausted by that point. This means that I've had to learn to get more done during the day; to try to take on more of a 9-5 schedule, which oftentimes doesn't feel like nearly enough hours to get things done.

Now that I'm on the market, his well-being and how our potential moves will affect him are definitely part of the equation. He's three now, and he definitely notices disruptions to our normal operating routines. I know that a move, pulling him out of his daycare and away from friends, possibly moving farther from family, will have some effect on him and will require some adjustment. The thing is; I don't think that this is particular to academia...it's just part of adulting. I know plenty of folks less financially stable and with less job stability than we have who have kids and seem to be managing just fine. You just make it work with the situation you're dealt. No matter when you do it, having a kid is going to cause new stresses, shift your priorities, rearrange your schedule, and f-up your finances, but it's also hugely rewarding and a ton of fun. You and your partner just need to figure out when you're ready to deal with it all. There's not a *perfect* time or a time when a job is "stable enough" unless, maybe, you're a prodigy and are tenured at by the time you're in your early 30s.

Carlo Ierna

Excellent question! I chronicled my own path in some detail a couple of years ago here: https://blog.ierna.name/2013/06/04/the-secret-life-of-the-academic/

Anonymous Parent

My wife and I had our first child in the second semester of my terminal master's program. We then had twins in the second semester of my Ph.D. program. Ironically, I wasn't the only grad student in my program with three kids (there were three of us). We decided to go ahead and have kids because I was coming back to school after a break and the biological clock was ticking. Plus, I had been told that having kids in grad school was in many respects easier than having kids while on the tenure-track. I'm now in a tenure-track position and that was true in my case. I had much more freedom to help care for the kids while in grad school than I do now. I usually leave before they wake up and get home in time to spend a few hours with them before bed. One good part is that now that the kids are older (6 and 4), there aren't any more sleepless nights with crying babies!

One final note: having kids in grad school gave me the motivation that I needed both to finish quickly and to finish well. That motivation allowed me to overcome some pretty serious setbacks including health problems that kept me from dissertating for about six months.

I have no regrets and I would do it all over again if given the choice.

Anne

This is a great question. Like Tom, I doubt there is a set of general criteria to apply in answering. But I wanted to provide some anecdotal evidence that having kids at what appears like an inopportune time can still be wonderful.

I just recently had a child (three weeks before starting my first tenure track position). My partner is also in philosophy, and also teaching. When we found out I was pregnant, I had a couple of interviews but no job offers, and was in a one year postdoc. We decided that having a family was important enough to us that, if neither of us got a full-time position that year on the market, one of us would take a job outside of philosophy that had benefits and could support the three of us.

Currently, we're in the throes of midterms, writing deadlines, and parenting a newborn, and we haven't experienced an iota of regret. It's obviously crazy in our house, and not a lot of sleep is happening on our end. But now that we have this baby we are totally obsessed with, it seems to matter a lot less whether we have picture-perfect academic careers, and the chaos feels very worthwhile.

I don't expect this to generalize; but, for what it's worth, when we asked colleagues and friends in academia about having kids over a year ago, we heard a lot of reports of similar experiences.

assistant professor & father of a baby

I had fly-outs two weeks after the birth of my baby and I submitted when the baby was 5 weeks. It was rather crazy. The baby is now 8 months old, we relocated for the job over the summer and I barely get any research done. But I would do it all again.

Sara L. Uckelman

I have one kid; I was about three months pregnant with her while interviewing for my first real post-doc (it was my second actual one, but the first one was just a continuation of the same funding for the end of my PhD), and went on maternity leave 6 weeks after starting the position.

I have found the post-doc to have been an ideal time to have a kid. There were no teaching duties. There were minimal admin duties. My supervisor was very understanding and basically said "as long as your output stays reasonable, I don't care when you're in the office." When maternity leave ended my daughter was 3 months old and I put her in daycare 4 afternoons a week for 5 hours. That meant I had 20 hours dedicated time for research, and the other 20 hours I spent with her at home, reading, writing referee reports, doing projects that could be easily interrupted. I learned to be VERY productive during my 20 hours in the office, and also to not be guilty about not being productive in my 20 hours at home.

She started full time care around 1 year, and I was lucky enough to have another two year's worth of post-doc time before I started my current position, as a lecturer, shortly before she turned three; she turned 5 last week, and with the benefit of hindsight, I can say that that really was the best period (for me) I could've had her. Another reason it worked well: I don't travel as much now that I have a regular teaching schedule, but it's more of a hassle now when I do travel; she's less happy when I go away, and now that she's in school we have to actually get her up and out of the house in a timely fashion every morning, there's no "oh, let's sleep in and go to nursery late" option. Whereas when I was a post-doc, I did a lot of conference traveling, and because she was younger, she often came with me, or if she didn't, her schedule was less rigid and thus less of a hassle for her dad to adapt to. (Because my husband works from home, I'm the default parent for getting her out to nursery/school and back, since I'm the one who has to go out of the house anyway.)

Sara L. Uckelman

I'll also add that if you're on Facebook, and are a woman, there's a fantastic group "Academic mamas" in which you can get a HUGE amount of advice and personal stories about when people have had kids and how it has affected their academic trajectories. It's a hidden group, so you'd need to be FB friends with someone who is in it to be added, but the odds are high that if you're in academic and you know an academic mom, that they're a part of the group or know someone who is.

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