On a school visit a few years ago when I was applying for graduate school, I remember one of the professors I was interviewing with mentioned that the best time to have kids is during graduate school, not squeezed in after tenure like most people try to do. I’ve heard stories of people having kids during grad school and labs that are teeming with little kids that play by their parent’s desk as they work in lab. It seems like the flexible schedule would make for an ideal time to get married and have children, doesn’t it?
But this has not been my personal experience.
I don’t believe that grad school is actually family friendly. At least not engineering. [Maybe this is part of the reason why there are no females in science and engineering.]
I know anecdotal evidence doesn’t make the strongest when making such a broad claim as this, but I can’t help but go by what I’ve personally seen in my lab.
- Part time isn’t an option. Two (male) students in our lab have had children in the past year. One (international) student’s wife is also in grad school. They have alternated days of working in lab for this past year in order to accommodate both of their schedules. The other (American) student has a wife that works full time from home. In order to accommodate their schedules, he comes in in the morning anywhere from 3-5am and works till noon and then goes home and takes care of the baby while his wife works from 12-8pm. Our boss has recently said this is no longer acceptable.
- Most international students send their children back to their home countries to be raised by their parents while they finish graduate school. I think this is a hidden secret that no one talks about and is particularly common for Chinese and Indian students who populate a large percentage of science and engineering graduate students. The aforementioned student in our lab is in the minority of students who actually try to have their children raised here in America, although he has been pressured by my adviser to send their child back to China.
- Apparently my husband living in another country is not a unique enough situation to warrant “extenuating circumstance” to give me permission to do non-lab-essential work outside of the office (i.e. in Mexico). I am going against my adviser’s wishes and incurring a pay cut.
Yes, maybe this is just the situation in my lab, but still, my lab exists! All of these situations that I’ve witnessed in this lab over this past year have made me realize how undervalued family is in academia in general and how hard it is to be a female who has a family in this field. I’m not saying it can’t be done, its just very difficult.
And I needed to vent.
PS: We’ve met the writer of this comic strip and he’s hilarious. We also gave him a few ideas for some comic strips that he wrote down (we saw him!) so we’re still hoping to see some of those published one day…and THEN grad school will all have been worth it.