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Having a baby in grad school

First, I don't remember if I did my intro, so here it is
Name: Anna
Year: starting 2nd year
Degree you're working towards: PhD (completing 2nd masters while at it)
Field of study: experimental nuclear and particle physics
Research interests (if any): building detectors? That's what I seem to be doing for the past couple years anyway
University: The college of William and Mary, VA
Five year plan: finish the program or be just about to, have a family or 3 or more.
Best way to relieve uni-related stress: spend time with my dog
Totally random fact:
I am Russian, moved to the States a year ago, after spending a better part of my time in the national lab in VA.
I am married to my classmate, we applied to the same schools together. We also work in the same field and share the office.
We have an 8 month old brindle boxer puppy and a cat which I brought from Russia.

Onto the question. As you read above, I am married to my classmate. We got married this Summer, and everyone in the department seemed to be pretty happy about it and very understanding. We are planning to extend our family at some point, but it all is kinda scary. We have one more year of classes, I have to pass quals in January and research never stops, despite the fact that neither of us has a set topic yet.
Did any of you have a baby in grad school? How was it? Is it a good idea?
I have this possibly wrong idea that it is easier to have a baby being a grad student rather than a postdoc. I hoped faculty are generally more flexible and accommodating, than HR in big national labs and companies.
Of course, there are more factors involved: I am 24, it will take me 5 years to finish my degree, and I don't want to be 30 and have a newborn. Not that there is something wrong with having a baby at 30, but it is my strict personal preference, if you will. Other concern is the time when my detector will be installed in the lab and tested(I will have to participate and there are restrictions for pregnant and breastfeeding women).
So, what do you think about having a baby while both parents are in grad school?" Thanks!


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 3rd, 2010 04:49 am (UTC)
We were discussing this the other day. The general trend is that it drastically slows down the woman's progress. To a lesser extent, it slowed down the man as well.
Sep. 3rd, 2010 06:06 am (UTC)
This is what I have seen as well. But, I work in field ecology, so pregnant/breastfeeding women generally miss a field season or two which seriously sets them back.

On an unrelated note, your icon is AMAZING!
Sep. 3rd, 2010 11:46 am (UTC)
My field is not the fastest one anyway. People spend 6-7 years working on their PhDs because experiments get delayed or even canceled.
Sep. 3rd, 2010 05:18 am (UTC)
I have a few friends that have gone with this option near the end of their grad work and none seem to have regretted it. If you can work out a child care situation, it seems to work well since grad school is pretty flexible (advisor dependent). If your advisor isn't family sympathetic, I think it could be difficult.

Both friends had a family member come and stay with them for at least the first 3-4 months after birth. That is pretty lucky as I'm not sure everyone has that option. But for us, we have 100% health coverage of the entire maternity process so that is another plus.
Sep. 3rd, 2010 05:35 am (UTC)
Almost everyone in my department has a baby by the end, at least everyone who's married. I'm, like, way behind b/c I'm starting my fifth year and not yet pregnant despite coming into the program married, but I have the excuse that my husband and I live in separate cities. And yet we're still hoping to have a baby by the time I'm done.

Most people wait until they are done with classes, or at least done with the qualifying process at the end of the second year. But not everyone - I know one person who came in pregnant and gave birth at the end of her first quarter, and another who delayed qualifying for a year b/c she gave birth when she was supposed to be doing that.

Most people seem to agree that having a baby while in the data analysis/writing phase of the dissertation (social sciences dept) is the best option, because you have a ton of flexibility then to work from home and work around the baby's schedule. My male officemate has been the primary caretaker for his one-year-old because his schedule is so much more flexible than his wife's more traditional non-academia work schedule.

I think it really depends on the department and advisor, though. Obviously, my dept is VERY family-friendly. The profs (male and female) often bring their kids to work when childcare falls through. We are a school of ed, of course, so that might help the attitude. There is one professor who is very against having kids during grad school; the woman who came in pregnant was originally assigned to him and switched ASAP when he basically refused to acknowledge her existence.
Sep. 3rd, 2010 09:13 am (UTC)
I'm in the humanities so I don't understand the process of the science degrees, so take this as you will. I had a baby into my first year of dissertation work. Classes were done. But I was also working part time and it was too much, so I took time off my program. Now I'm back in, sharing child care with my husband, and I'm pregnant again. Essentially I will be part time until I finish my degree. It significantly slows down one's progress, but it is doable.
Sep. 3rd, 2010 03:20 pm (UTC)
I'm in physical anthropology and I spend a lot of time working in a molecular genetics lab. I waited to get pregnant until my last year of grad school so that I could write up my dissertation and have greater flexibility (I also got a great writing fellowship so I can work from home the entire year if I want). I'm currently due early February, and the only major problem I have right now in being pregnant in a science field is getting undergrads to work with the dangerous chemicals for me. In my university/departments, the faculty are very supportive. My committee are actually all excited and always ask me about how things are going when we meet. When I told my advisor, he actually got me the What to Expect books (expecting and 1st year) as a present, so everyone's been really sweet.

I've known several women who had babies in grad school in science fields--all after they've finished coursework. With one, it was a surprise, and it did slow her down a year or two. I asked around a lot in my department before I decided to get pregnant, both faculty that had kids after getting jobs (but before tenure) and other grad students, and the consensus among the people I asked was that grad school was a great time (but ymmv).
Sep. 3rd, 2010 07:39 pm (UTC)
My son is 7.5 years old and was born when I was a sophomore in undergrad, so my experience is different but I do also have experience with a twin pregnancy (surrogate) in school as well that was much more difficult. Not only may there be impacts on your research by slowing it down, but if you have not had children before (even if you have...), your pregnancy could greatly impact your own quality of life and stop your progress altogether. Think about what you're willing and able to do if your pregnancy causes severe health issues (hospitalization, preeclampsia, hyperemesis, etc.). Can things easily be put on the back burner for a year? What if your future child suffers from health issues (think about health insurance for the child and possible costs)? Daycare is expensive and another thing to consider (infant care in my city is $300+ per week). Those in my PhD program have said the 3rd or 4th year would be an okay time to get pregnant, but I know that I always have severe fatigue during pregnancy and would have a hard time staying motivated when I need to sleep 16 hours/day.

Additionally, many people think the sleep deprivation with a newborn/infant is the most difficult, but I found the most difficult time to be toddlerhood. I could get nothing done when my son was about 15-36 months old. He had to be sleeping before I could do any work due to the nature of a toddler. Timing is important (though you can only plan a pregnancy so much), but so is finishing school!
Sep. 4th, 2010 12:44 am (UTC)
I'm a bit late to the party here. However I just want to say that you should ask the other women in your department if other grads have had kids and how it was handled. Were PIs generally friendly to the idea or did the women face serious repercussions? Is there an official maternity policy for grad students? Does the department have a lactation room? Do they have mandatory meetings at or after 5 pm? These things will tell you how family friendly your department is.

Remember, as a grad student you aren't necessarily covered by things like FMLA and don't necessarily have maternity leave - things you would be guaranteed by law if you worked for a company. Every school is different.

Another thing to bear in mind is that biology doesn't always follow a plan. The average time it takes a woman to get pregnant is within 4-6 months of trying. But it could take several years, as well. Once you become pregnant there could be complications that would affect your ability to work and mess up any plans you made.

Additionally, since you're relatively new to the US healthcare system, you might want to do some research into your own health insurance. See if you can take a leave of absence (most students here take off a semester after giving birth) and still maintain your visa and health insurance. Odds are you will not have a stipend during this time.

Then look at what your expenses with giving birth will be - for example I have to pay 20% of hospital expenses with my health insurance. The average vaginal birth (cheaper than a c-section) here costs $20,000, so 20% of that is $4,000 that I would have to pay, in addition to all prenatal expenses ($25/apt, not including costs of things like labs and ultrasound). Then adding a child to my insurance policy would increase my premiums by about $200 a month. Then there are doctor visits for things like well-baby exams and vaccines at $25 a visit. I'm told that childcare, even the on-campus daycare, costs as much as college tuition. Whining about money seems contrite when talking about children...but money is already tight for most grads living on stipends.
Sep. 4th, 2010 02:49 am (UTC)
oh wow!
thanks a lot for this comment!
So as far as I know, we recently had a woman returning to the program after a year off. She had 2 school-aged kids, and the department provided her with a separate office - something that 1st year grad students never have. They thought she might have to bring her kids to school sometimes. I don't know if she did, because she propped out again, I believe.
I will definitely talk to professors about kids and grad students with kids. I have an informal lunch meeting set up with a professor, who had a baby recently. It help that she is Russian, too.
Thank you for a very, very good point about FMLA - I need to look into it. I remember seeing 12 weeks maternity leave policy, but I have to make sure it is available for students, too.
Another good point you made is about insurance. I know that our policy cover pregnancy and birth as any other sickness, but i wonder if we still need to pay 20% for hospitalization and birth itself. I don't remember paying anything above 15$ per doctor visit when I was sick.
As for immigration issues, I'm covered - I applied for residency and should have it within 6 months from now, so it is not a problem.
I am a very practical person, and when it comes to having kids, there are 2 main concerns for me: money and my age.
Thanks again for a very useful comment! I appreciate it a lot.
Sep. 4th, 2010 02:16 pm (UTC)
Hello, fellow physicist! I'm in my 5th year and just about 9 weeks pregnant right now, expecting baby just about on my 30th birthday, in April. So, I think it is a good idea, but I haven't completed the experiment yet. :)

Things I thought about:
- In an academic career, there's basically no good time, so the good time is when your family is ready.
- My husband is a professional research assistant at the university, so he makes more money than a grad student and had good health insurance. Our student health insurance is really bad.
- I also have family nearby, and I'll most likely move away to take a post-doc.
- Average time to degree in my department is 6.3 years, so if I complete in ~7, when baby is about two, that will be normal. I've made good progress so far, so I think this is reasonable.
- Grad students in my department have no rights to leave. (We also have no official vacation time.) So, it's up to my advisor and I to agree on a plan. We haven't talked specifics, but we get along and I'm confident we can come up with something agreeable to both of us. I plan to ask for something like 6 weeks fully off, 6 weeks half-time.
- Interestingly, there's also money available from the university for grad student leave, though this fact isn't advertised at all. It seems like I can petition the dean for it, though.
- Safety-wise, I can do most things on my instrument, but there are a couple of fabrication tasks (photolithography, sample cleaning with solvents) I'll have to bribe a labmate to do.

So far I haven't been the best grad student during the 1st trimester. I was sort of heading into a regrouping slump after a super-productive summer anyway, then the queasiness and exhaustion of the 1st trimester really amplified it.

If you friend me, I'll friend you back and you can see how things go. I don't post too much, but every once in a while I post a big update.
Sep. 8th, 2010 11:58 am (UTC)
Congratulations! :)
Yeah, I guess you are right about a good time: in grad school you work as crazy to get your degree, then as a postdoc you have your own experiment and work day and night to secure future position, and by the time you are a staff member or a professor, it is kinda late and you still have to work day and night to get tenured. Sigh. :)

I went to talk to our insurance company. They recently change their policy and made it a bit better for pregnant women. However, it is very bad for babies and still covers only 80% of bills, plus up to $900 deductibles for the entire pregnancy. The real problem is that as much as you care and take every precaution, you still can't guaranty or even predict your labor and delivery. You can have a healthy easy pregnancy and 24 hours of labor and emergency c-section with an assistant surgeon and whatever complications after that. And that makes your final bill quiet unpredictable, too - can be $5000 total, can be $30000. In our case we still pay %20.

Median time to get PhD in my field in my school (experimental nuclear physics) is 7 years. I am sort of prepared for that anyway, because I have to do some slow analysis while waiting for my experiment to start. And it will be a good while, because the lab has to shut down, get all upgrades, test runs and stuff, then get data... oh. long! So, I figured I sort of have time t have a child while doing analysis in the middle of my PhD.

Good point about the leave - I have to talk to our secretary about it. Thanks! My advisor seems to be good about letting me take some time off: he sort of let me work half-time 2 weeks before I got married (well, things were slow, too - I had to wait on other people to do their part of the project) and was ready to let me go on a honeymoon, but I didn't.

Speaking of safety, in my case it gets tricky. I know pregnant women have a special limit for radiation dose, but only if she notifies her boss about her pregnancy. I am unsure abut other restrictions, but I wouldn't want to run the cables down in the experimental hall while pregnant. I just don't think it's wise to do a hard physical work at that time. Work with sources is also quiet unsafe, but there are always undergrads for that! :)

Thanks a lot for a detailed answer - you can see it encouraged me to think these things trough. And I'd love to hear how your pregnancy will be going.
Sep. 6th, 2010 02:45 am (UTC)
I had a kid before year 4.
My brain didn't start working until a year after birth (maybe just me). But still, now I'm 30 and can hardly imagine having to wake up 3-4 times a night.
Sep. 8th, 2010 11:41 am (UTC)
I'm sorry for taking so long to answer - I suddenly got busy.
Thanks! That's what I figured - if I have trouble staying awake in class if I slept less than 8 hours now, I can only imagine how it will be in the future.
Nov. 6th, 2010 11:05 am (UTC)
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