Being a Student Parent

Parent Q&A

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  • Hi, I got admitted to grad school at UC Berkeley this fall. I am on a scholarship but the scholarship does not cover my son who is 7. I need help with what to do, and how to prepare. How to go about his education and suggestions. Is it a good idea to come in immediately with him or have him come later? I'm a single mom and it's just him and l all this while. Any tips on how to settle fast?

    Suggestions and advice are welcomed. Thank you so much.

    You will likely be eligible for reduced price LEARNS or BEARS which will help give you affordable coverage on aftercare for Berkeley public schools (if you get housing in Berkeley - not sure about other public school districts. BEARS is a state program though). You can also probably get your son on Medical - that is what other graduate students I have known have done for their kids. Good luck.

    As you would with a move anywhere, figure out housing, his school, and after school care if needed. Probably in that order, since his school will depend (at least city-wise) on where you live. If you plan on living in the student housing in Albany, contact the Albany school district. If you plan on living in Berkeley, the Berkeley school district. You’ve probably checked out this website:, both University Village and Cal Rentals websites are linked there, for the student housing I mentioned above, and housing in Berkeley, respectively. I would start looking as soon as possible; June 1 is an extremely common start date for student rentals, followed by August 1. His school likely starts in August, so you want housing secured before then. I would imagine there are email lists etc. for folks living in University Village if that’s the route you go. Good luck, and congratulations on your acceptance!

    You could try consulting with the Cal Parents & Families team at UC Berkeley as a first step (and check out the resources listed on the rest of the site): I'm not affiliated with this department, nor do I know any details about the services they provide, but I work on the team at UC Berkeley that manages their website. 

    One thought might be to live in the family housing in Albany. You'll be in a good school district, and be living with other student families. A family member has been living there, mostly it has been good housing, there is good play space outside the unit, and it is much better than most local rental housing in terms of community.

  • Question for parents who are also students  (community college or university) -- how is your school supporting you?

    Do you all know if UC Berkeley, City College, CS Hayward, etc. are offering any expanded resources for students who are parents at this time?  ... in light of the additional stress/time dedicated to homeschooling their kids?  (Yup, I'm calling "online school" homeschooling ;-)  I'm asking because I'm currently in a grad program (online) and am really struggling ... I need a 1 semester extension to complete coursework because I am taking care of my 3 small kids -- no childcare -- while in school full time.  The college is refusing to grant extensions or provide any resources for student parents ... and I can't fathom how that is possible.  My situation is not unique; surely other universities have figured out ways to help?  I understand that budgets are strapped, so I'm not referring to financial assistance (I already used up all my financial aid on tuition) ... rather, I'm curious about policies that could help students during this time while they are taking care of their loved ones -- small children, aging parents, or anyone who is ill from COVID.  This is information I can use to make recommendations to my department chair.  I am also reaching out to friends at various universities, but will not cite anyone's names or even the university names; rather, I'm looking for examples of policies that are helping students who are precariously straddling family care / full course loads / COVID-19 / (and also perhaps working).  Thank you!

    You can find information about how UC Berkeley is supporting students with accommodations and other resources at There is a link specifically for graduate students.

    Hi There,

    I'm so sorry you're struggling and that your school is not being more supportive.

    I work with students at UC Berkeley and student parents is one of the demographics I focus on within my department. This is a new focus for me, so I am still learning.

    UC Berkeley has made this new website for families: Some options are going down to part-time status (which undergrads may do in normal circumstances, this seems like a new option for grad students though) and helping with childcare including connecting with each other to find pods. As it takes students longer to finish when they go to part-time status, additional semesters are almost always approved (again, I'm talking from an undergrad advisor point of view, but it's just common sense that it would take students more time, if they're only taking 1-2 classes/semester).

    I created a Slack page for student parents in my department so that they could connect with each other more easily. It's a space for them to share resources, vent, find study partners, etc. Our semester has not yet begun, but the page is starting to have more action and the student seem to appreciate the space already. You could create a page and invite your classmates with children to join. If nothing else, support from each other is incredibly important. Slack is free and easy to use.

    Best of luck to you. I have a son and am working from home and it is so difficult, even with some help from family.

  • Hi, Does anyone out there have experience with pregnancy/childbirth/child raising as a science/engineering PhD student (lab-based research)? Our family is considering taking this step, but we have no friends in this situation, and hearing about the experience of others could help us make a more informed choice about the best time to start our family.  We'd love to hear about your experiences - especially situations where the student is/was the pregnant one! Seriously, we don't know any STEM PhD student new parents, and would love to hear your experiences on this forum or meet up for coffee/etc and learn your story. Thank you so much!

    I was a post-doc in Life Sciences when I had my first child. I was also working with a couple who had their first child as graduate students and their second child as postdocs. It is hard, but it is feasible and rewarding. I took 6 months off to take care of my child (my boss was VERY unhappy). I was able to find affectionate and affordable nanny at the UC Village (we we lived at the time). I saw an excellent small daycare at the village, but only for low income parents. I think as we get older it is harder to have energy to raise children. That is why I decided not to wait. Once people start working, I do not think it is easier, maybe more financially easier. It is also worth visiting and exploring resources on campus and with the city you live in. I remember attending a class during my pregnancy and I found out that campus runs several pumping rooms and discounted pumping supplies. Once I came back, I had to resort to working with URAP students (train and trust them) to finish my experiments, as I could no longer stay in the lab as long as needed. My daycare was closing at 5:30 pm. So planning experiments in this way became ESSENTIAL.

    We had our first when my husband was finishing his science pHD, and second during his post doc. I think it really depends on having an understanding professor. We were lucky both times that his professors were very lax in how much he was in the lab and what he was working on, so he was able to be around a lot to help with the babies. I have heard some stories from other friends of professors being unreasonable in not allowing time for maternity or paternity leave. 

    Being a student should provide a lot of flexibility in working from home, which is great with young kids. But both our kids were not great sleepers, so it was hard on my husband trying to function. There is never a perfect time to have kids, you will make it work. I'm not sure where you are at, if you are at UC Berkeley, the University Village is a big community of graduate student parents.  Good luck!

    Not in the hard sciences, but I was pregnant and had my first child while at Berkeley, then waited until I submitted a full draft of my diss to start trying for my second. They ended up being four years apart. If I could do it again, I would have had my second a little sooner. In my experience, having family to help and/or paying for childcare was necessary for me to be able to be a mom of a newborn and to meet academic demands. 

    Anything is doable, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You cannot raise a baby and be a full time lab student and there is no such thing as a part time lab student when you’re working on your graduate degree. When I even did my MS work, I was in the lab unpredictable hours, and you may be exposed to agents not ideal for a pregnant woman. Also, there is coursework, too, and a lot of people in the hard sciences do not function as a primary caregiver, and lack compassion for those who do. It will interrupt your studies, as you will have to take time off. Your PI/mentor will not be pleased. Also, many companies offer maternity benefits after one year of work, in addition to the state. Finish your studies first then go on to family planning. You need to prioritize. Also, babysitters and daycare is not affordable on grad student salary. Circle back to grad work after the baby is older.

    My experience is not recent but maybe it will help.  I was a grad student in EECS at Berkeley when my children were small, so while I wasn't pregnant while I was in grad school, I had many of the same issues in terms of arranging childcare around my classes, being tired all the time, socializing with fellow students who did not have kids, figuring out how to pull all-nighters and still get home in time for my husband to go to work!  But I had a great time, I worked hard, and I did it!

    One very positive benefit of having a child while you're in school is that your schedule is so much more flexible as a student than when you are working full time, especially if you are at the level where you're mostly doing independent research. I was very careful to not over-schedule my time, arranging things so that I had only one demanding class per semester, and the rest of my credits were seminars and research.  It took me longer to get my degree, but that was OK because I was also able to spend more time with my kids. I had to scramble occasionally to cover childcare when a final exam was unexpectedly rescheduled, or to attend an out-of-town conference or a retreat with my research group, but despite those glitches, I still found parenting as a grad student to be so much easier than parenting with a full-time job (I worked for a few years before returning to school.)  I do think it would be very hard to do a PhD program in the hard sciences without a partner who can cover for you at home. I could not have done it without my husband. He would take the kids on outings on the weekends so I could study and work on projects, and take care of them at night when I had to stay late. I knew a single mom in grad school and she would sometimes have to bring her kids in to the lab to finish projects. But it sounds like you do have back-up, so I would say Yes, it can be done!!  

    By the way, back when I was in grad school, some programs were put in place by the Engineering department specifically to support new parents, such as stopping the clock, suspending research and teaching assignments temporarily, as well as allowing for reduced schedules. I believe these were adopted campus-wide.  You might have to dig to find out about them -- my experience was that most of my professors and even my advisor did not know about any of these programs. But you should take advantage of them.  Good luck!

    I had a baby while I was a PhD student. I was lucky to be in a field where most of my work can be done from home, but I did international field work that was hard while pregnant and would have been impossible with a newborn, so I had to be careful with timing. What convinced me to do it was that, while it was hard, I knew it would always be hard - as a new professor (if you're planning that route) it's hard to take time off from the tenure clock, and I'd be over 40 by the time I'd have tenure! Timing is obviously hard because you don't know how long it will take, but good timing can really help - I waited until my coursework and most of my international work was over (though I did spend my first trimester in Haiti, which was the worst), and my baby was born before I went on the job market, so I was not pregnant and (kind of) recovered when I was interviewing. If there is a time when you'll be doing a lot of writing, it could be more flexible than when you are running experiments. It may mean mapping out good times for having the baby, and if you miss a window, waiting a few months until there's another good window. Also, the UCs have some paid maternity leave for GSRs, so if you're at a UC, look into that (other schools might too). My advisor was able to argue that my work was critical and time-sensitive and the university paid for another student to do my GSR work for six weeks. And if your partner is not a student they will most likely get six weeks of PFL and twelve covered by FMLA, both of which can be spread out over a year so you can plan on using that when you'll be busy with lab work. Good luck!

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Financial Aid for Student families

June 2009

I'm running into an issue regarding my financial aid for the fall as I'll be an incoming PhD student at Berkeley. Federal guidelines only let schools estimate a student's budget based on that student being single. I am married with 3 small children and my wife does not work in order to raise our children. Because of my estimated student budget, I can only obtain school loans (federal or private) up to the amount of my estimated costs minus already received aid. While I can submit a budget appeal, it does not allow me to take into consideration support for a spouse or children, other than child care costs, which are irrelevant in my case. Since I'm assuming I am not the first person in the history of Berkeley to try and go to school while feeding, housing and clothing a family of five on one income, I hoped someone might have some advice. I've secured a GSI position for fall, but I'll still be a little short and would like to somehow get school loans to make up the difference. Thanks, any advice is welcome. James

I was in your precise shoes about 5 yrs ago. We were unable to find a way to get more student loans or grants. Ultimately, we ended up moving in with my parents to eliminate housing expenses. We were then able to scrape by until graduation. It was miserable, crowded, and did I say miserable? I wish you well.

I think my parents were in the same situation about 30 years ago, and their solution was for my mother to get a part-time job. My father had more flexibility with his academic schedule so he was able to take over some childcare and my mother became the wage earner (and still is). anon

Yes, the entire federal financial aid form is ultimately set up for undergraduates who are still dependents on their parents, let alone graduate students who have kids. The part of the student budget I find particularly amusing is the transportation section, which includes airfare for going ''home'' - to visit one's parents. Anyway, a few tips:

1) the FAFSA *does take into consideration the fact that you are a parent and have kids - just not enough.

2) take advantage of *all of the appeals - get your advisor to sign off on books you'll need above the minimum amount (depends on your field), include homeowners' insurance costs, etc., tell them you need to buy a laptop, etc.

3)apply for the student parent grant! - if you haven't heard of it, it is about $4k/semester - when/if they turn you down - *appeal - not just their official forms but write out a statement, call, complain, insist, etc. squeaky wheels do work!

4)if you are want loans, anything above and beyond the *subsidized loans (the best, as you know since the feds pay interest til you're done), consider private loans or a home equity loan if you own your house - at least compare costs - it might be cheaper than the student loan rates.

5) go in and talk to the financial aid folks - find someone who will listen - and tell them you have 3 kids for god's sake - one issue that you need to be prepared for is that i think they expect the spouse to be ''working'' - and this is where the rub is - if your spouse is the primary caregiver - they would give you allowances for paid childcare but not your spouse....good luck. grad school mama

Pursuing a PhD with three kids?

May 2007

Hi, Playing around with the idea of pursuing a PhD what do you do when you have kids? I have 3 - oldest will be out of high school in two years, so I would start applying after his next school year is complete to begin right after he graduates. The younger two would be in prek and 1st grade when i ''started''.

Would love to hear how people did it - or why not to. I work for a non profit and I'm burning out fast. I figure I might as well work just as hard for something for myself, that is more intellectually stimulating etc. I only have my BA so it would be about 6 years of commitment for a social science...

Biggest questions are about how many hours per week is this? classes, studying, writing... is it way more than a full time job of 40-60 hrs per week?

Do they make any considerations for kids in terms of financial aid? I understand a TAship can defray a lot of the costs, for an individual, but what about those of us with kids? And healthcare? My current job covers the whole family! thanks in advance!

Well, as I write this I am in year two of my PhD program, and my kids are 3 and almost 6. When I started one was 16 months and one was 4 and in pre-K. And in my case, starting the program required both my husband and I to qut our jobs and move cross country. It took him about a year to find a new job and I am going to school part time and doing a couple of part time assignments, one long distance for my old job and the others for professors (about 5-10 hours a week).

Has it been worth it? Absolutely? Challenging? You bet.

If you are currently working 40-60 hours a week, you probably won't notice a huge difference in the time commitment. I was working more like 30-35 hours a week so I definitely feel the additional burden. The good news, of course, is that you do have a lot of flexibility in terms of when you do the work. For me, unforunately, it means that I have a lot of evenings where I am reading or working on papers after the kids go to bed and too much gets done between 9 p.m. and 1 or 2 a.m. But then I can often sneak in a nap during the day. I also can do things it was hard to do before when I was working, like get to the gym, since I can go between classes.

Here's the things that seem harder for me than for my classmates without kids:

(1) Too many of my classes, especially seminars, get scheduled between 4 and 6 p.m., and a lot of the available TA slots are at 8 a.m. Since I have to handle most of the drop offs and pickups, I can't always do those classes.

(2) Not enough long stretches of time to write and think. Graduate school is a lot of paper writing and deep thought work, or being in the lab running experiments, or coding loads of data, etc. I end up with an hour here, or two hours there, between classes. I have to knock off by 5:15 to get kids, deal w/dinner, bedtime, while my classmates can work on for hours without interruptions. Hence the 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. problem. And I usually have to work at least part of the day on either Saturday or Sunday.

Here's what's easier for me than for those w/out kids: (1) handling stress. As a mom, and as a mom who also had a fairly high pressure job, I'm a total pro. Not only at time management and not getting too worked up about things that don't matter, or getting into big grade stress, but also I am not really intimidated by the profs and have a lot more self confidence than the ''kids'' of 24 or 25. (2) not worrying about when I am going to have kids. For many of the women in my program, and many of the professors, it's a constant angst about when the ''right'' time is to do that. Well, did it. (to be continued on next post)

The money thing? Total nightmare, frankly. We are spending down savings to make it work - there's no way I can make anything close to what I was contributing before. And I'm just too old and in too much of a different place in life to really live like a grad student now. We met with a financial planner and tried to work out a budget and plan for what we were going to draw down off our savings, and how to invest the rest for maximum benefit.

I have full time childcare, which feels like a necessity to me. Some grad students with kids try to make do without spending much on childcare, just a few hours here and there to cover classes, which I totally understand. But I have no idea how they get anything done.

You can get cheap campus student housing often times - we did it for a year, which was all we could stand. When we started, I calculated that my stipend would cover childcare and my tuition was fully funded. So I wasn't a net ''cost'', I just wasn't bringing in income. But I couldn't have done it if it would have cost us. I got the top fellowship in my program, even though we had assets and my husband had a job. They knew as an older student w/kids I simply would not come unless I had funding. If you are thinking about UCB, they have _no_ dependent health insurance for students. None. Nada.

My goal is to finish everything in four years, so I can minimize the hit on the family finances. So I am going full time, trying not to do too much outside work, and having child care, with the idea that it might save me at least a year if not more in completion time. I treat it like my job - I need to be studying and writing as much as I can, getting good grades, and if the dishes don't get done, so be it.

And I love, love, love it. I love it that my ''job'' is to read important books, go to classes and talk about them, try to come up with my own ideas and write about them. Living the intellectual life is great for me.

So here's my advice: First, make sure that a graduate program is what you really, deeply, passionately want to do - that in your gut you know it's right. Because it is a big sacrifce. Second, make sure you choose a program carefully. Mine is small, not hyper-competitive, with faculty who do research in the areas that interest me and with an excellent placement rate. Third, make sure your partner is totally on board, and will be there to pick up the slack at crunch time, like the last four weeks of the semester when you suddenly have to produce three or four 30 page papers, or some major league data analysis, etc. Soon to be PhD Mom

I am currently trying to complete a PhD and just had a baby. I've completed the masters and all of the requirements for the PhD (coursework, exams, prospectus) except for the dissertation in 7 years, and I'm hoping to have that finished by this time next year. I find it really difficult to get any work done since my baby was born two months ago, and child care costs will eat up half of my fellowship/monthly stipend once I start writing/teaching in the fall. It will help that your kids are school-aged.

You'll have to talk to your department/university about child care, TAships, etc., but the one thing I'll advise is that in order to be successful at grad school, you have to treat it like a full-time 40 hour job (if not more). My department has been very supportive, but in the end, there is only so much financial support available, and the time constraints can't be worked out by anyone but you. It is a very rewarding experience, and I think being a mother will give you knowledge and experience that can only enrich your research and writing. And your kids, of course, can only benefit from you going through such a challenging and enriching process. Good luck! Cynthia

I am in the 5th year of my PhD and have one or two more years to go. I don't have kids. I am completely burned-out at this point and feel that I wouldn't have started the PhD knowing what I do now about the process. The competiveness, the demands for publishing, presenting papers at conferences throughout the country, the endless hoops to jump through, the exams, the exhaustion, the lack of collegiality, the overwhelming sense of pointlessness, and the fact that there are very very few jobs out there for PhDs. (Especially in the Bay Area--I'll definitely have to move.) So what is the point of putting myself through 6 years of hell at this point in my life? (I'm 38--it seems different for the 22-year olds in my department.) It's not the idealistic experience I'd thought it would be--doing something for myself, being in a stimulating intellectual environment, having non-structured time to devote to my studies and my interests, developing a community of like-minded friends, etc. Instead it's grueling, spirit-killing, mind-numbing work! (Ah yes, I know I'm in the typical PhD hell right now, but I'm proof that it does exist for me--and just about everyone else I know!) Who knows, maybe you wouldn't experience this, and maybe you'll have lots of positive, upbeat responses. Just thought you'd want to hear this side, too! Well, here is a positive note on my part: I am now writing my dissertation, so my time is fairly unstructured and flexible, which I enjoy.

Also, this is a Stanford/Berkeley Humanities experience. I have a friend at SF State who is very happy. She's doing a PhD in Education, loves it, has a 12-year old, just got married, and continues to teach at university on the side.

As for fellowships and TAs--I get full tuition plus a $16,000/year stipend, which is quite good--I have friends who get only partial tuition or $10,000/year stipend-- and some moneys towards health care for myself. I know my university does not provide health care for the family, but there is some discount.

Depending on the year, I have worked anywhere from 30 - 70 hours/week, approximately.

There is one woman in my department who has a 10-year old daughter and she is in her 10th year, having found it very difficult to finish while also raising her child. Another woman in the department has a 9-year old. She is in her fourth year. Her mother moved from Europe to live with her and take care of the child because my friend never has any time to be with her son. (Both women have wonderful husbands, by the way.)

But, when we're all finished, finally, we'll have something to be proud of. I guess. -- PhD burn-out

Being a student with kids can be great. The best part having a flexible schedule (assuming you have an understanding adviser), while doing work you love, and that is all your own (again, depending on your adviser). However, it can also be really hard. i'd really think about what you expect to get out of it, and if it makes sense financially. Will the time and financial strain on your family be worth it? Do you want to go into the academic job market? Will having a Ph.D. improve your job prospects, or is it strictly for personal development? What about the opportunity costs for the 6+ years you'll spend working on it?

To answer a few of your questions specifically, I'll assume you live in Berkeley, and plan to go to Cal. Cal student health insurance does not pay for dependents. You're on your own for that. Unless you qualify for Healthy Families, expect to pay a bundle, even for a high-deductible plan. If you get funding (through a fellowship, teaching, or grant), don't expect your stipend to pay for any more than your childcare costs. Unless you qualify for subsidized care (i.e., you do not have a partner with much income), and can deal with a school that closes for the summer; then get on the wait list for campus child care as soon as they'll let you.

Talk to the departments you're interested in, and ask what they pay graduate student teachers. The graduate student adviser is a great resource.

There is also family student housing, but Cal has been systematically demolishing the affordable complexes. The last is scheduled to go down in 2010. The new West Village is technically below market rates, but not by much.

As far as I know, subsidized child care and (barely) below market housing is the extent of financial assistance to student families. I'll be interested to hear if anyone else knows of more! Good luck. doctoral candidate & momma

A PhD is really hard and should be something you consider as a means to an end, not an end in itself. I worked for over ten years and then decided to get a PhD because I wanted to become a professor. I am now in my 5th year of school and have two children (born after starting the program). Unless you want to make a career change to a job that requires a PhD, I suggest you get a Masters.

In my experience, a PhD is around 60 hours a week, but it is harder than a 60 hour job. The work is VERY intense and requires a ton of concentration. If you have writers block, or if you have to read a particularly dense journal article, then you could end up working twice as long as you expect. In the weeks leading up to the big exams (qualifying exams and orals), you could easily spend 15 hours a day, 7 days a week, in preparation - and still not feel ready.

PhD students with kids do not get extra money. I am getting huge amounts of money from my parents to supplement the measly amount I get paid as a research assistant. And health insurance does not cover kids at all. The university is not designed to take care of students with kids. Only recently did UC Berkeley start a maternity leave program for grad students - and they are on the cutting edge! To cover our children's health insurance, we had to purchase it ourselves.

Also, I don't think a PhD with kids is possible unless you have some kind of household help. I often spend all day at school - and then work another 3-4 hours at night. This wouldn't be possible if I also had to cook and clean.

That being said, the positive side of a PhD is the flexibility in my schedule. I can work from home, run errands during the day, and was able to breastfeed longer than I otherwise would have because I was often at home during the day. So I think a PhD with kids is possible, but it is only worth the effort if you NEED a PhD to make the career change that you want to make. Otherwise, it is WAY too much work! Burnt out PhD student

Why not? If that is what you want to do in life, go for it. Yes, it will be difficult, but not impossible. I am almost 40, and I have a 4 year old and a 2 year old. Hopefully I will be done with my PhD in a year or so.

However, below are some issues you may want to consider before you start a PhD:

1) Know your program: some programs have more people with families, and some are more geared towards very competetive, right out of a Master's program type of students. The program I am in at UCB is very flexible, and I feel good, because I am not the oldest person in the program. The hours, required courses, etc. all depends on the program. Taking classes (auditing, as a guest student, or paying for a class and taking it for credit) before you even apply to the program is a very good way to get to know the program and people in it.

2) PhD is hard and takes a lot of time. Make sure you want a PhD. It is a very long time committment and overall more than half of the PhD students do not finish their degrees (a national statistic). In your case, you may start with a masters. Or, better yet, why don't you try to take one or two classes to see if you really like the topic you are interested in, and how you feel about being a student.

3) Going back to school after a professional life is sometimes hard. You lose your status, money and other things. But you can work in a research or in teaching, or get a part time job while you are still in school. I have been working as GSI or GSR all through the 4 years, and they do help with paying the tuition, and then they pay me a part time student's salary (which is nothing compared to what you can make if your were not in school). The funding you may get also depends on the program, but of course the more competitive programs have more funding, and it is hard to compete academically with 20-24 year olds whose only thing in life is to be a student (I mean compared to a mom with kids).

4) Depending on the program again, you may be able to get health insurance, and for your kids also. You will have to find about it before you start.

So, it is your call. But a PhD is certainly doable with kids. I think it is rather the more general decision about doing a PhD or not, and having kids is only secondary to that decision.

Good luck PhD mom with 2 kids

I m doing a social sciences PhD, w/2 kids under 5. It is definitely possible. If you can manage a full-time job w/young children, you can manage grad school. The workload can be huge, but it is a lot more under your control than w/any paid job.

My concern re: your question, however, is *why* you want to get a PhD. Not liking your current job, or wanting to be in an intellectually stimulating environment, is not enough. Six years of working hard on anything, even something interesting, can burn you out. (Plus, note that I am going to take *8* years total to finish.) The only good reason to do a PhD is because you are committed to the job you ll be able to get *after* you earn the PhD, not because you re committed to grad school itself. The latter is a sure-fire path to dropping out of your program. Make sure you know what your post-PhD options are before you apply.

The # of hours per week is pretty variable. If you are heading to an academic career, you ll have to work harder/more than if you want an industry/nonacademic job. Before kids, I worked probably 60+ hrs/wk. Now I work probably 40-45 hrs, but this has definitely extended my time in the program. It s an hours vs. # of years tradeoff.

Finances depend on your field and school. For most nonprofessional PhD programs (including anything at UCB), the general idea is that they pay your tuition and a small stipend in exchange for some kind of work usually research on a grant or a teaching assistantship. The stipend won t be enough to live on unless you have a 2nd income probably $14-$25K per year in the social sciences. Health insurance: check the schools websites. At UCB, the student health insurance does *not* cover kids. It s terrible. You would have to buy an individual policy for your kids.

I am enjoying my program immensely in spite of everything, and so far am on track to an academic career. Just be *sure* that this is what you want (again, meaning the eventual career rather than the program itself) and be realistic about the total # of years (don t listen to what the faculty tell you ask the students). It can be a great lifestyle for a parent I m home with my kids 1-2 days/wk, which I could never do with a real job. However, is that unlike a real job (or some of them anyway), the work is *never* done anytime I m at the park w/my kids I bring a paper to read, or if not I m anxious about deadlines. It takes a lot of discipline to compartmentalize to work really hard during the hours that I have childcare and really relax when I don t. Good luck!

I have a PhD and had my daughter afterwards as a post-doc so I offer some advice but not necessarily first hand.

First, don't get the degree unless you have something specific you want to do with it. You will have lots of ups and downs during the 5 yrs that it takes and you need to be motivated to get through it or you'd might as well not even start.

Second, the hours depend on the area - because the research committments and classes depend on the area (even within social sciences). It will depend on the course load, the teaching load, and the research load. These factors will depend on the department and the advisor. Insurance and benefits will also depend on the university. Where I was I could get family benefits but they weren't very good.

So, my recommendation would be to:

1) look at the grad school websites at the different universities you would be interested in. This will give you an idea of the benefits available to their TAs and RAs (research assistants - typically paid off your advisor's research grant if available such as in psychology). This information should be available at the grad division level (for instance, UCBs is here:

2) once you find schools that will be do-able for you, find out whether the department will fit for you. You can contact their graduate affairs coordinator to answer some of your specific questions (like course load, TA availability, etc) if it's not on their website.

3) once you find a department, then look at specific people. Get in touch with them - show your interest. If you intrigue them, they can let you know ways they can help make it work.

4) at some point, get in touch with grad students in the department, particularly those with advisors that you're interested in. They will be able to tell you how much perceived pressure there is to work 20 vs. 40 vs. 60 hrs/wk and whether this work can be done from home at 11 o'clock at night or whether you're ''expected'' to be on-campus 9-6 or whatever.

Hope that helps! Mom, PhD

Ohhhhh... I shudder at the thought of doing what I did over again! I started my PhD program at Stanford pregnant with my 3rd child. What a crazy idea that was! It was very difficult. But you can do it. Make sure you get into a program at a place where you don't have to TA all the time to get your tuition paid (like Stanford). I even got a little stipend for childcare (since they didn't offer any subsidized care - shame on them). The hardest part was not being able to work as hard as my colleagues or attend all the talks and conferences in my field. I often felt like I wasn't good at being a mother or good at being an academic. There just wasn't enough of me to go around. My partner was even a stay-at-home dad, so you'd think it would have been doable. It was very stressful on our relationship, and we almost didn't make it. I finally quit (after 5 years!!) and may or may not ever finish writing my dissertation. As for financial aid, yes, you do qualify for the maximum allotment, but they are loans, most of them unsubsidized, and they are still not enough for living in the Bay Area (unless you already own your house and the mortgage is really low). If I had to do it all over again, I would have waited until my kids were a bit older, but that's just me. Good luck! Julia

I LOVED reading the responses - such well-considered, honest views. I would add a few other things. Disadvantages: you may not finish in 4-5 years - BUT if that is because you are helping at the school, attending the dance finale, etc. then the gain from being able to spend flexible time with your young one is priceless. You may not do the same superior quality work you did before the PhD because of the distractions - you just have to come to terms with that. The 1st two years of coursework are brutal, especially if you have been away for awhile. However, the post-oral exam dissertation writing years can be self-paced. I was too old to wait any longer, but if I had the time, I might wait until Kindergarten or at least pre-K (4-5 years old). I had many years of part-time and only now am I doing close to full-time. Anon

Journalism school with wee ones?

April 2006

It was interesting to read about combining kids with grad school in the recent posts, but I'm wondering about attending Berkeley's journalism school with kids -- anybody out there done that? Or one of the other professional schools? I've just received word that I've been accepted to the program and I'm very excited about the prospect of attending, but my daughter will be 2 in August and I'm due with baby #2 in June -- perhaps going right now is a crazy notion? My spouse is completely supportive and I'm hoping to tap into the family student housing and childcare, though frankly it all seems a bit daunting what with waiting lists and documentation galore. Let me know what you think. And thanks.


I attend another professional school on the UCB campus, and I say DO IT!!! My dept. is VERY understanding (I took this semester off to have baby #2) and while it does take an enormous amount of time management, it is worth it in every way. Having children forced me to really and truly focus on priorities; and while I don't get to do all the extracurricular activities I'd ideally love to do (seeing every speaker, going to every seminar and lecture outside of class, going to every social event) I do pick and choose a few that I'd like. It sounds like you have a supportive parter too, which is honestly what got me through school so far. You will deal with feeling like an outsider sometimes, but you will also have this sense of calm and peace about you that will keep you from getting to the level of stress that other people do (you gave birth, for god's sake, you can do ANYTHING!!!) about things that you know are relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Plus you get to make childless friends who need money and will babysit for you!!!

Regarding housing and child care, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. We are in the East Village of family housing. I called at least once a week after submitting my app (do that NOW). We didn't get UC child care this year, but there are MANY people in the village who stay home with their kids who would love to watch others (that's what we did my first semester) for reasonable rates.

Sorry this is so rambling. It's a topic I feel very strongly about. Feel free to email me if you have any other questions.


Pre-orals with a toddler

June 2005

Hi! I am returning to school in the Fall after taking 3 semesters off to stay at home with my son, who will be 18 months in June. Just wondering if anyone has advice about finishing course work and preparing for orals with a young child. Thanks! Charlotte

I think the answer depends in part on your timeline. Do you have to finish your course work and take orals within a certain number of semesters after returning? If not, you can allow yourself some leeway in terms of your expectations. You certainly won't progress at the same pace as you did before your son was born but that is not necessarily a bad thing. In many ways, being a graduate student is the perfect time to have a baby, assuming you're headed to an academic position later. It may feel hard now but there is much more to try to balance once you're an assistant professor.

I found that my work efficiency became much better after my daughter was born because I could work only in certain time blocks. When I sat down to work for a couple of hours during her nap or after bed I knew that I wasn't going to get anything more than that so I worked hard! And focused. I tried to think about my studies as I would a regular job in terms of putting in a certain general number of hours each week at it, rather than letting it take over my whole life as it did before my daughter came along.

Also, if you can afford to put your son in a preschool program or day care for at least a few hours of each day, or a couple days a week, you are likely to get a lot more done and feel a lot less crazy!

Good luck! It's worth it.

Family is a priority: stick it out for the PhD or bolt with an MS?

June 2005

I think this forum might be just the place to go with this question: do I stick it out in a Ph.D. program, when I know I don't want a tenure-track job, or should I bolt with the M.S? I'm in biology/ecology. I've realized that I don't have it in me to go for the high-pressure academic positions--I just don't have that drive. Ideally, i'd like either a research position (government, university, or foundation), OR a teaching job, not both. Will a Ph.D. actually decrease my chances for employment in biological/environmental sciences? I'd like to stay in the bay area for my family, and it seems like most of the jobs that come up in the government listings around here are GS 9-11--meaning for an M.S. More: I'm three years into my program, have a 3-year-old, would like to have another kid in the next year or two, and time with my family is a big priority. Thanks in advance for any insight!

I could answer this in the physical sciences, but the world of biology is I believe quite different, so it really would be good to check with a bio type. For teaching- depends on level. High school, pay level is higher for PhD, but it is definitely not necessary - MS is fine. Community College, mostly MS is fine, I believe. Industry, you will end up with a more autonomous job, more research independence for example. (I know a couple of people who decided to come back to get their PhD later after getting frustrated with not being allowed to be independent in an industrial environment). Foundation (and industry) - this sounds like non-research jobs, in which case, I believe an MS would be fine.

A PhD can open some doors, but an MS opens a lot of doors too. I don't think a PhD is (in my experience) a minus, but depending on the career goals it is not necessarily a plus, and as a result if it were me, and I was not into the work I was doing to get the PhD I would not stick around just for the credential. The only thing to be sure of is that you are not just going through a temporary motivational crisis, or just with the wrong PhD advisor. The PhD is hard work, so is an academic career, but for some of us, we love what we do and the work is therefore mostly fun, and quite a blessing to have the opportunity for independence (no real boss) and to do what interests us. I think sometimes all that is obvious is the work, but I get to do a huge variety of things, mostly very interesting, and mostly by my own choice (e.g. answering this letter, when I really should be writing a research paper that is long overdue!).

So, that is the best answer I can give. I think these global career choices finally really come down to what your guts are telling you is the right thing to do. Finding something you really enjoy, and that includes being able to balance work and family, is always the goal.

I'm not in biology, I'm in engineering, but perhaps my experience will be similar. I started grad school when my two kids were older than yours - 3 and 6. I had been working in a different field for a number of years before I went back to school. I actually found it a lot easier to be a mom in grad school than in the work force because I had a lot more flexibility in my schedule. I could usually (not always but usually!) arrange classes and meetings for times while the kids were in school, and could take off during the day to help out at their school. So one thing to think about is the short run: staying in the PhD program will probably give you a lot more flexibility in your family life than if you stop at the MS and go to work in the next year or two, and it would also be easier to take time off to have a baby if you are a grad student than if you are just starting your career.

As to long-term career choices, I think that PhD-level work often can be more stimulating, it's usually more money, and at a higher level. Getting a higher salary, and being your own boss translates to more flexibility for moms who want to be with their kids. In engineering a PhD opens you up to a whole range of jobs that are not available to people at the MS level, not only academic jobs, but also higher level positions in industry and research. I have heard people say that it's easier to find a job with an MS than with a PhD, but I have never seen this in practice. What I have seen is that a PhD is often more attractive to a small company, even if there is an MS candidate with the same skills who will take less money, because having PhDs on board brings the company prestige and credibility with clients and financial backers, etc. I have mom friends who stopped with the MS and others who got the PhD, and I would say that there is no difference in how long it took to find a job in the area where they wanted to live, or in job satisfaction. My friends with the PhDs just make more money!

Another option is to get your MS, and go back to school for the PhD later when your kids are in school. Good luck whatever you decide! Engineer mom

How do you handle grad courses and exams? I am dying!

July 2004

Hi. I am wondering if there are any other grad. student parents (especially moms) out there who have children but have not yet taken their qualifying exams. How are you handeling course work and studying? I am a second year student who will probably take my exams in the Spring of 2005. My first child was born in December 2003. I took spring semester off and am now enrolled in summer school (for language). I am dying! I never have more than 15 minutes at a time to do my work and feel like I am just scraping by in class; consequently, I am really worried about starting seminar classes again in the fall. We were not accepted into UC daycare so now I am also faced with this challenge. Others who have been there before, or who are there now - how did/do you do it? Thanks!

Hi, I am not in exactly the same situation as you but it's pretty similar; I thought I'd write, if only to say that I feel for you. The difference is that I took my quals when I was pregnant (2 weeks before my son was born, in Dec. 2004), so I managed to avoid having to take classes and deal with a baby at the same time. However, I am teaching this summer, so is my husband (also a grad student), we have no childcare, and it is hell: our house is a mess, we're constantly exhausted and hungry (we don't have time to eat, let alone cook), and we are just barely scraping by in keeping up with the reading/grading/leading section for our classes. We did get into UC Childcare for the fall(my advice about that: find a way to lower your income for a semester so you qualify for the 'subsidized ! care'-- we just *barely* scraped in) but even with the childcare we will be scrambling (it's only 4 hours a day b/c my son is in the infant group). I have found that one thing I need is a place to work away from my son and a solid block of regular time (i.e. the same times every dayto work in, but I guess anyone can tell you that. The question is how to get it! We are moving to the UC Village so that we'll be in a more child oriented community, because we have felt somewhat 'disconnected' from all our old, babyless friends since our son was born. I tried to join some mom's groups but found that as a student mom, I somehow wasn't in the same situation (not really stay at home, not really working!) as the other moms I met. If you ever want to talk, email me. Gradparenttoo