PhD student new parents

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!

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RE: PhD student new parents ()

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.

RE: PhD student new parents ()

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!

RE: PhD student new parents ()

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. 

RE: PhD student new parents ()

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.

RE: PhD student new parents ()

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!

RE: PhD student new parents ()

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!