help me write the next grad skool rulz – tell me about your family


The next installment of grad skool rulz will be about family issues and grad school. Since people have a wide range of family situations, I hesitate to write this installment based on my own experience. Therefore, I invite all readers to post what they think is important about family life and grad school. Please use the comments section to describe your idea/experience and the specific actions you took to address your issue. I am interested in any family-grad school link, such as marriage, divorce, babies, LBTG issues, death of a family member, caring for sick family, etc. Do not use this as an opportunity to complain about how hard your life is. Instead, tell me about the actions you took to deal with your issue and if your actions were productive. Would you recommend someone else do the same? The goal is to procuce a list of specific things that a person could do to help them through grad school when they have a serious family issue. Post your thoughts in the comments, on your own blog, or if you prefer, email me at frojas at indiana dot edu. All email will be confidential, unless you tell me otherwise.


Written by fabiorojas

January 7, 2008 at 5:23 am

Posted in academia, fabio

14 Responses

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  1. Communicate!

    About how much time you will be spending on your work (most of it), what you need (quiet time), who will do what chores (so that you can plan ahead and everyone knows what to expect) and what will happen after you graduate (like moving for a TT position).

    When I decided to get a PhD my husband was intimately involved in the process. He needed to be willing to make sacrifices (income, location, time) and we needed to be on the same page for what the long-term plan/outcome would be.

    Since then my husband and I have a semester-start negotiation session where we compare schedules, figure out who has time to do what and when it is likely to get done. We talk through what big projects are coming up, when we expect to need uninterrupted time or when we have to travel.

    We also found we needed to negotiate a workspace for me; a place in the house where I could work undisturbed for hours at a time that was also a pleasant place to be for that long. That meant swapping the guest room and the den because the guest room had natural light and the den didn’t. Now my office is in the old guest room and the guest room is in the old den and my work is MUCH more pleasant.



    January 7, 2008 at 5:34 am

  2. i agree with rebecca. we also have a huge calendar that’s in our dining area so we can see when i have things due, deadlines for submissions, late classes, etc. so it’s not a surprise when i need to work late for a week at a time, etc.

    if you have kids, find someone early on who can take care of them when you and your partner needs a break. i prefer another family, but a consistent babysitter is good too.



    January 7, 2008 at 6:03 am

  3. When I started the Ph.D. program, my mother was suffering serious depression. It was quite a wrench to leave my mother and moved to the US. But to my surprise, she became better while I was away!

    You do everything you can for loved ones, but sometimes (or most of the time?) your best plan does not pan out. Other times, things go well for no reason. It is important to plan ahead carefully. That is common sense. But it is also important to be flexible and leave cetain things up to fate.



    January 7, 2008 at 9:47 am

  4. I would have to agree about the difficulties of scheduling. Specifically, grad school really necessitates a certain amount of patience to explain to family members the nature of activities/events that require significant preparation and happen only once a year. There seems to be a permanent tempo where students are looking 9, 12, or 18 months into the future on a daily basis. This degree of uncertainty causes significant anxiety when it involves pursuing multiple options for the same period of time. It’s important to establish ways that family members can be supportive when a student has 6-7 vastly different proposals, offers, or applications being considered.

    Also, a student’s reliance on so many professional staff members at the university cannot be overstated. The scope and seriousness of errors frequently made by staff is often beyond the experience most family members can relate to.



    January 7, 2008 at 11:24 am

  5. When I was in grad school I tried to allot some family time everyday. Family time could not involve me reading academic books, thinking about a paper that was due, catching up on TA work, or anything else that would suck me back into the world of grad school. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, but just enough to make your loved ones feel appreciated and know that you’re still with them. Of course, I had a unique situation. I had two kids and a spouse through my entire PhD program and so the family demands were greater than average.

    Grad school can be tough on marriages and other relationships. It’s time and energy consuming and, overall, the entire experience seems to facilitate selfishness. If you have a significant other, I’d suggest taking time every week or so to go out on a date and do something special for the two of you that doesn’t involve any other responsibilities. Leave work behind and have fun. I think it’s good to start a habit like that early because (surprise) it doesn’t get a ton easier when you become a faculty member. I remember thinking things like, “When I’m out of grad school I’ll have so much time for X.” Grad school may be characterized by more uncertainty but having a faculty job is even more time and energy intensive. And so it’s important to develop good relationship habits (or keep good habits) when you’re in grad school.

    Finally, I think you have to be realistic about your time and needs with your family (especially your significant others). Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Let them know what’s ahead and make sure you follow through on commitments. As others said before, you need to communicate and plan.



    January 7, 2008 at 3:27 pm

  6. i am in the same position as brayden – two kids and a spouse in my first year of my phd program – and totally agree with the family time. i have found myself so involved in everything school that my kids and husband are deprived of my attention, and that’s not fair. i’ve encouraged my husband to make me aware of when i seem to have my mind elsewhere when it should be on them. right now in the evenings, we banish all laptops to upstairs while we play with the kids downstairs. and i make it a point that when i could be on my computer after the kids have gone to sleep, that i just sit on the couch, if only for one hour, and hold my husband’s hand as we watch TV.



    January 7, 2008 at 6:27 pm

  7. my kids were born in years 2 and 5 of grad school. now that they are 14 and almost-17, i think the timing worked out fine. i developed a habit of working in the office (and *not* working at home). i still worked long hours, but when i was home i was actually home.

    that said, a family with little income could live very well in madison during the early 1990s. i’d imagine that students with kids are under more economic strain these days. my only regret is that the kids won’t be around much longer. i’ll be 47 when my youngest leaves for college.

    not sure it will be useful, but here’s an excerpt from my story of the decision-to-have-kids process: (

    in ’91 i was broke and nervous about fatherhood, given my luxurious ta/ra/fellowship earnings and my partner’s new job. when we asked, “should we have kids now?” the answer was pretty clearly “No!” then, i distinctly remember breaking the decision into the infamous two-step process that led to a different answer.

    we asked,
    step 1. “do we ever want kids?”
    step 2. “conditional on #1, is there really a better time to have kids than now?”
    o.k., that was easy. we had enough money to survive in madison, i was looking ahead to a long tenure run, and i doubted i’d have any more time or energy at 36 or 46 than at 26.

    for kid #2, the same thing happened. we asked “should we have a second kid now?” and again returned “No!” then, the two-step got us again:
    step 1. “do we ever want to have a second kid?”
    step 2. “conditional on #1, is there really a better time to have a second kid than now?”

    whoa! that was too easy. at this point we placed a moratorium on further two-stepping.


    chris uggen

    January 7, 2008 at 7:16 pm

  8. There’s also the issue of having a spouse that lives out of town, so part of the decision is whether to move or not while a dissertator. I’d say, if you do decide to move, I think it’s important to 1) figure out how to get feedback from your advisor, through e-mail or by visiting often (this will depend on what your advisor’s syle is) and 2) find some alternative academic environment and workspace/work schedule where you are (and access to the library). Try to structure your environment to be similar to the environment you’d be at your university.



    January 7, 2008 at 10:24 pm

  9. My partner is not in academia, and it is important for me to remind him that being in grad school is my job. I’m not just a student who gets the summers off. I find that going to campus and setting semi-regular hours helps emphasize that I am at work.

    I’m a new mom, and I’m still trying to figure out how having a kid adds to the mix. I think putting up even more separation between home and work will be helpful.



    January 8, 2008 at 12:25 am

  10. I’d like to thank you all for your candid and insightful comments. It will help me write a wonder installment of grad skool rulz.



    January 8, 2008 at 3:05 pm

  11. When my wife and I entered our second installment of grad school we had just had our 4th child. My wife was an absolute gem and supported me throughout the entire process. It helps that her degree is in early childhood education and that she came from a family of 5 kids. If you’re going to be involved in any time consuming endeavor, make sure your spouse is on board or it can be extremely challenging.

    I’d go to school at 7:30am, come home at about 6pm, help her with dinner and getting the kids to bed by 9. At that point I’d get back to school work until about midnight. I’d wake up at about 4-4:30 to start on my finance/accounting/operations reading cases until it was time to leave for class at 7:30 and the whole process would start over again.

    I give Teppo Felin full credit for a few of my sleepless nights as I would read hundreds of pages regarding isomorphism and the attraction, selection, attrition cycle.


    Allan Smith

    January 9, 2008 at 5:21 pm

  12. Hey Allan! Thanks for visiting. But, aren’t you now glad you know all about isomorphism, legitimacy, ASA-model, etc, etc…



    January 9, 2008 at 9:31 pm

  13. […] few months ago, I asked about grad school and family life, which resulted in a very useful discussion. Here’s my summary of what people said, with a few of my own comments thrown in, about family […]


  14. Hi.
    My husband will be a PhD student at the U of O, Eugene OR next September. Currently we live in Northern Western Washington near Bellingham.
    I have the “job” here.
    I am looking for work in Eugene so we can be together, I belive this is best for our family, relationship, his success and our almost 6 year old daughter.
    If I can’t find work I will need to stay here at home.
    This flux position is causing me some anxiety.
    If I can find work, we can find a place to stay in Eugene I am sure.
    I worry about being alone with many home responsibilities, as he will be very busy, away from family and friends and pretty broke.
    I am a runner so I am encouraged by the vitality of Eugene’s running culture.
    You know any advice you have about this type of transition would be really helpfull.



    April 21, 2008 at 10:35 pm

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