grad skool rulz #17 – all in the family

Get the entire book – Grad Skool Rulz: Everything You Need to Know about Academia from Admissions to Tenure – for only $2. You can read it on personal computers, Nooks, Kindles, iPads, and smart phones.


A 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 and graduate school.

  • Communication: Your family probably doesn’t understand that graduate school is a job. You have to show up and do work every day, or you will never get done. It’s not like undergraduate school, where you can wait till the last minute to do stuff. Passing exams and publishing your first papers can take months, even years, of prep work. Your family has to fully understand that.
  • Boundaries: Becoming an academic is about acquiring skills and you need time to yourself to work on your materials. Thus, your spouse/partner needs to give you the space to do that. Therefore, schedule “work time” or “alone time” where the partner does their own thing or watches children while you get your job done.
  • Expectations: Explain to your family what needs to be done and what the likely outcomes are. Explain early on that you will probably have to move after graduation, perhaps to a small college town. If you tell your partner and family well in advance, then they can adjust and have reasonable expectations.
  • Give back: Don’t let grad school completely consume you. Make time for your spouse, kids, and friends. Not only is it fair for them, but you’ll feel better, too.
  • Tell your mentors: If you have a sick family member, or other serious family issue, tell your mentors and friends. Even if they can’t directly help, the moral support is needed. Then, of course, a few of them might be able to help in concrete ways.
  • Don’t Wait: I thank Chris Uggen for making this point. If you want to start a family and you are ready, “now” is usually the best time to start. You only live once and you will have the rest of your life with your family and kids, while the bumpiness of grad school is temporary. With good work habits and an understanding family, you’ll get through just fine.
  • Pay for help if you can afford it: A few people, off line, said that you should pay for help if you can. This can include house cleaning, take out food, baby sitting, day care, have someone mow the lawn, etc. It’s good advice. First, you can concentrate on quality family time instead of house work, and it will free up time for your academic work. Second, while you can always get more money, you can never get back time. And if you have that spouse who’s already making money, this is easy advice to take.

There is much more to be said here, please add your own comments.


Written by fabiorojas

March 24, 2008 at 12:48 am

3 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Fabio: Nice points. My two cents below.

    KIDS: My daughters somehow helped me have a healthy sense of urgency about finishing up my doctoral work. I also agree with Chris’ point.

    BOUNDARIES: This point is kind of interesting — I have a really hard time drawing boundaries between being ‘on’ and ‘off’ of work, I am always tinkering on something work-related at home, cleaning up references while watching TV with my kids, responding to emails etc etc. And, my family goes to bed rather early so it leaves a couple hours in the evening for further tinkering, reading, review etc.

    OUTSOURCING: Absolutely, I do quite a bit of this. (I just don’t get any energy out of spending two hours cutting my lawn on Saturdays, I’d rather go do something fun with my kids – so, the neighborhood kid at $10 is a great deal).

    FAMILY TIME: That’s indeed the beauty of this career, there’s time for family. Well, I think most productive academics perhaps still put in 70-80+ hours a week, but the work is brilliantly fun (most of the time), and one can roughly choose one’s hours and not miss the gymnastics meets etc.



    March 24, 2008 at 3:53 am

  2. I’d second, tf and you, especially with regard to don’t wait’ to have kids. My daughter changed my life in many ways but, with respect to grad school, she taught me how to work efficiently. I couldn’t afford full-time child care so when I had a few hours to work on my dissertation, I worked! No email, no blogs, no chatting, no nothing. Now that I can afford full-time child care, I’m amazed at how much I get done. Adjusting to parenthood in grad school helped my transition to faculty member in so many ways.

    I’d also underscore that babies care very little about material things — the tradeoff to having kids in grad school is that you’re often also poor (but you may not be for long, especially if you follow Fabio’s rules regarding student loans). This bothered me initially but I realize the kid didn’t care that she wore generic diapers or slept in a hand-me-down crib in our bedroom, she just liked having us around. There are few careers where you can really work while really being at home raising a child. If that’s what you want to do, grad school is a great time to do it.

    Outsourcing is also key — we have someone clean our house now. We could do it, but we’d rather go to the beach on our off day. I also know nothing about these boundaries of which you speak.



    March 24, 2008 at 6:08 am

  3. I’d agree with you on Chris’s point. I actually felt less pressure on my time/energy from loved ones in grad school than I do as a faculty member. Learning how to adjust – I’m hesitant to say balance – the demands of work/life in grad school has really helped me deal with those same tensions at this position in the game. All of us have “care work” that we’re involved in and there’s no getting around it. Whether it’s with a child, a significant other, a parent or grandparent, or even a neighbor, we get tied up emotionally with others and we have to figure out how to manage those emotions and the time that goes along with it. Don’t expect that it will get easier after grad school. Anyway, it’s tricky and there’s no “right” way to do that….

    Re boundaries: I’ve found it useful in my own life to apply some boundaries. If I don’t, then work takes over and pushes everything else out. That’s just part of my obsessive nature. Like almost every other academic that I know, I bring a lot of work home with me, but I try to parcel out time that is non-work time – where I can’t be drawn into paper-writing or test-grading. Usually, for me, that’s between 6-8 pm. After that it’s all fair game, and I often will sit and watch tv with my spouse with a book in hand or papers to grade scattered across the couch. Every family is different and situations change, but I’ve found I’m much happier (as is my family) if I give them a chunk of time each day.



    March 24, 2008 at 3:24 pm

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: