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Grad student/parents

Laura L. Walsh lwalsh at nemo.life.uiuc.edu
Fri Jan 21 22:45:45 EST 1994

Anne Savitt <asavitt at sunysb.edu> writes:
>      ...     and I was specifically told by the graduate secretary for
>my program (not microbiology, by the way, although the lab I am doing my
>research in, hence my mailing address, is in microbiology) that I had to
>put down scientific problems as my reason for requesting an extension,
>when she had full knowledge of my history.  I don!t want to cast
>aspersions at my school or my graduate program, but these experiences
>reinforced the perception that being a graduate student mother created

>I would be interested in hearing what other graduate student parents have
>experienced.  Perhaps you could share your experiences, positive as well
>as negative.  In fact, it would be wonderful if the response was
>overwhelmingly positive.

Well, my experience isn't overwhelmingly positive, but neither is it
that negative.  I returned to grad school when my youngest was almost
1 year old and I was 37.  I was not accepted into either of the two 
labs of my choice, but there were certainly a number of factors at
play -- my age, my kids, my having been away from biology and chemistry
for so long, the fact that our class was unusually large and the profs
had good choices of grad students (better than I am), the fact that
I wanted to do computational biochemistry (no lab work) and this 
department frowned on that.  I did find a lab and I am doing the type
of work I wanted, but under very unusual departmental arrangements.
I was fortunate that my mother wanted to help and moved to this city
to take care of my kids while I was in school.  She made it possible.
That is the good part.  The "bad" part is that I am still not sure I
will actually be able to finish.  I am not that good at "original
research", although I seem to be good at explaining things and organizing
them in a way people can understand.  I used to be a teacher and I guess
I am still drawn to that.  So I have reached the end of my allowed
time and I still don't have "enough" research that qualifies.  And
I am up in the air about career goals.  I would like to teach, but
I would have to have a Ph.D. to do so around here (my husband has
tenure here), and to survive in the university, you have to do research.
Teaching counts a little, but only a very little.  And my kids do get
"in the way".  I can't come to evening or weekend lab meetings -- I
was apparently the only one in the lab who couldn't make a Saturday
morning group meeting.  I don't ever get hassled about the kids, but
it is apparent that meeting their needs takes much more of my time
than it should when I am in grad school.  I am too heavily involved
in their school and I know I should say no to that, but I can't.  And
my mother is getting to the age where she needs help, too.  There
just isn't enough of me to go around.

The moral of all this? -- perhaps there isn't any.  Each situation
is different.  I wouldn't say I have been discriminated against
because I am a parent, but being a parent has certainly made the
normal graduate expectations harder to meet.
Laura Walsh  (lwalsh at nemo.life.uiuc.edu)

>Anne Savitt
>Department of Microbiology
>SUNY at Stony Brook
>Stony Brook, NY   11794-5222
>email:  asavitt at sunysb.edu

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