I've been following the discussion being a grad student parent with
great interest. My experiences were a bit different from most, but
might broaden the range of possibilities. I was a parent first, then
a graduate student.
I began in a MSc program at age 40, when my children were 10 and 14.
So, I never had the illness problem to the extent I would have when
they were younger. My neighbour always stayed with them when they
were sick if I or my husband couldn't. I chose the field of
developmental plant morphology and anatomy because it is much more
flexible than a more technical bench field such as molecular biology.
When my son was 15 the high school teachers in our county went on
strike for an incredible 11 weeks. So, to keep him out of video
arcades etc, I brought him to work and taught him how to do paraffin
sectioning. He turned out to be good at it, and he has since done
contract work for consulting companies using these skills. He also
turned out to be my best field assistant, and worked his way through
university as a research field assistant. He still takes a great
interest in my research projects when he comes home. For him, then,
the experience of being included in what I was doing probably brought
us closer together, and had some practical spinoffs as well.
My daughter, being the younger, couldn't really help me, and she
does often say of those years that she "didn't have a mother--she had
a woman studying in the basement". However, she does admit that I
did my fair share of driving to piano, ballet and violin lessons, and
I always tried to use that time to talk with her as an individual.
My PhD thesis defense coincided with her grade 8 graduation, and I'm
not sure to this day whether I was more nervous about the thesis or
finishing making her dress in time. I guess it wasn't a totally bad
experience for her, because she loves university, and is planning to
enter graduate school.
My supervisor was very "laissez-faire" about my flexible hours, but
perhaps that was because I was a scholarship student, and I finished
graduate school about as fast as anyone does. My husband and I had
always shared child-rearing responsibilities, so graduate school
didn't make a big difference.
So, if I have any advice, it is that for some people, a little
patience may be a virtue, and waiting until your children are a bit
older can be an option. So can being a bit practical in choosing a
field that is less competitive and demanding. You may risk the
chance that you will be discriminated against on the basis of age, or
that there are fewer jobs in your field, so as always, you must
compromise, and choose the option that is not perfect, but seems best
for you under the circumstances.
Department of Horticultural Science
University of Guelph
Guelph, Ontario, CANADA N1G 2W1
519-824-4120 ext. 8912