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grad student parents

Jean Gerrath JGERRATH at evbhort.uoguelph.ca
Sun Jan 23 12:20:49 EST 1994

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.

Jean Gerrath
Department of Horticultural Science
University of Guelph
Guelph, Ontario, CANADA  N1G 2W1
519-824-4120 ext. 8912    

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