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Pregnancy and Grad School


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11 replies to this topic

#1 GradMom

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Posted 03 February 2010 - 06:18 PM

I need some advice!

I've just applied to PhD programs and I've also just discovered that I'm 6 weeks pregnant. My husband and I are overjoyed to become parents as we've been planning to become a family for several years now. We were hoping it would work out so that I would be due over the summer, but nature has a way of ruining your best laid plans. So, I'm due early October, smack dab in the middle of what will be my first semester.

My question is this, should I be up front about my pregnancy before I accept a school's offer? I don't want to hide it, but I also don't want it to affect their decision to accept me. Also, we don't plan to tell our friends and family for a few more weeks and I'd rather not divulge that information to the grad school before my parents!

I know what my rights would be as a real employee (the school's I've been associated with get away with not classifying grad students as employees regardless of how they are paid). Do I have any rights as a grad student? Am I entitled to any sort of leave?

Speaking of funding, how do fellowships handle a leave of absence? Specifically, the NSF GRFP. Would my funding be revoked? I'm really hoping the program I choose will allow me to defer for a semester and simply start in the spring. Do fellowships allow you to do this?

Any advice will be greatly appreciated!

Sincerely,
Preggo PhD hopeful

#2 leelee

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Posted 03 February 2010 - 08:54 PM

DON'T TELL THEM!! It is personal, and shouldn't be a factor in their decision to accept you.

However, are you sure this is going to be the best way to start off a PhD? Couldn't you just wait and apply again in a year's time? I know of a few women who have had babies during there PhD, one of which went on to take 8 YEARS to finish!! She was so close to missing out altogether as the year after she submitted our university introduced a policy that requires PhD thesis submission within 4 years of enrollment (I think it used to be 10!)

I don't know what country you are in, so your rights may be different to what we have. But here in Aus, you are entitled to 12 weeks PAID maternity leave if you are more than one year into your PhD, or unpaid if you are in your first year. You also have the option to suspend your candidacy for a period of time (without pay) upon approval from the school. I know a few students in the department have suspended for health or even travel reasons.

And just another thought, and I don't want to be negative, but 6 weeks is REALLY early- what if you lose the baby? Then you will have told them for nothing. There is a reason that most women wait until 12 weeks before telling friends and co-workers.

Good luck (and also congratulations!).

Edited by leelee, 03 February 2010 - 08:54 PM.


#3 GradMom

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 08:48 AM

I'm in the US. We're not as progressive as a lot of other nations regarding maternity leave rights and our grad programs are a bit different.

I've already put off grad school long enough. I'm 28 and my husband is 30. We decided a few years ago to try and have kids and found that you can't simply blink and get pregnant. I put off starting my PhD in the hopes that we'd get pregnant quickly. When it didn't happen, we decided to continue trying and I'd apply. Bingo, one week after I apply, I get pregnant. I don't really see why it would be necessary for me to go through the entire application process again and wait a year. 4 months should be more than a sufficient maternity leave.

The programs I am applying for have 2 years of classes followed by 2-4 (or more) years of full-time research. I can't very well register for classes when I'll be giving birth in the middle of the semester. That's why I'm hoping they'll allow me to start a semester late. I'd rather start a semester late than wait an entire year.

I am painfully aware of my chances for a miscarriage every minute of every day. I wouldn't have to tell them until I accept their offer in mid-April. I'll be far enough along by then that the risk of miscarriage will have decreased significantly.

Does anyone know how US fellowships handle a leave of absence? Does anyone have advice on how to breach the subject with my program?

#4 madrius1

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 10:26 AM

Hi, and congratulations!

I know that Canadian fellowships do cover maternity breaks for a certain period. I unfortunately have no clue about US fellowships.

Although I agree that pregnancy is a personal thing, I think your should go ahead and tell them right away. It could otherwise be considered later like a lie, or a really important omission and thus become quite problematic. The fact that you'll give birth into the middle of the semester is pretty much ruining your chances of clearing your classes that semester, so you can't obviously start your programm in september. I'm pretty sure that telling them is going to give you the best chances of starting it right. You could then see if there is a possibility of starting in january, or if the classes are only given once year.

Good luck!

#5 DRT

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 03:13 PM

Congratulations and fingers crossed for the next few months.

As someone who has had a contract pulled from under them by prematurely advising an employer of the need for parental leave, I’d say only let on when you are obliged to. Any decent university ought to have its maternity policies available online, read them and follow them to the letter.
However, there is a good argument behind at least letting on that you are considering children; you then get the advantage of peace of mind about being honest and can take the attitude that you wouldn’t want a supervisor who has problems with maternity anyway.
As to the practicalities of completing a PhD with children, mes thinks that will depend as much, or more so, on your husband than you :lol: .

#6 GradMom

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Posted 12 February 2010 - 02:36 PM

Thanks everyone for the advice.

I think I'll take advantage of my "recruitment"/interview weekends to probe potential PIs for their position on students with families. After I've been accepted, I'll be sure to tell them right away. My tell the world date should fall right around then anyway.

P.S. Morning sickness + the smell of LB = not fun!

#7 Joneslab

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Posted 16 February 2010 - 07:03 AM

Thanks everyone for the advice.

I think I'll take advantage of my "recruitment"/interview weekends to probe potential PIs for their position on students with families. After I've been accepted, I'll be sure to tell them right away. My tell the world date should fall right around then anyway.

P.S. Morning sickness + the smell of LB = not fun!


Firstly - congratulations!

Secondly - I'm glad you've decided to tell them. There is always health and safety to consider. Many chemicals you come into contact with may well have potential detrimental effects on your unborn baby (in the lab I manage my staff have to tell me straight away so we can remove them from certain testing activities). It's something you'll need to consider and discuss.

#8 fishdoc

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Posted 16 February 2010 - 07:16 AM

I'm at a US university and know a woman that started her PhD and within a year or two had gotten pregnant. I'm not sure what her situation is with family and such in the area to help out, but a couple years later, she's still in the program. I would imagine she took a leave of absence for a semester, but I'm not sure. I don't know how or if FMLA applies to graduate school, but I think it depends on the PI you're working with.

My wife got pregnant a couple years before I finished my degree. Money was tight, and we couldn't afford daycare, but my PI let me stay home during the day (all my classwork was complete) and do my labwork at night when my wife would be home. I was pretty self-sufficient in the program by that point, not a beginner, so that may have helped my cause. It was crappy to never see the wife very often, but it all worked out.

The one thing I wouldn't do is to not inform potential mentors about the pregnancy. I think you're more likely to find a PI willing to work around your schedule than just ending up in a lab and then dropping that on them and telling them to deal with it. Not a good way to start a 4-5 year program.

The best option might be to see if you can start after the birth rather than getting started in the lab for a few months, then having to take a few months off. But that will depend on the PI, too.

#9 GradMom

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 08:40 PM

9 weeks pregnant and starting to feel a little better about how my program will handle it!

I've already told my current supervisor, for safety reasons. Also, because I'm suffering from some pretty awful morning sickness, I feel more comfortable taking some sick time now that he knows. He's been very supportive!

As for informing my program, I'm going to wait until I have an acceptance letter in hand. All my programs have rotations, so I won't be popping down into a lab and saddling anyone with my scheduling difficulties. I hope to either start officially in the Spring or take a leave of absence for the Fall semester.

My hubby is also a grad student. He'll be a 2nd year when the baby comes. He's in a field that allows him to do a lot of work from home. Not that he'd be able to watch the baby all day and get any work done, but at least he can work weird hours and he doesn't have to report into his lab.

I'll know pretty soon if I got accepted. I'll let everyone know how the big reveal goes down. I'm fairly certain there will be women in my situation in the future who could use the advice!

Edited by NMlabtech, 24 February 2010 - 08:48 PM.


#10 GradMom

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Posted 08 April 2010 - 09:45 AM

15 weeks in and everything's falling into place! I brought up family life during my interviews with a few potential advisors and they all seemed OK with accommodating a student with kids. I've chosen my school and informed them of my pregnancy. They are very happy to accommodate me! I'm going to start in the Spring and either skip rotations (I already worked out who's lab I'll be joining) or just do a few short ones. Funding might be tricky but there's still time to figure all that out. I still have no clue how the fellowships I've applied for will deal with deferring until the Spring. I haven't received word about my applications and I'm not about to bring it up until I do.

Having gone through this process, I can say that students in my situation should do a few things to safe guard themselves. First, don't tell them while they still have the opportunity to turn you down! No one I've spoken with holds it against me. They've been very understanding. Second, feel out how potential advisors will handle having a student with kids. Are they willing to let you work weird hours? How do they feel about you leaving in the middle of the day for child-related emergencies? I found it was pretty easy to bring up the subject without giving myself away. It works well if you ask the usual "how long does it take for your students to finish" question. No matter what the answer is, you can probably weave in the extra time it might take a student with kids to finish. I was lucky that many of the PIs I talked to had a bunch of students with kids (also a good sign) so they invariably brought it up when we talked about the length of a PhD.

It's a fine line to navigate as you don't want to hurt your chances of getting accepted but you also don't want to get yourself into a super kid-unfriendly program/lab.

#11 GradMom

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Posted 13 July 2011 - 12:33 PM

I haven't posted in quite some time but I thought I'd give yet another update for anyone stumbling upon this thread.

I'm now a (almost) second year PhD student and the proud mama of a beautiful 9 month old little girl. Handling my duel roles is by no means easy but it is doable. I feel like I've made the best decisions for my career and my family. Honestly, grad school is probably the best time to make babies if you can't wait until you're a tenured professor. :)

One piece of advice for academic moms out there; seek out other academic moms! You're bound to encounter rather unique problems that most moms just won't understand and having a support group is key.

Oh, and in between all the diapers, grant writing, laundry, assay planning, strollers, fellowship proposals, pacifiers, class work, and baby food .... find a good babysitter and get away from it all for a few hours!

#12 Ameya P

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Posted 15 July 2011 - 11:08 PM

Hey GradMom,

Congratulations! I wasn't here when you first posted but this is quite an interesting story and you must be really proud to have pulled it off really well. Plus, your regular updates gave it a nice blog feel too.

Hope you finish your PhD in time and start posting as Dr. Mom

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