April, 2005Volume 1, Issue 4

In This Issue:

Parenting and Graduate School Seeking a Balance

Welcome again to TADA! FinishLine.

TA-DA! Finally Finished acrobatsAs a parent, my primary goal was to make positive childhood memories for my daughter. My goal for graduate school was to stay focused and finish with a degree. By the time I started my master’s and doctoral program, my daughter was in third grade; I realized that to be a successful parent and a competitive graduate student I had to draw some boundaries and be practical and parsimonious with my time. I let my advisor know upfront that I could not attend meetings after 3:00 pm because I wanted to be home when my daughter got home from school. I valued the time I spent with my daughter and respected my advisor’s schedule by being honest at the outset of our advisor/advisee relationship.

If you are a parent preparing to apply to graduate school or beginning your graduate program use the TADA™ CD and newsletter as tools to reduce your stress and guide you as you prioritize how much time and effort to give to your child, spouse, advisor, colleagues, and other competing obligations. Understand that graduate school might take longer because you have other responsibilities. To finish your degree and raise a happy child, you don't have to be a perfect parent or a perfect graduate student. In seeking a balance between the two responsibilities, try to eliminate things, people, and commitments that drain your energy and are not a priority. As with everything, you have to pick your battles and be willing to walk away sometimes.

Here's how to get started.

1. Prioritize Your Time:

To be an effective parent, you must be able to spend quality time with your child and yourself. You must make every minute count to try to reach a balance between your academic life and your parenting responsibilities. The guilt of not working on your thesis or dissertation is normal, but graduate students who are parenting have the added guilt of not spending “enough” time with their children. The more time you spend feeling guilty, the less time you spend either parenting or finishing school. To reduce the guilt you must become more organized by creating daily, weekly, and monthly priority lists.

2. Treat Graduate School Like a Job — Manage Your time:

In the beginning of your graduate program, coursework is often based on a strict schedule, around which child care must be organized. Nonetheless, it is important that you make the most of the time you have available. When the coursework phase is over, you are responsible for managing and structuring your hours throughout the day.

Treating graduate school like a job will help you to effectively manage your time, your schedule, and your children’s schedule. Even if you don’t have a class, be productive on a daily basis when you are away from your child, so you can spend quality time with your child without feeling guilty

3. Self-care and Routines-- Setting a Bedtime:

While you are in graduate school, unstructured time is not your friend--you need a routine that works for your household. Many researchers find that children benefit most from a structured, safe, and predictable environment. It is important to give your child a specific bedtime routine that works for you and your child. You can increase the bedtime as the child ages. With a nightly bedtime routine you are able to schedule work and relaxation time for yourself.

Your physical presence is not enough, as a parent, spouse, and graduate student, you are required to be mentally present in each moment and in whatever you do. When you have scheduled time to work on your dissertation, work on your dissertation. When you are home, spend that time with your child. To finish your degree and still enjoy the precious moments with your child, you must remain healthy both physically and mentally. To do so, you must create some personal rewards for yourself and set aside some fun time for you as well.

4. Graduate Family Housing:

When you are searching for a graduate school and you have children or are thinking about starting a family, consider the university’s resources that are available to graduate students with children. Graduate family housing is as important as financial aid.

Graduate family housing often involves a community of similar parents who are in graduate school facing similar responsibilities. These housing communities often have bartering systems that might involve exchange for daycare; escorts to and from schools; information about teachers, schools, and principals; newsletters; tax information; child support; scholarships; listings for part-time jobs; items to buy/sell; and childcare or other services.

5. Social Parents:

When people say it takes a village to raise a child, they often mean that raising a child should not be the sole responsibility of the biological parents. As parents and graduate students, you need a network of mentors. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to use available resources, such as on-campus daycare, after-school care, free or reduced lunch programs, summer camp programs, child-care subsidies, and other student-run support groups, such as single-parent groups, divorced parent groups, wives of graduate students, etc.

6. Take Advantage of Campus Summer Programs for Children:
When the summer vacation occurs, you might still have classes. Consequently, you must arrange activities for your children. Many universities offer summer programs for children. Some of them offer scholarships based on the financial needs of the participating student. Your fellowship or assistantship awards might qualify your children for these programs. Nonetheless, these programs are generally not expensive. Programs can be 1-2 week programs, some are residential-based, some focus on academics, computers, and art, while others focus on athletics. If you can put together a series of these camps, you can cover the entire summer break for your child.
7. Services for Parents:

Even if your school does not have graduate housing, it might provide other services for graduate students with children. Some schools have organized student-parent groups, such as Michigan State University's Student Parents on a Mission, which offers parenting classes and opportunities for student-parents to connect with each other. Check to see if your university offers university-organized activities for the children of graduate students and other valuable services such as on-campus childcare, coupons for subsidized childcare services, and scholarships for graduate students who are parents.

8. Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans:

Because you have children, your financial needs might exceed the standards calculated for an average graduate student without children. You should fill out a FASA form and complete the section which asks you to provide information about extenuating circumstances.

Direct and FFEL Stafford Loans are either subsidized or unsubsidized. You can receive a subsidized loan and an unsubsidized loan for the same enrollment period. While a subsidized loan is awarded on the basis of financial need, an unsubsidized loan is not.

9. Setting Priorities and Being Selective:
As a graduate student with parenting responsibilities, you must become more organized than the average student. Because of time restrictions, you cannot participate in all department activities. You must be selective in terms of which activities, how long or often you participate. Make no mistake, some participation is required. Your attendance and participation in national conferences, campus workshops, and presentations are important components of your success in your graduate school. Your visibility in these national, campus, and department events helps you to become better known by your advisor, committee, and other individuals in your field. Your ability to network with faculty will help when it comes to securing — fellowships, assistantships, opportunities to work in a lab, and recommendations for the future.
10. Libraries and Reserved Readings:

Often, reserved readings are required and only available at the library's reserve desk for a limited amount of time. Reading these items at unpopular times might ensure that you trip to the library is not wasted, and you are able to find the material when you arrive. Because reserved readings are often available for a one-to-two hour time period, you may need more than one checkout period to finish the material.

To save time, photocopy the document to read during a more convenient time. In addition, you might need to bring activities to occupy your child. There is not much in the library to amuse children or to keep them quiet. However, most libraries have videos and or quiet-study rooms that can be reserved ahead of time. When I was unable to afford a television and a VCR, my daughter and I would watch videos together, or she would watch while I read articles next to her.

Email Question of the Month:


I have worked in two different labs because the funding ran out. I need some more funding to stay in school. Should I pretend that I am interested in a professor’s project, so that he would fund me?


I truly understand the basic need for funding. We all have to eat and pay the rent. You did not come to graduate school to find a job. Hopefully you came to pursue a graduate degree. I strongly suggest that if you want to finish graduate school with a degree you should focus on finding someone that you truly respect and a project that you can be enthusiastic about. You’ve already worked in two labs. You should be confident in the skills that you have to offer a new professor. You should interview potential professors/employers. Don’t be shy about letting the professor know what your academic interests are and asking how long the project is funded for.



Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D.

About the Author: As a single mother, professor Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D., completed three masters' degrees and a PhD. Her motto is a Good Thesis/Dissertation is a Done Thesis/Dissertation. She is the creator of a new innovative interactive resource tool on CD--TADA! Thesis and Accomplished. To learn more and sign up for her FREE tips and teleclasses, contact us at Privacy is our policy. TADA™ Finishline does not give out or sell our subscribers' names or e-mail addresses.

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Inside This Issue:

Parenting and Graduate School Seeking a Balance

Email Q & A of the Month

Our Mistake Is Your Gain

Next FinishLine Features:

Managing your advisor and committee relationships

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