FinishLine | Tips Tools Techniques for Completing a Thesis or Dissertation from Dr Wendy Carter

September, 2006spacerVolume 2, Issue 9

In This Issue:

Graduate School; When is a good time to have a baby?

This newsletter was inspired by the Women In Engineering (WIE) group on the University of Maryland campus and the Berkeley Parents Network.

As if all of the time pressures that grad students face isn’t enough, many are now being hounded by the “tick, tick, tick” of yet another critical time element: their biological clocks!  Grad students, especially females, are more and more frequently reaching their peak child-bearing years during their graduate school years.  As a result, the question of whether or not to begin a family during this time -- before achieving tenure -- is one that is now being pondered by many graduate students.

As graduate students, we’re quite practiced at postponing events until a more convenient time.  Putting off having babies until after we’ve earned tenure can follow easily in the footsteps of worrying about the qualifying exam only after finishing the coursework, or determining a dissertation topic after completing the qualifying exam.  But the reality of graduate school is that these milestones frequently take longer to achieve than expected, which can continuously move our timelines further and further back.

That can have serious ramifications.  Current fertility research shows that women who wait to have children have much more difficulty conceiving than women in their twenties or early thirties.  Since the median age of earning a PhD is 33, and the median age of securing tenure is 39,  postponing childbearing until after tenure is becoming less and less of an option for  female faculty.

The bottom line is that there is never a convenient time to have a baby. Like any relationship, children create continual challenges and demand your time and attention on days when your focus might be needed elsewhere. That being said, however, studies show that many graduate students take advantage of the flexible graduate student schedule to have children before they reach the more demanding tenure-track employment.

Balancing academia and a family can be extremely rewarding, and is definitely achievable, if not easy.  I was a single parent when I entered graduate school, so I was already accustomed to organizing and balancing my studies around my child’s needs. I believe academic life affords far more flexibility than most other careers, and the hours you are required to be away from home are fewer than in a typical “9 to 5” job … or, for that matter, as a tenured professor who must add teaching, grading, advising, committee work, office hours and publishing to the task list.

Indeed, graduate school can provide an enormously privileged situation for families, with time off over the summer and extraordinary flexibility for dealing with children's sick time and holidays, for example. I gained even greater flexibility when my daughter began attending school and I was able to schedule classes and plan meetings during the hours she was away.  In addition, I had access to a vast array of resources (libraries, films, special events, lectures, athletic facilities, etc.) to which the public has limited access.  On campus, I was able to nourish my mind and introduce my daughter an extraordinary intellectual community early in life.

However, everyone’s circumstances are different, and the decision of whether and when to mix an academic career with parenthood is one that only you and your partner can answer.  While you may wish to seek the advice of your advisor regarding this important issue, keep in mind that it is only advice you are seeking, not permission.  This decision is yours, and yours alone, based on careful consideration of many factors.

In my own experience, access to affordable, excellent childcare and healthcare had been absolutely essential to balancing academia and family.  Other critical factors to weigh in your decision should be your age; the number of children you wish to have; the academic demands of your school; how involved your partner will be in parenting and household chores; and how financially stable you are.

Having children during graduate school has the potential to create a significant financial burden.  Although grad students may receive stipends, they are not considered staff, and typically might not have access to benefits such as healthcare, sick or vacation leave, FMLA or maternity pay … options that may be available should you choose to wait until achieving a post doctorate, tenure position, or similar staff post.

Another pressing consideration regarding when to begin a family is how ambitious you are.  There’s no doubt that having children can restrict career growth, particularly for women. Many women hold a very real fear that marriage and children will be viewed by some male faculty members as impediments to their academic career … and with good reason.  Clearly, the highest climbers on the academic ladder are those who can dedicate the most hours to their work, achieve the highest degree of visibility in their field, and are able to accept the most promising and prestigious post-doctoral and faculty positions … wherever they happen to be.  Women/parents who are unable or unwilling to travel extensively, work around the clock, or make geographical moves because of an anchored family can be severely hampered. 

It’s important to get a balanced perspective on parenting and graduate school.  You should read last year’s FinishLine article “Parenting and Graduate School Seeking a Balance.  Moreover, students and faculty on the Berkeley Parents Network are willing to share their candid parenting experiences with their online readers. Below are two perspectives from women who signed into the network:

A mother of two wrote:

“I have tempered my ambitions, working at a lower-level school that valued my teaching skills over publications and grants acquisition in the tenure process. I rarely travel to professional meetings and avoid taking leadership positions in organizations. This is somewhat isolating and not what I originally envisioned when I was in graduate school! My partner has shared 50% in absolutely every responsibility (except breastfeeding and being pregnant, I suppose!). For me, staying professionally active was absolutely necessary, and I don't feel I'd make a happy, patient or able stay at home mom. The balance of having both keeps me stimulated and satisfied. When children are older you have more time for academic pursuits, but the first few years require more mental and physical energy and can make academic work too difficult.”

Another sympathetic and insightful mom suggests that while getting tenure is difficult, not all academic institutions are high powered research institutions.  Some don't require the publication of a book or journal article, but ask you to emphasize teaching, instead. Those that do ask for journal or book publications have grown more sympathetic to the needs of families, and offer more “stop the clock” and leave options.  In such situations, tenure-track faculty life can be much less stressful than grad school, and may provide the ideal “breeding ground” for beginning a family.

In the final analysis, it boils down to how much your choices mean to you. If you love your field, and look forward to chances to read, write and research, you can definitely balance that passion with a family.  I know many parents who have done so quite well.  However, it is important that the passion be there.  If you’re not fully engaged by your field, or not wholly dedicated to the academic enterprise, a family will tend to gobble up the majority of your time, energy and inspiration.  In that case, choosing a part-time role or another field entirely may be the best option for you to pursue.

Email Question of the Month:


Hi Dr. Carter

I have not finished my Dissertation. I need to have a finished product so I can model after it. I have passed the qualifying exam. The school is waiting on a proposal. It seems that I have trouble getting started. I don't usually have trouble writing but the school is requiring dissertations to be written in the APA format, which is throwing me off. I really would like to finish this program by next summer. Thanks for the inquiry.




Hello Leroy

Thank you for purchasing TA-DA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished™.  I suggest that you begin by using the ingredients listed in the March, 2005 FinishLine newsletter i.e. begin with a blank screen and copy the 13 ingredients on to the screen. Start writing what ever section you know well and build from there. In addition, the TA-DA™ CD has more detailed information for each section of the proposal.

Go to the section on writing a proposal in the CD and click on the graphic (picture that looks like an outline of a proposal) and print it out using Adobe Acrobat 6.0 (a free download). If you don't have Adobe Acrobat Reader, be sure to download the Reader onto your computer so you can read and print out this information.)

Go to the TA-DA™ website for a "crib-sheet" for APA style in pdf format to get you started on your citations. You should not solely rely on this sheet for your entire dissertation. You should also go on-line to APA to purchase the APA Style guide for more information.

TA-DA! Graduates
Congratulations on Your Success

Marcella W from TADA Thesis and Dissertation Summer Writing Group has passed her comprehensive exam!

What TA-DA!™ Users Have to Say...

If you're still wondering whether or not TA-DA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished™ can help you — don’t take our word for it. Take a few moments to read what some of our customers have told us.
See how TA-DA!™ helped them...

Ph.D. Doctoral Students

•  How it (TADA) Helped: In many ways but I will mainly highlight two areas for now. 1. The TADA Calender. The main problem I faced before was how to get down and do my work. But with the TADA Calender, I have made a committment and I everyday I have the motivation to fulfill this commitment. 2. The 12 Minutes Tasks. I was never even aware of some of those requirements. Now I feel more confident since each day I know exactly what is expected of me and I can make an exact plan of how to accomplish them. Dear colleagues in Thesis/Dissertation writing. Anybody wanting to have a peace of mind and confidence in whatever she/he does during the whole Thesis/Dissertation writing, you have no choice but to buy the TADA CD. I won't explain what wonders it will do to you, but buy it and experience it." Connie, U.K.

•  TA-DA gave me the incentive to "get the lead out" and finish. The 12 minutes a day has lead to approximately two to three hours. I have really got a lot done, just knowing that the twelve minutes does wonders for the psyche.
Maryjane, Fayetteville, NC

•  The commitment to a deadline and to working 12 minutes a day actually reduces stress. I can always do 12 minutes--even if I'm tired, sick, uninspired or grumpy. Facing a deadline makes it feel like I will actually get done! "I have to do my 12 minutes" we say in our house these days. I've been progressing steadily on my dissertation by committing to 12 minutes, and my husband has covered huge amounts of material for an upcoming professional exam. My friend has committed to completing the annulment papers she has procrastinated on for 10 years, and my father-in-law has started studying Spanish 12 minutes a day. Thanks!
Christine, Seattle, WA

•  It helped me to set goals for my chapters and give me some practical strategies for finishing. Also I believe it's good to list your finish date. It gives you something to strive for rather than letting the thesis become nebulous.
Martha; Albany, CA

•  TA-DA explains the dissertation process and lifts the curtain to a process that seems impossible to accomplish. It provides strategy for selecting the committee and provides timelines that enable accomplishment of the dissertation within a specific time frame.
Randall; USMC Jacksonville, NC

•  The program helped me to understand the dissertation concept much better. I am a visual individual; the tutorial was a great help.
Deborah; U.S. Army

•  Provides helpful suggestions for how to proceed as well as suggesting disciplined and reasonable timelines for completion.
Lawrence; Philadelphia, PA

Master’s Thesis Students…

•  It has helped with the fact that my graduate school does not have a formal format for the proposal. The Journal has helped a lot.
Talia; Naranjito, Puerto Rico

•  This is a great tool for those who will be starting either their Master's Degree or Dissertation. I highly recommend it.
Teresa; Naguabo, Puerto Rico

•  Requesting that I set a goal date for finishing, kept me focused and it was the first step in accomplishing the task. Also, I kept remembering the words; a good thesis is a done thesis.
Gladys; NY, NY

•  It guided me to a fair start. Gracias!
Jess; San Francisco, CA



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 Dissertation 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:

Graduate School; When is a good time to have a baby?

Email Q & A of the Month

Congratulations Graduates

What TA-DA!™
Users Say

Next FinishLine Features:

Name Dropping, Book Review, or Writing a Literature Review

Dr. Carter's

Getting What You Came For...
The book explains the entire process of completing graduate school, from selecting and applying to a graduate program to obtaining a teaching position. Selected chapters provide overall practical advice on selecting an advisor, managing the committee, selecting a topic, writing a proposal, writing the dissertation, and preparing for the defense.

Getting What You Came For...

The Dissertation Cook Book
The authors uses a cookbook metaphor define the ingredients of a dissertation. This book provides useful information on each section of the five-chapter dissertation common in the social and behavioral sciences. It also contains practical tips, hands-on exercises, and checklists dealing with getting started, choosing a topic, types of research instruments, statistics, sampling, and analyzing data. Most of the information is relevant for writers at the proposal stage.

The Dissertation Cook Book

The Artist's Way
This book by Julia Cameron and Mark Bryan leads you through a comprehensive twelve-week program to recover your creativity from a variety of blocks, including limiting beliefs, fear, self-sabotage, jealousy, guilt, addictions, and other inhibiting forces, replacing them with artistic confidence and productivity.

The Artist's Way


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