Navigating your way through a sea of research, networking and late-night study sessions while in graduate school certainly brings with it rewards, but also its stressors. When you add the role of being a parent to the mix, grad students need a double shot of creative methods for getting things done. And trust me—they can get done! My wife and I had our first child, a girl, in the midst of my first year of grad school. This was a little earlier than we had planned, but we’re grateful because she is the biggest blessing in our lives so far!
When she was first born our daughter Jane slept for most of the day, and we had plenty of help from infatuated family members, so the amount of time I needed to devote to my classes really didn’t change all that much. When it came time for my wife to return to work, we were extremely thankful that her job allowed her to work at home two days a week. This allowed me to be on campus for class and my duties as a teaching assistant, while staying at home with our little girl the other three days per week. Our daughter had her mommy-days and her daddy-days, and we both managed to fit in our work and occasional relaxation time in-between naps, feedings and hundreds of diaper changes.
I know not every grad student/parent out there will have the same flexibility with work that we did, but the real secret is this: if you and your partner support each other and work as a team, you will be able to create a schedule that works. It might not be “traditional,” or what your parents did, but it will work for you. As I write this, my now 14-month-old daughter is sleeping in her room next to my home office. She’s walking, climbing and babbling all the time, and (perhaps most alarming) she has just switched from taking two naps per day to only one! Gone are the days of putting in hours of studying or researching at a time. I’m at the midpoint of my graduate program, and I now have to be much more creative to get my work done.
First of all, I start my day by thinking about a particular problem I need to solve for school. This helps me keep it in my subconscious all day and I can actually be productive while taking care of my daughter or doing stuff around the house. Another trick is to listen to relevant podcasts for your area of study or to audio textbooks while driving to and from campus. And lastly, although this might not sound like the most enticing method, I recommend getting up early—very early. My daughter usually wakes up around 7:00 a.m., so last semester I started waking up at (yikes!) 5:15 a.m. to work on projects for school. I found that I’m more alert and ready to learn early in the morning rather than staying up late at night.
Although it can be tough to balance everything you need to do for school while still being a good parent, both endeavors are extremely rewarding. For me, one of the main reasons I’m earning my degree is to provide a better life for my family. And perhaps the best part is, when I graduate, my girl will be old enough to smile, wave and blow a kiss to her dad in his funny cap and gown.