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Family & grad school: the epic battle in time management

As Sharday mentioned in last week’s post, this month we are focusing on guest posts and interviews with people who have experience with topics that the Gradifying team hasn’t written about as much as others. One topic we haven’t covered is what life is like as a graduate student with a family. I asked a few questions to Mike Lavender, a PhD student, colleague, and friend of mine in the Department of Biology here at Queen’s. Mike, unlike many graduate students is married and has 2 children. I talked to Mike about what it is like to be a graduate student while managing family life.

Mike did his Master’s at the University of Saskatchewan and he found that experience very different.

ML: My MSc went very well and the age of my kids along with the proximity of family made the whole thing flow very easily.

When he packed up and relocated to Kingston to start a PhD, things got a tougher.

ML: My son has just started school and has been sick most of the year with colds/flues he has never been exposed to before. This involved trading off with my wife in order to get things done. My older daughter is also more involved in activities now and a lot of time is spent shuttling her around. Combine the shuttle service with a constantly sick kid and this makes time management very challenging.

Time management remains an important theme for Mike, and is what he suggests is the greatest challenge of doing a PhD with a family in hand.

ML: Time management is a big issue. I spend a lot of time trying to work around school, sports and other activities. Evenings are always full with cooking, cleaning and bedtimes. We try to keep weekends free for family time but this cuts into thesis time quite a bit. Getting and keeping a good work-life balance is very hard.

Even though keeping a good work-life balance is tough, he still manages to do some fun activities with his family in the Kingston area.

ML: We try to get the kids out riding bikes, skating, swimming and even doing some fishing.

When asked what advice he would offer to incoming grad students with children, he said that it really depends on your situation

ML: Your situation being the age of your kids, if you have a partner and if/what they do for work and how active your family is with other activities. It would likely be easiest to manage with preschool age, or older than grade 1. Having your family (or a really good local support system) nearby can also make a big difference as they can provide back up in many situations, for example in the ‘sick kid’ situation.

We would love to hear from other students that have families and are engaging in this epic battle with time management. Drop us a line in the comments, or better yet, shoot us an e-mail if you’re interested in a guest post!

Posted in Families, General, Guest Posts, Kingston, New Students, Staying Well, Student Perspective Tagged with: , , ,
2 comments on “Family & grad school: the epic battle in time management
  1. Mike Wynes says:

    Great post. It was fun to read about someone in a (very) similar situation as me. (I have five kids aged 11-1, did my MSc at Saskatchewan… and my name is Mike).

    While time management of the student is important and at times difficult to balance, I have also found that the support of my wife and kids is what helps to drive me and organize my time. In our situation, my wife is a stay-at-home mom looking after our two youngest children that are not in school yet. This gives me a bit more flexibility to do what I need to when I need to do it, and my kids know that my PhD is like a job.

    One thing I would add that has helped me in the past is using little opportunities to get extra study in. For example, I read articles on the bus to-and-from school (which totals about 1 hour of found time). At times (but not always), I take work with me when I would take my older children to swimming lessons or basketball practices (this gave me a another 1-3 hours of found time).

  2. Amanda says:

    Mike – are you Mike’s doppelganger? What a coincidence! Thanks so much for your comments and suggestions. I am sure they will be super helpful to others looking for some advice. Good luck!

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