I confess, my intentions for writing this particular post were, at least, 50% self-serving. I have a 4-month old, I’m in my final year, and I’m trying to get through this game. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to learn a bit about how people manage to keep their life in order to finish a graduate program without losing their marbles, and raise a human being at the same time. I’ll start out with a little bit that Queen’s does to help you out, and then some tips on what you can do to help you out.
Nearly 88% of graduate students in Canada are between the ages of 22 and 39 years old. This age range overlaps with the average age of Canadian women at the time of childbirth, which is 28-30 years old. This puts grad students in the position of delaying starting a family, or taking a deep dive into cold, sobering waters. Choosing to start or continue a family during grad school can put the parent at a disadvantage, and research consistently shows this impact is disproportionately harsh on women. Adding insult to injury, universities broadly are still yet to beef up their policies and resources for student parents to help them balance obligations of parenthood with those of academia. With that said, there are a few things that Queen’s graduate student parents should know if they’re planning to start a family, or if they are coming to Queen’s with young children.
RESOURCES: Support from Queen’s
Queen’s grad students can register to take two terms of maternity/parental leave. Many Canadian universities don’t offer any leave, so it’s nice to have this in place.
Maternity/Parental Leave funding
Most universities do not offer funding for mat/pat leave, which often makes the issue of not having any leave fairly moot for most. Let’s tip our hat to Queen’s for offering $5,000 in funding for folks who qualify for mat/pat leave. It’s not like you’re going to be using it to fund your leave in the Maldives, but it’s enough to lower the financial stress a bit.
Ban Righ Centre
The centre is an excellent resource to be used as a child-friendly space for student parents to spend time with their child(ren), breastfeed, or to find a quiet room for parents to study or nap in. They also have student advisors who can help mothers locate community resources.
Queen’s Daycare Centre
Last, but certainly not least, Queen’s offers daycare available for Queen’s students. They have a “lengthy wait list” and advise that you get your name in as early as you can. Their website has all of the information you need, as well as links to several agencies that can provide financial assistance.
Tips of the Trade
For all of you that have been making your way through grad school with kids for a while, I bow before you, and you should be writing this section. I have learned a couple lessons that I’ll share, and I’ll put in a few that I’ve seen others write about as well, because they sound like really smart ideas that I want to start doing.
Finish what you’ve started
If it is at all possible to defend your Master’s thesis/dissertation before your child is born, do it. Go at it with the fervor of someone battling a shark – your chance of winning is practically nil, but you’re so desperate that you don’t even recognize it. Go at it with this mind frame. If defending is off the table, set a goal (e.g., completing a first draft) and do it. If defending isn’t even in the picture, whatever you’ve got on your plate for projects, get those tidied up as much as you can. I had a chance to defend. I blew it, and now the tide has caught it and it’s swiftly drifting out to sea. Let’s talk about regret.
Put planning on overdrive
If there’s anything that you can set up in advance – people taking over projects, application for mat/pat leave, discussing with your supervisor how your workflow is going to change.
Reach out for help
If asking for help is difficult for you, I’d suggest finding a way to overcome it. I wasn’t a big fan of it, but if everything starts sinking, it probably makes more sense to get help than to let your relationship, your parenting, or your work suffer the consequences. Family, friends, labmates, and colleagues will sometimes surprise you. My biggest surprise is how much people love babies. I mean, you hear about it, but man, there are a lot of people out there that are crazy ‘bout babies! Every little thing helps, both in a practical sense and in a boosting-your-morale-because-you-experience-the-depth-of-selflessness-and-caring sense.
I could regurgitate the plethora of tips on the internet, but I don’t want to put Google out of work. But if you are student parent and you have tips you’d like to share, please (for me as much as everyone reading this) please leave your comment. Too many good hairs are being lost, let’s help each other out.