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Do I Dare to Try to Reach

Do I Dare to Try to Reach
October 26, 2008
(Also appears in Mama PhD)

just ran across your blog today and it immediately caught my attention. I think you may be able to offer some valuable advice. I am 29 with two children (2 ½ and 14 months), a full-time job (though only 9 months), and an MS degree. However, the thought of a PhD keeps creeping back into my radar and there is a program in the local area. I have been out in the workforce for 5 years, but I am at a small, private university. There's probably more to the story, but I guess I'm wondering if it's possible to manage a PhD workload with two children. Obviously, I'd be giving up my position, but I feel like I've reached as far as I can with only a Master's. And what do I love? Teaching. Currently, my job is more administrative, an endless list of committees, and working with students on an individual basis.

I'm just looking for advice from someone who's been there, done that, and is now at the other end.

Thoughts?

Kristi A. from Michigan

I'm going to assume that you're married and that, with two kids and a theoretically employed husband, you're not too mobile? In which case my first question is going to be, have you applied for teaching jobs at community colleges? Because at least on paper, you're qualified to teach at a cc, and you could do that immediately, without five more years of education.

Then I'm going to smack myself and say, okay, duh, Kristi says she's been working for five years, probably she *has* applied at CCs, and you know perfectly well, Tedra, you dummy, that CC's are overloaded with applications from Ph.D. holders like your own damn self and moreover that permanent CC jobs are few and far between, what with all these idiot Ph.D. holders like yourself willing to work as adjuncts, so give the woman the advice she's actually asking for: is it possible to manage a PhD workload with two preschool-aged kids?

The short answer is yes, it is possible. The long answer is a series of follow-on questions: can you afford to give up your f-t job? If you do, can you still afford daycare for two children? If not, is your imaginary partner's job flexible enough that he can do at least half and I do mean half of the childcare? Are you willing to be one of the brave mamas who drags her preschool aged kids to campus with her on a semi-regular basis? How much do you need sleep?

Obviously if you're working f-t right now, you've got a handle on the life-balance thing. And obviously at 29, you've got more energy and stamina than I do, at 40. But getting a PhD is very much a full-time job, albeit one with wonky hours--classes during the day, reading and writing in the evening, and will you be teaching at all? And you really truly do have to take into account the difficulty of shifting gears, if you decide to "take advantage" of the flexible time, from student to mama to t.a. to mama and so on. As it happens, my co-blogger over at Bitch just wrote a piece about this -- you might want to read what she (and our commenters) have to say.

A final thought: in my graduate program, there was a woman with two kids. Yes, she was making progress towards her degree and yes, she finished. But. Because of the realities of her life (she was a single mom, as it happens), she really didn't get to socialize and hang out and frankly network with the rest of us un-child-encumbered grad students: most of us who had kids did so fairly late in our degree programs, by which point we'd already made friends. She may very well have been socializing and networking with the other grad student parents in the grad student parent housing she lived in -- I don't know. It seemed to me at the time, though, that she was really struggling not just with the work/life balance stuff but also with the networking aspect of graduate school -- the stuff that, years afterwards, means people inviting you to conferences, telling you about job postings, sharing teaching ideas, and so forth, all of which is a pretty important part of "the academic lifestyle."

That said, a lot of my current academic identity relies more on internet academic connections than on grad school friends. But in the grad school years and those immediately afterwards, they were my academic network. So if you go back, do try to use some of that full-time daycare to occasionally have a drink with your peers.

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