The first and probably biggest advantage to being a graduate student is one I imagine freelancers also enjoy to some extent. Once I finished all of my course work for my PhD, my time became completely flexible. I no longer had anyone telling me when I needed to show up somewhere to learn, and this was extremely freeing for me personally. This flexibility is what has allowed me to be a stay at home mommy during the day and then do my graduate student work in the evenings. I know that this isn't the way that things work in every department, as many require teaching and/or working hours in order to qualify for departmental financial assistance. I was lucky enough that when I talked to our department chair and explained that I would basically have to pay to come into the department to work during regular hours, he found a solution that was satisfactory to us all. Having flexible time means that I have always been available to take my kids to their doctor appointments. I've always been able to have play dates during the morning or afternoon. I've always been able to take the girls to the park just because the weather is beautiful and I'm itching for some vitamin D. Most of all, it has meant that I've been here for all the little moments that are so fleeting and precious in their first years of life.
Conference= Vacation with Friends (kinda)
Academic conferences are really great for reviving your enthusiasm for your field and getting your head away from the halls of your own institution. You get to hob-knob with all the great minds of your field and hear about all the new and interesting ideas floating about in your academic circles (and sometimes others too). I've written before about the financial side of conferences, but from the parent perspective conferences can be a much needed break from the every day grind of wearing multiple hats. When I attend academic conferences I get to be JUST my geeky anthropologist self with a whole bunch of other geek anthropologists. It can be a fantastic reunion of sorts for graduate students, professors, and professionals to get together and catch up not only on work stuff, but also on personal lives as well. The conferences are typically held in a fun places too, so it can be like a mini-vacation. Yes, it does take quite a bit of work to actually make these mini-breaks happen, like writing a conference paper and setting up childcare in your primary care-giver stead, but it all worth it for the simple resetting of my sometimes bogged down brain.
Here I am with my awesome friend Sarah.
You can actually see the reflection of our other friend taking the picture in my sunglasses.
This was my first time touching the Pacific Ocean.
That really was an unexpectedly lovely SPA conference.
This was the actual view from my hotel room at the Asilomar, CA facilities.
7 months later, I got pregnant with Mayzie.
Most graduate students don't have children. Of the ones that don't have children, there seem to be two types: the ones who don't think they ever want to have children and the ones who are delaying having children for various reasons. Both types of childless graduate student friends can be the BEST when it comes to snuggling your kids and helping to make sure that you get a date night with your husband. Sure, they too wonder how in the world I do it all, but I like letting them peek behind the curtain of my crazy life sometimes by having them babysit. I've never had a childless graduate student friend let me pay them for babysitting my kids, probably because they know that we too don't have very much money. This is directly related to my next point.
No Money, No Problem
When you have kids as a graduate student, you're already used to having no money. Graduate students live on tiny incomes; that is not a secret. There is a reason that we swarm when there is a rumor of free food on campus. Having kids is hard on the bank account, but most of us never knew what it was like to be in any sort of upper tax bracket to start. We were already used to feeling the financial pinch and clipping coupons when our kids arrived. We had (and still have) never had any real period of disposable income, so there was no adjustment period. Sure, we had to move our money around to be able to purchase different things than before, but we also had no qualms about buying things from thrift shops that others might scoff at.
Over-Education is a Habit
One of the biggest positive aspects of being a graduate student turned mommy is the fact that I get to use my research and analytic skills when it comes to everything about my kids. If you are a graduate student, you WILL over-educate yourself on everything! It is just a habit that you can't break. You consciously seek out the experts in the fields of everything and you inform yourself to the hilt. While I was pregnant, I voraciously read every book/article about pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, diapering, and the first year of life that I could get my hands on. Yes, I was still keeping up with all of my course reading as well, but I wanted to be as informed as possible when it came time for these huge life changing decisions and moments in our lives. Consequently, I might have been a bit of a know-it-all first timer, but I was at least a non-judgmental know-it-all. When it came time for the second baby, I devoured readings on siblings and how to smooth the transition with the firstborn. I scoured developmental literature like it was my job, and even ended up using some of what I read in one of my qualifying exam bibliographies. Because of my graduate student status, I had access to all of the cutting edge research articles that I wanted and could order any book to my university library that I desired. It was awesome!
These are my five top perks to being a graduate student mommy: time flexibility, conference vacations, lots of friends who want to snuggle your babies, no change in financial unreasonableness, and massive reading as a norm. Last up in this three part series, I'm going to give you a little sneak peek into our daily lives and what it is actually like to be a graduate school mommy. It isn't always pretty, this is the life we have chosen for our family. Funny enough, I feel like just as we're all getting used to this whole life, I'm going to finally graduate and be Dr. Mommy.