Jan 29, 2015 · Leave a Reply

Training in Research and Parenthood

By Clara Castillejobecerra @claracastillejobecerra

Perhaps you are contemplating becoming a parent in the future. If so, you may be wondering how becoming a parent will affect your career, how you will handle your responsibilities as a researcher and parent, or how you will survive these tough years in graduate school with the addition of children. To answer some of these questions, this blog will offer different perspectives and advice from students who have made the decision to become both scientist and parents.

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Fan-Chi Hsu, Ph.D. received her doctoral degree from the immunologyfan-chi track in November 2014. She and her husband, Chien-Chang Chen, a 5th year pre-doctoral student in the immunology track, have a 2 year old boy.

Did your career path change after you decided to have children?

No, I always want to be a professional immunologist, and I think I have met at least part of that goal now. I will continue my career path in the field of immunology and my goals will not change even though I have a child now. A family friendly job in the future sounds great, but life is not always smooth. You have to find the right balance and you might need to sacrifice some of your family time in order to make your dreams come true.

Are there advantages or disadvantages of having a child while in graduate school?

Everything has its pros and cons. I cannot definitely say that having a child in graduate school is the best time to raise kids (the salary for a graduate student is OK, but it is not a luxury). However, if having a child is part of your life’s plan and you enjoy your family’s support, then having a child in graduate school is a good decision. My husband and I have a lot of fun with our son, and we truly enjoy parenthood. For us, this is the perfect time to have a child, but I understand how it might not be the right time for others.

Has your PI/program been understanding for the demands that a family may bring? In what ways has your advisor/program been considerate of family demands?

Your mentor's attitude towards your decision to become a parent is absolutely crucial. As a first time parent of a newborn, many situations can arise which will interfere with time/productivity in the lab such as lack of sleep and constant trips to the lactation room. You must definitely have your mentor's support and understanding. I still remember that one time I fell asleep in front of the flow cytometry machine due to lack of sleep and just felt overwhelmed by my maternal duties. My PI woke me up, and said that she had been there for 10 minutes. I felt embarrassed, but she told me the following, "You must have had a hard night last night. Finish your experiment, go home, and have a rest." I truly appreciated her words and thoughtfulness. I hope that everyone can have such an understanding mentor as her.

Do you find it hard to separate your work and family life?

Yes, it is hard, but you'll eventually find the balance. I found that if you have a reliable person or daycare environment in which to take care of your baby, it is easier for you to separate your work and family life. You can concentrate on your work and experiments when you're in the lab, and finish your work efficiently. However, if your baby is not happy in daycare, you will constantly worry about how he/she is doing. Did they feed your baby well? Why does he/she look sad and exhausted? You should devote some time in finding the best daycare fit for your child before going back to work.

Did having a child affect your productivity in the lab?

I have to admit that after giving birth, my brain didn't function as usual for several months (one reason was the lack of sleep). Therefore, it indeed affected my productivity for a while. However, once you establish a routine schedule and have your baby in daycare, you should be able to perform better. You know that you need to finish your experiments within limited time, and you'll become more efficient. One thing I learned after having a child is that I cannot do as many as experiments at one time anymore, so you will have to prioritize.

What resources are available through Mayo Clinic/Graduate School for parents or soon to be parents?

During gestation, you should obtain all kinds of information about your pregnancy: the book "Mayo Clinic Guide to A Healthy Pregnancy" is a good start, Mayo Clinic website, and of course, Google. One important thing to consider is your health insurance. The medical expense for labor and epidural is high so you might need to search for other medical insurances to help you cover the costs. You can also attend the exercise classes for pregnant women in Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center to improve your and your baby’s health.

After birth, Mayo also provides convenient supports for nursing mom/parents. First, lactation rooms equipped with hospital scale pumps are located at various locations throughout Mayo Clinic. Second, each child has up to 20 days per year for temporary daycare service (Mayo Employees Back-Up Child Care Center, $15 per day). Third, if your child is ill and cannot attend his/her daycare and you cannot take off the same day, there is "Children's R&R" for taking care of sick children (employee only and no fees). Finally, other graduate students who have children already are a great resource.

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roryRory Olson is married to his wife, Rachel and they have a 4-year old son named Leif. Rory is a 2nd year pre-doctoral student in the biochemistry and molecular biology track. 

Did your career path change after you decided to have children?

No, I think having a child pushed me further into the sciences. Without going into gory detail, I was reading publications on the effects of various labor inducing agents as the medical doctor advised us on our medical options for delivery. Life, and therefore biology, is pretty cool!

Are there advantages or disadvantages of having a child while in graduate school?

The decision on when to have children, just like the decision on when to attend undergraduate or graduate school, is going to be unique for every person/couple. There are distinct challenges of having a child while in graduate school, such as the anticipation that this decision will likely involve multiple moves resulting in punctuated disruption in my child’s life. Nonetheless, graduate school warrants greater flexibility than many alternative career paths. For example, I have had the opportunity to go on a field trip with my son and his class during the weekday, something that many jobs may not be amenable to. In the end, it is my responsibility to complete the experiments that are required.

Has your PI/program been understanding for the demands that a family may bring? In what ways has your advisor/program been considerate of family demands?

Being the male counterpart and the fact that my child is now 4 years old, there has not been a significant impact on my time. However, we had our child while my wife was in graduate school and she received support from her program, which granted her maternity leave and accommodations in terms of time and special allowances for breast-feeding

Do you find it hard to separate your work and family life?

Yes, there are certainly times that it is a challenge. For instance, I have been called during work because my son was running a fever and he needed to be picked up; conversely, I have worked late, worked on weekends and have returned to the lab in the evenings, missing out on time with my family.

Did having a child affect your productivity in the lab?

The realization that I may get that call from his daycare and the desire to be home with my family encourages me to be more efficient with my time.

What resources are available through Mayo Clinic/Graduate School for parents or soon to be parents?

We have used Mayo back-up daycare and are aware of the sick-child care offered. In addition, Rose Marie within Mayo Graduate School was very helpful in providing information on local daycares prior to us arriving.

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April M. Huseby is a 3rd year pre-doctoral student in the immunology track and mother of a 10 year old boy.

Did your career path change after you decided to have children? 

Having my son caused me to stop and think seriously about long-term goals.  While pregnant, I was working for the Department of Defense in a job that I found uncreative and hazardous at times.  Being a single parent, I had to work, but I wanted to make my time away from my son a career move that I felt was important and kept me challenged.  I started college within a year after he was born and quickly decided that a degree in biological sciences is what I wanted to pursue.  It is not certain what my future job will be, but I do know that it will be important to me to have a balance between work and family.

Are there advantages or disadvantages of having a child while in graduate school?

I do not believe there is any one good/best time to have children. I think there are certain moments in life that it would be more challenging to have a child than others, but I think people make time for what they feel is important to them.

Has your PI/program been understanding for the demands that a family may bring? In what ways has your advisor/program been considerate of family demands?

I felt it was extremely important for me to find a PI that was supportive of the fact that I have a child which sometimes makes the time that I am physically at work more restrictive.

Do you find it hard to separate your work and family life?

I would say no, except (there is always an exception to every rule) during the time period spent studying for qualification exams. I also don’t feel that separation is always necessary. I like exposing my son to the life of a graduate student and he seems very curious about it. It’s also fun to do our homework at the same time!

Did having a child affect your productivity in the lab?

Having a child restricts me from spending more than 9 hours in the lab on most days which means that I have to be more diligent with my time at work.

What resources are available through Mayo Clinic/Graduate School for parents or soon to be parents?

I have used two great resources at the Mayo Clinic that have helped me as a parent. One, the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), helped me with a list of local daycares when I first moved to Rochester. Two, I was able to send my son to the “sick kid” daycare (he had a fever and I couldn’t send him to school) so that I could finish an important experiment I had planned for that day.

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Acknowledgements: I wish to thank Fan-Chi, Rory, and April for sharing their experiences as parents and students at the Mayo Graduate School. I would also like to extend this gratitude to their corresponding mentors: Virginia Shapiro, Peter Harris, and Aaron Johnson for supporting them throughout their PhD degrees in the biomedical sciences.

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