I started my PhD 3 months pregnant. I already had a child, so being pregnant again was not a surprise to any of our friends or family but it was a shock to my PhD cohort. A pregnant PhD student? What is this blasphemy? Being pregnant and having a child should not be a negative experience. Many PhD students are in their mid to late 20s, prime child bearing years, and yet having a child while doing a PhD seems unheard of.
I have had the experience of sharing with a boss I was pregnant in my corporate job and it was not at all a negative experience. I spoke extensively with my colleagues about the impending baby and changes I was experiencing. My colleagues seemed interested and excited for me. I didn’t love the attention given to my huge belly, but it was always in a positive light so I didn’t mind being asked constantly when the baby was coming.
In graduate school, the perception is different. Many students would consider pregnancy at this point in their lives counter to their goals. Most graduate students also do not have the experience with others being excited for a pregnancy and perhaps don’t know how to react. Remember, being pregnant is not something to be ashamed of! Your life plan does not have to align with others and having a baby does not mean the end of your career in academia. If young professors can deal with having a baby and returning to their jobs (which are even more stressful and comprehensive than that of a graduate student), you can do it, too! Before you share your news with your colleagues and advisors, I would recommend making a plan. Consider making a note of the following before breaching the subject with your advisor:
1. How will the birth and recovery effect your class schedule or work commitments?
Are there projects you will have to put on hold? Are there classes which you will not be able to take in the typical progression? Have a timeline of the next year or so for your advisor to address.
2. How will having a child effect your work schedule moving forward?
Will you have full time child care or will you be planning on working different hours? It is important to address how you expect your workflow to change after the baby is born. One of the positives of a grad student schedule is flexibility, but the more you take advantage of this flexibility, the more you need to have the results to show for your efforts. The student that shows their face every day will be able to make an easier case for not having results due to a failed experiment than the student who comes in a couple days a week.
3. What is the maternity policy at your school and how much time do you plan to take?
This is another positive about graduate school, you may be able to take a longer break than otherwise afforded at a full time job. That being said, you may not be paid for this break. Many schools do offer some type of maternity leave so don’t just assume you cannot take time off. Look into this before you see your advisor as they most likely have no knowledge of the policy and may not have been in this situation before. Due to lack of experience, your advisor may be inclined to incorrectly tell you a maternity leave policy does not exist.
Having a full plan for when the baby comes will help convince your advisor you have the maturity and dedication required to do a PhD while raising a family. Once you have all the planning done on your side, the following tips can help you have a successful meeting with your advisor:
1. Wait until you are ready to share the news.
You do not need to tell the world you are pregnant immediately if you do not want to. Most women wait until at least 12-16 weeks along to share the news. The exception would be if you are working with chemicals that could possibly be teratogenic.
2. Be positive!
You are allowed to have a personal life during graduate school. You are allowed to be married, have children, have friends. Getting your PhD doesn’t have to be the only commitment you undertake. I actually found it easier to focus on my studies as a parent as I know I have to get my work done in a timely manner or I don’t have the time to spend with my family.
You can have a family and get a PhD at the same time. You will need to be organized and committed but it is possible!