When your graduate students have babies

When I became pregnant as graduate student, it was juicy gossip in our program, I’m sure of it. And there isn’t anything wrong with that. Graduate students and gossip – they go together like a horse and carriage. Congratulations were offered in the lunch room, hallways, and lots of questions about life plans, academic plans, etc. If there were mutterings that I would drop out, well, I never heard them. By that time I was closer to the end than the beginning – quitting was not an option. Thank goodness, my adviser agreed!

That is part of my story – my narrative of what it means to have a baby in graduate school. I hadn’t stopped to think about flipping this script to consider what it means to advise a graduate student having a baby. To that end, here is an article (sent to me by my adviser), called, “When your graduate students have babies,” by Leonard Cassuto at Fordham University. What an interesting window in the mind of an academic adviser! This article raises the question of whether advisoes should openly discuss the possibility from the start. I find the comments at the end as interesting as the article itself. Here is the link to the original article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.


Here are some of my favorite comments. These really run the gamut of opinions, and show that these issues are real, current, and very consequential in the lives of academics and post-academics.

“As a mentor (I am female with kids), I honestly do not think it is appropriate to bring it up when graduate students are choosing advisors. That time is about the intellectual side of the degree, and I am pretty sure that I would have wigged out if a prospective grad advisor mentioned this to  me as a first semester grad student (I was single with no thoughts of kids at that time). It also can be perceived as the advisor being sexist, and perhaps unwilling to take on someone who may have kids in grad school (you can not ask a potential employee their plans for having kids when interviewing them, so why should you bring it up to a grad student?; ). That said, kids (and other personal issues) do happen in graduate school. A good mentor needs to be willing to have an open door, lead by example (all of my grad students know my attitudes towards kids as a professional woman) so that they feel comfortable asking for advice, and to back off in a non-judgmental way when they do not take my advice. A good mentor also helps by helping students access the resources they need to keep going if they are trying to have kids on a grad student stipend.” Graddirector

“This is something I would never dare bring up with a student. No graduate student of mine has ever had children while I was supervising them or already had children for that matter. Wise monkey that I am I think I would say nothing.” raymond_j_ritchie

“Great article. If only more profs thought like you. I had a baby in my dissertation year and my profs & advisor ignored me after the announcement. I had to switch my entire committee. Male students having babies received congratulatory notes but not me. I now work in academia and some students they supported left academia. Ironic.” KiminPA

“As some women have noted in the comments section, this kind of “disclaimer” can be helpful. I think it’s a bit of a twist to think it is sexist – the professor is trying to say to students – and this is a direct quote – ” You may choose to start a family while you’re in graduate school, or you may not. Whatever your decision, my job will be to support you and help you reach your goals.” Frankly, as a father and a grad student, this would have been wonderful to hear from my major advisor. (Everyone always assumes having children is a “woman issue,” and there’s no denying it disproportionately impacts them – but it also impacts men.) Saying this to all your prospective grad students is no more discriminatory than posting a “Safe Zone” sticker on your door. You can’t be concerned about attrition rates of women (and men!) in PhD programs and not consider this; failing to help your grad students navigate their decision on parenthood is to perpetuate a major problem.” ABD2014


One thought on “When your graduate students have babies

  1. I announced my pregnancy to my advisor by blurting out the due date before he even had a chance to ask me how I was after summer break. Then I followed up with the assertion, “but I’m not dropping out!” He said he certainly hoped not and that was the end of it. He and Ulysse became great pals 🙂



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