I was in the first semester of my Ph.D. when I told my advisor I was pregnant. I was nervous about sharing this information. Would I be supported or would my commitment to the Ph.D. be questioned? After sharing this new, I was beyond relieved to be showered with immense support and excitement. Not only was I supported by my advisor, but by my committee. A weight lifted off my shoulders knowing I was supported in the decision to start a family, while still pursuing my degree. I knew it would be challenging to manage both parenting and studies, but I felt it could be done due to the resources and support available to me. My experience demonstrates the positive impact of prioritizing programs and polices to support work life balance.
At Virginia Tech, the graduate school offers what is called the Work Life Grant. This grant is available to graduate students who have children or experience a family life event. Basically, the grant provides 6 weeks of paid leave. Half paid by the graduate school and half paid by the college. The funding is meant to replace duties while on leave or ensure your time away does not negatively impact the department. My advisor applied and we received the grant. For us this meant I could return with a lightened load after having my son. There was less pressure and time to be home. This made all the difference in my ability to feel balanced.
Another challenge facing new mothers is childcare. Finding affordable, yet high quality childcare is not easy. Spaces are limited in daycares and the cost can to high for those on a graduate stipend. My husband and I were fortunate to get a spot in a highly respected daycare. Our son is thriving and I can get my work done. It’s a win win. I know my experience is not necessarily the norm, but more women in graduate school should have the choice to pursue both personal and professional priorities like I did.