I've seen a lot of "kids-in-grad-school" advice that's geared towards male PhD students with stay-at-home wives. I'm a female MD PhD student married to a male MD PhD student, and neither of us is going to quit our career. We are both willing to put in the time needed to raise a family.

I'm interested in hearing from the following perspectives (EDITED FOR MORE DETAIL): (a) For women who had kids while they were in graduate school -- how did you decide on when to have kids? earlier in grad school vs. later? (since pregnancy can be very difficult for some women e.g. severe morning sickness, I think optimal timing could potentially differ depending on if the grad student is male or female.) Also, how did you approach being pregnant in an academic environment? (i.e. did anyone harass you as being 'less dedicated'? I know this is not a reason NOT to have kids, but I'm just curious about it. Men who are expecting a child can keep it a secret. Women can't keep it a secret because everyone they meet including total strangers can see that they're pregnant after a certain point.)

(b) For men or women who had kids while they were in graduate school and did NOT have a stay-at-home partner - how did you deal with childcare? Reason for asking: if you have a stay-at-home partner, childcare for the bulk of the day has already been solved. If you don't have a stay-at-home partner, it's a very big issue. So - what approach did you take? (e.g. alternating schedules between caregivers? nanny? au pair? daycare? relatives? friends? babysitters?)

This question is different from Advice for having children during graduate school because the vast majority of those answers are written from male perspectives and from perspectives of people with stay-at-home partners.

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    This question is far too broad in scope. What specific question are you asking? Also, what's lacking in the advice you've already consumed? I'm sure there are differences in the experiences of men and women in these roles, but I have no idea what specifically you find insufficient about the perspective from the opposite gender. Jan 13, 2018 at 1:55
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    Possible duplicate of Advice for having children during graduate school
    – Nobody
    Jan 13, 2018 at 3:22
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    I think How to finish PhD and get through the academic job market as a new mother and primary caregiver? is probably a better duplicate candidate. Unfortunately, it only attracted two replies (full disclosure, one is mine).
    – 1006a
    Jan 13, 2018 at 4:59
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    To prevent closure, perhaps it would help to ask when is a good time to have a baby in the academic life span. Or, focus the question more on how to prepare. (The latter's answer would include, for example, read up about breastfeeding ahead of time.) Jan 13, 2018 at 5:27
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    Perhaps narrow by time point: Do you want advice on timing and/or preparing to get pregnant? On what you should do pre-birth? Or what to do post-birth?
    – Dawn
    Jan 13, 2018 at 18:08

3 Answers 3


I will answer based on my experience and that of approx. 4 other women in my department who had kids (without stay-at-home spouses) during our PhD program.

For women who had kids while they were in graduate school -- how did you decide on when to have kids? Earlier in grad school vs. later?

There were a variety of approaches, but I think the key is to have children in a year where deadlines are flexible. So one of the students had a child very early (while taking classes) because there was no hard stop on when the classes had to be done by, and she could basically take a semester off from classes without real consequences. Three of us had children during the 3rd and 4th years when we were expected to work on our dissertations. Some were a bit ahead and didn't need to stretch the time to degree as a result of the pause, and some, like me, did. I think this was the best timing because we had a good foundation in the program/relationship with our advisors but were in a very flexible time period. I also had a fellowship for that year so it made funding easier. The person who had a child during the job market year had the hardest time, since those deadlines are non-negotiable.

Also, how did you approach being pregnant in an academic environment? (i.e. did anyone harass you as being 'less dedicated'?

I stressed a lot about this. My approach was to foreground my research and academic plans in all conversations, while backgrounding my pregnancy. I set meetings with my advisors to discuss the pregnancy and presented it as a scheduling challenge - I am going to have a period of decreased productivity because I am pregnant so here is my proposed plan to stay on track. Here is what you can expect from me in the next 6 months to get ahead as much as possible, etc. I found this worked really well. When people asked in the hall about how I was doing I gave them a positive research-related answer, not a pregnancy answer. The only person who gave a poor reaction was the Director of Graduate Studies, who assumed that the pregnancy meant I would be targeting lesser positions. I corrected him, of course. If he had any real sway over my life I would have made sure my committee knew about it and could discuss the issue with him. I think that others had a similar mix of reactions... mostly supportive with some "lesser expectations" attitudes that needed to be countered.

How did you deal with childcare?

With the exception of one person with nearby relatives, all of us paid for the best childcare we could afford (nanny or day care). You want peace of mind, trust, and communication--and that often means $$. We all made sure to set a consistent schedule (baby likes consistency). We differed in how soon we came back to work and how many hours per week we worked. That is a personal choice and based on your goals and work required to achieve those goals.

  • Thanks for your response, and especially for the combination of personal experiences + experiences from others in your department - it's very useful!
    – veritessa
    Jan 24, 2018 at 2:08
  • I forgot to add something about working at nights and on weekends. Basically we both took breaks during dinner time and bedtime 5-8 pm. After 8 we both would do work until we slept. We traded off on weekends depending on who had urgent deadlines. The goals was to try to be even over the long run, not within a week. With nighttime feedings, I ended up doing those because of biology of breastfeeding, but I do know that some moms pumped so their partner could do some or all of the night feedings. One way to decide is based on who functions better on low sleep.
    – Dawn
    Jan 24, 2018 at 3:11

What you end up doing is going to be very specific to your individual circumstances, but I can give you my two cents about how my wife and I handled this situation. Currently, I'm a 4th year PhD student and my wife is 2 years into a MS degree with the aim to get a PhD. We both hope to stay in academia. We have two kids, ages 4 and 6 mo.

Our first kid came before either of us were in grad school, and our second came a year later than we had planned. Our decision was to have kids earlier rather than later because grad school is more flexible in terms of schedules than real jobs. This really helpful when my wife was practically bed-ridden for a couple months of her first trimester with our second kid.

We didn't want to stick our kids in daycare full time, and we have no family around to help, so we came up with a switch-off schedule. My wife works from 4am-noon (and some hours on weekends) and then we switch off and I work noon-6pm. Then I work at night from home after she goes to sleep (early). Our 4 year old does go to pre-school a few hours a week and the baby naps, so I can put in a few more hours during the day this way. Of course, schedules like this depend on our advisors being okay with our hours, and for our work (me CS, her biochemistry), it works out. Depending on where you are and at what point (and structure) of your MD-PhDs, you might be able to do this.

One consideration is that by the time both of us are on the job market for tenure-track positions, both kids will be school age, which allows us to both work normal business hours. Also, by the time I'm into a post-doc, our baby should be sleeping through the night. Until that happens, caring for children is very draining and it does affect my productivity in research.

As far as I know, my wife did not experience any overt discrimination against her for being pregnant. Her supervisor was generally supportive and understanding even when she couldn't work because she was too sick. However, as with many medical conditions (e.g. disability, known mental health issues), you're sure to encounter at least unconscious bias for being pregnant.

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    Thank you!! I think your perspective is very interesting since both you and your spouse are grad students. I also think your switch-off schedule is an intriguing idea - thank you for sharing!
    – veritessa
    Jan 24, 2018 at 2:06

I fall into category (b): male who was a single parent, and primary carer, during grad-school. In my particular case my PhD was a research degree (no coursework) in statistics, and so I did the vast majority of my study and research from home. During the day I would look after the kids, and sneak in some research time when able, but most of the research was done after their bed-time, or at free time on the weekend. I also found that I was constantly "mulling" over my research and ideas when I was looking after the kids, so there was also a certain amount of subconscious work going on at those times. I had the luxury of being in a program that could almost fully be done from home, since it had no coursework, and involved research in mathematical things that can be done mostly on paper and a computer. Consequently, my experience is probably substantially different to someone in a program that requires course-work or laboratory research. Nevertheless, I will give my experiences for whatever they're worth.

Although I did most of my work from home, I had a monthly supervisory meeting plus time on the university computers to download a new set of papers for my research. There were also sporadic occasions where I required attendance for some administrative matter, or some aspect of research where I needed new materials that I could only get through the university. Naturally, attendance at the university was a big chore, since I had to get the kids ready, bring a lot of paraphernalia, and I also had quite a long bus ride each way. For supervisor meetings I would take the kids in with me, and they would do some colouring-in, draw pictures on the white-boards, and other activities. This was usually enough to occupy them for a short meeting, and my supervisors were nice about it. I made use of occasional baby-sitting from family members, but I mostly relied on homework. One thing that I found worked well was to make an effort to ensure that trips to the university were a fun activity for the kids, so that they would be in good spirits. This meant having a routine where we would always go and get a treat after my supervisory meeting. That meant that they had something to look forward to and I also had something to "bribe" them with to stay on their best behaviour!

I found that dealing with grad-school was largely a matter of organising my research agenda in a way that required as few attendances as possible, which meant that on each visit I needed to give myself enough material to do over a month. The experience of full-time study plus raising children kept me busy, but it was less hectic than if I had been trying to work a full-time job plus instead of doing grad-school. I found that this was one of the major advantages of grad-school over full-time work; the additional flexibility in attendance and time usage made it easier to spend time raising the kids. In that respect it was perfect timing; it meant I didn't have to use child-care facilities and I could give my kids a fun childhood at home with a parent.

While I wouldn't presume to know your circumstances well enough to tell you what to do, one aspect of your post that strikes me as helpful is the fact that you and your husband are both in grad-school at the same time. An option in that case would be to live on campus, or close by, and "juggle" the kids between you to minimise the need for outside care (e.g., one goes to class, the other cares for the kids, then swap). Obviously this depends on the constraints of your program, so maybe it is infeasible, but it is worth considering how well this could be done.

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