I am a female graduate student in a competitive phd program. I recently had a baby. Although this is a planned pregnancy, and I thought I had thought through the complications having a baby would bring, I am still very overwhelmed by how much different my life is now.

I don't have any time besides taking care of a newborn, and I am very sleep-deprived. Baby's dad works full-time to support the family. Even though it brings me a lot of joy, I just can't help but wonder whether I would ever have time for my research again. I initially planned to go back to school in September, when baby will be about 3 months old. But I am not sure whether I would be able to do anything next semester. Or even the semester after next. I initially planned to graduate next fall, but now I feel that might be a stretch. The application starts next semester, and I should be going around giving talks and preparing for my applications. But that feels impossible now.

And there is the financial stress. I want to put my child in daycare at some point (like around 7,8 months), so I can have some time to do work. But it's very expensive, and I don't know if we can afford this with our current income. Sometimes I thought about finding an industry job after graduate school, so things would be easier. But I don't want to give up research.

What is an effective way to deal with the stresses of being a new mother while on the job market? Specifically, how can I complete my research and apply to jobs in a situation where I am sleep deprived and child care is expensive?

This is a different question than Having children while at graduate school because I believe a female student's experience is different than a male student's experience. Especially at infant stage, mother's role cannot be placed by others due to constant feedings. The author in the other post also has his girlfriend/wife staying at home with the baby, so there will be much less work for him. In my case, I would be the one taking care of the baby since my husband works full-time. Another thing is I am already at the stage that I am about to graduate as opposed to the other post is debating whether to start the program, so I am more concerned about the graduation timeline.

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    You might be able to take a leave of absence, and resume your graduate studies later.
    – Anonymous
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 15:31
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    I don't think this is a duplicate question. This question is about getting back to research/going on the job market as a new mother. The others are more "prospective" questions and don't cover the specifics of this this transitional time well. I would like to see this reopened.
    – Dawn
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 15:45
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    @ff524 please take off the duplicate label!
    – Dawn
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 14:48
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    @Wrzlprmft Ok, I changed the questions to make them more specific. I hope this is ok with the OP. I feel very strongly that this question is less of a duplicate and reasonably specific. She points to two hurdles and asks how to deal with them. Yes, it is not a perfect question, but most of the questions on the site are imperfect and still receive quality answers.
    – Dawn
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 19:06

2 Answers 2


Thanks for asking this important question! I will address three aspects of surviving your next year as a job market candidate and primary caregiver: changes in research style, finances, and emotional balance/accepting help with childcare.

Before launching into it though, I do want to emphasize that things get easier. Eventually, baby learns to sleep.

Research/work style: As someone who is juggling caregiving and research, you need to be find a way to use small chunks of time. It will be much harder to get long uninterrupted stretches of time, so train yourself to do without that. Break your work up into as small of chunks as possible, make a list of those chunks, and try to get to them one at a time. This may be more difficult if you are in a lab science and the only place you can work is from the lab. However, you may be able to write at home. To write, I would suggest starting by writing an outline. Then write the topic sentence of each paragraph. Each time you have 10 minutes to concentrate, write one of the paragraphs.

Finances: The best piece of advice I got as a new mother/academic was: throw money at problems. This is not the time to be frugal or save for a rainy day. This is the rainy day. Your career path will look very different depending on whether you finish this PhD, so you should throw resources into finishing. If you can borrow money from family, do it. If you can call in favors, do that too. You should focus your spending on things that buy either sleep or time - i.e. good childcare.

Childcare: If you plan on staying in academia, I think it is best for you to learn to embrace the positives of childcare. There are great childcare options out there, and I found that some childcare providers were just as good with my baby as I was (some probably better because they actually had more experience!). Take the time and use whatever money you have to find someone good, either for in home and daycare. This is where you want to spend because it is valuable to have peace of mind. Honestly, as a mom who has seen development up to age 2, I would say that my child cares if I am around a lot more now (at age 2) than they did at the beginning.

Furthermore, when you are home, embrace the "electronic babysitter" (the TV). Sure, it feels bad, but at least some quality research shows (http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_dismal_science/2006/02/the_benefits_of_bozo.html) that TV doesn't harm kids. Now most programs really don't help them either, but you can get a couple of 30 minute work sessions a day using the TV without guilt. My daughter loved Fantasia (lots of fun colors and classical music!) as a baby. Now she loves Daniel Tiger, and that program has been shown to increase preschool readiness (http://www.pbs.org/parents/expert-tips-advice/2016/07/daniel-tiger-helps-teach-social-skills-preschoolers/).

Finally, if you absolutely can't use a babysitter, embrace the two-parent household you have. As soon as your partner gets home, you leave for lab. At least one day per weekend, you are in lab. Reserve maybe one-half weekend day for family time. Yes, it will suck. You won't get time with your partner while you are in this stage. But you will get more work done, and that may lower your stress.

P.S. The best thing I ever did to get my daughter and me sleep was moving her to another room. She was sleeping in my room and we woke each other up all night. (She snores, my husband snores.) She slept for twice as long at a time once she was in the other room.

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    Thank you! These are really valuable advice. Especially that the kids care more after age 2 is really good to know. I struggle with guilt when I try to find time to do work, but this makes me feel a lot better.
    – initial_D
    Commented Aug 11, 2017 at 20:32
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    Kids are very resilient! Your child will adjust to whatever schedule/caregivers you establish. I think it was really helpful for us long-term that we started day care earlier in her life (we started with partial days) because it taught her that people who are not mom can be safe too. When I try to pick her up from care, she almost always tells me she wants to stay.
    – Dawn
    Commented Aug 11, 2017 at 21:01

I feel for you! Our twins were born during my husband's final dissertation year, and thirteen years later our fourth child was born the semester I finished a second degree (that one was a Master's, not a doctorate). Some of the lessons we've learned:

  1. Turn your research skills to your advantage as a parent. Look into various parenting techniques and the science behind them, and then experiment to see what works best for you. No two kids are alike, and what works for one parent/child may not work for you (and what works for this baby may not work if you have another).

    • If you want to experiment with baby equipment (e.g. baby bouncer versus swing—this really does vary by child), try to borrow them first or buy second-hand. You can usually find very lightly-used equipment (from parents who bought first, and then discovered that their baby didn't like that particular thing).
  2. Accept help where you find it, and reach out for it even if it's not immediately offered.

    • From your peers: As a grad student, you may find that most of your peers aren't having babies yet. That can be a bit isolating, but it can also mean that they are more excited to spend an evening baby-sitting than folks with babies of their own. If some of your friends or classmates have said that they'd love to play with the baby sometime, let them! Even if they just come over to watch the baby occasionally while you take a shower or write up a job application, that can be a lifesaver—and they probably won't expect compensation beyond maybe a shared pizza. Do invite them to visit with you, too, if you can, for the added bonus of staying up-to-date about what's happening in your department/field while you are on leave.

    • From your family, if possible: If your family is interested and available, they can be another lifeline. If it works with your family dynamics, having one or more grandparent come to stay for a while, or going to stay with them, is a tried-and-true technique for new parents. This is honestly the only way my husband managed to finish his dissertation.

    • Look for informal, part-time help.
      -You are presumably in a university town, which means there may be students around who could baby-sit part time. This can be a cheaper option than formal daycare, and with careful vetting can be a high-quality arrangement, especially if your school has an education department with early-childhood majors. You will probably need to work around their class schedules, so for full-time help you'd need a rotation of several students, but if you can be flexible in your research schedule and/or want to start out part-time this is very workable.
      -Younger kids can be great, too, as "mother's helpers"—a ten-year-old who is "baby crazy" can be a wonderful support while you are in the house working (and again, will probably work for much less money than full-time daycare). Faculty members' kids might be an option for this, or children from your neighborhood or faith community. (My own older kids were a huge help when I was writing my capstone with an infant.)

    • From other parents. Look around for a new-parents support group or playgroup. There really is no substitute for hearing from other folks going through similar issues. Online groups can be helpful for getting a wide variety of advice (try Parenting.SE!), and meeting parents in-person is wonderful for that personal connection and for local advice. You might also be able to trade baby supplies, baby-sitting, etc. You might find there are faculty members with young children who would be especially valuable mentors.
  3. Figure out ways to multi-task. Play around with baby carriers and slings to find one that works for you; being able to nurse and type at the same time (or just nurse and make a sandwich) will be a revelation (I'm doing so now). Experiment with listening to articles via a text-to-speech app and dictating notes with a speech-to-text app (the latter might have a higher learning curve) so you can work while you go for a walk or do laundry.

  4. It really is easier if you can have a flexible or reduced schedule while the baby is nursing exclusively. Options include going back part-time this fall, or possibly arranging your schedule so you can be with your baby at feeding times. (It's absolutely wonderful if you can find a way to take baby with you to school—possible if you have a very accommodating department and an equally cooperative baby.) But if none of this works out, don't worry—your baby will do just fine without you for the day, with expressed milk or formula. If you want to express milk, see if your school will find you a comfortable spot to pump during the day (in some places, they are legally mandated to do so) and take a "baby break" where you think about your baby for twenty minutes or half an hour a couple times a day.

  5. Give yourself a break. This really is hard, and there's no one right way to do it. Take care of yourself physically and emotionally—you'll be a better mother and a better researcher if you're healthy. Don't beat yourself up if you find yourself progressing more slowly than originally anticipated, or if parenting isn't all cuddles and bubbles. Sometimes you're going to want to be with your baby instead of working, and sometimes you're probably going to long to get away from your baby into grown-up pursuits, and both are perfectly normal.

Note: I don't know exactly where you are or what your field is, so I've tried to be as general as possible; obviously some of this will depend on your particular circumstances both at home and at school. I've also assumed that your husband is already supporting you as much as possible with things like housework and nighttime baby care; if he's not, sort that out as quickly as you can!

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    I will also second in the strongest terms @Dawn's advice about learning to work in short bursts—this answer was composed over several hours, in between dinner, a band concert/swimming party, putting folks to bed, etc. (If I had more time, it would be shorter!)
    – 1006a
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 4:12
  • The other answer was great too but this one is outstanding. A few additions: once lactation is well established, you'll often be able to nurse on auto-pilot. If you need to confer with a colleague, schedule it for nursing time (once a pattern has been established). For now, explain that you will call when you can and give them a window during which to expect the call. Simplify housework: buy paper plates and frozen dinners, have the groceries delivered! After you graduate you'll be able to enjoy cooking once more. Whether your university is set up for nursing and pumping at work, ... Commented Jan 13, 2018 at 5:16
  • ... it doesn't matter -- YOU can and should take the initiative to set things up. Look, you're not just doing this for yourself. You're a pioneer, paving the way for others in your department, and you're teaching all the men in your department what it means to truly include women in science; and also you're exposing them to breastfeeding, which will help them help their partners make a success of it. // Your partner can nightwean baby at 9 months. I know this question is old but there will be other new mothers interested in this topic. Lastly, note that the standard graduation... Commented Jan 13, 2018 at 5:21
  • ... timeline does not apply to you right now. Give yourself permission to move more slowly or to take a complete break if that feels right for you. Jane Goodall accomplished a lot -- but she took a three-year break when she had a baby. Commented Jan 13, 2018 at 5:24

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