By: Molly McGown
Editor’s Note: This week’s post is by guest blogger Molly McGown of UIC’s Anthropology program. Molly’s post is the first in a “What It’s Like” series we will be running in which members describe their experiences. Molly identifies some of the ways that graduate programs fail to adequately accommodate parents in our roles as students. Her thoughts dovetail nicely with this recent post from the Chronicle of Higher Education: “Singing the Grad School Baby Blues.” Look for our upcoming post in which we’ll explore some of the guarantees that our contract secures for parents who are grad employees, and we’ll think about ways that those guarantees could be improved.
You may call it oversensitivity or mother’s guilt. You may call it whatever you want, but grad school is set up in such a way that it is discriminatory. Despite the fact that your liberal department has expressed that they “accommodate” students-as-parents, what they really mean is that as long as your family doesn’t come before your schoolwork, they will smile at your child and tolerate him/her spending a few days a semester in your office.
As I began grad school, I looked at my schedule. I had two long days of core courses, but it looked like the rest of the week was free. That “free” time soon filled up with teaching responsibilities, so that I was at school from 9 to 5 about 5 days a week. My one-year old was breastfed. At least, that was true when I was home, but it became less and less possible as the responsibilities piled on. I couldn’t pump. I had spaces offered up for pumping, but on class days, my classmates and I were in the same classroom from 10 to 4. We were supposed to have 10 minutes between classes, but they always went over. I brought a pump every day, but it hardly went to use. When would it have been appropriate for me to leave and pump? If I left class at the specified time, I would have had 10 minutes to get set up, relax, and pump. Relax. “Hey, guys, I’ve got to slip out for a bit.” I’m not a particularly modest gal, but neither did I want to draw attention to the fact that I was going to attach a ridiculous plastic contraption to my milky parts. With that start, I would shut myself in an unfamiliar room and skip lunch in order to relax, all the while thinking about what I might be missing or how I would be judged for my “progress” in the course. Re-freaking-lax.
As you all know, schoolwork follows you home. Since becoming a grad student, I probably have spent 30-something hours at school, away from my son, and another 80-something at home with him. Many of those 80-something are spent supervising but mostly ignoring him while I read, write, and clean. I am barely able to keep up on my coursework. If I take a day off for the museum or a park day, I have to skimp on meals or sleep to make up that time. I have to pay for babysitters any time there is a conference or defense that I’m expected to be at, and this money comes from my measly stipend. Of course it was my choice to have a baby before grad school, but I wonder if the expectations of grad students are simply too high to begin with.