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Making Space for Graduate Student Parents Practice and Politics

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Abstract

Work—family issues of graduate students are nearly invisible, despite record numbers of men and women in graduate school during their peak childbearing years. Furthermore, very little is known about what, if any, services are available for graduate student parents. In this article we describe the theoretical and practical tensions between society's view of idealized mothering and academia's vision of graduate students as idealized workers. We then present results of a survey about parental supports for graduate students administered to graduate directors of sociology PhD programs. The results demonstrate that few official policies exist, most situations are accommodated individually, and graduate directors are often unaware of university services for graduate student parents. The article concludes with a detailed presentation of potential departmental and university initiatives designed to support graduate student parents. These initiatives can be readily incorporated by graduate departments and universities to help curb the leaking pipeline of women in academia.
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Journal of Family Issues
DOI: 10.1177/0192513X08329293
2009;
2009; 30; 435 originally published online Jan 7,Journal of Family Issues
Kristen W. Springer, Brenda K. Parker and Catherine Leviten-Reid
Making Space for Graduate Student Parents: Practice and Politics
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Making Space for Graduate
Student Parents
Practice and Politics
Kristen W. Springer
Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ
Brenda K. Parker
University of Illinois at Chicago
Catherine Leviten-Reid
University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada
Work–family issues of graduate students are nearly invisible, despite record
numbers of men and women in graduate school during their peak childbearing
years. Furthermore, very little is known about what, if any, services are avail-
able for graduate student parents. In this article we describe the theoretical and
practical tensions between society’s view of idealized mothering and acade-
mia’s vision of graduate students as idealized workers. We then present results
of a survey about parental supports for graduate students administered to grad-
uate directors of sociology PhD programs. The results demonstrate that few
official policies exist, most situations are accommodated individually, and
graduate directors are often unaware of university services for graduate student
parents. The article concludes with a detailed presentation of potential depart-
mental and university initiatives designed to support graduate student parents.
These initiatives can be readily incorporated by graduate departments and
universities to help curb the leaking pipeline of women in academia.
Keywords: graduate student parents; family-friendly; women in academia;
parental support policies; university policies
There are salient similarities between the cultures of mothering and
academia. They both, for example, place harsh demands on one’s body
and mind. If one were offered a purview into homes across the country in
the wee hours of the night, one might find both academics and parents pac-
ing the floors, searching and pleading for that elusive cocktail of soothing
strategies to lull a crying baby to sleep or the rhetorical flourishes needed
to complete that vexing chapter. The intensity and reverence with which
Journal of Family Issues
Volume 30 Number 4
April 2009 435-457
© 2009 SAGE Publications
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435
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academics and parents undertake their respective “labors of love” is undoubt-
edly similar. And certainly both vocations can be marked by constant self-
scrutiny and a nagging sense of incompletion and imperfection.
Yet in spite of these ironic similarities, being both an academic and
parent is quite incompatible in practice. Women, in particular, who find
themselves precariously trying to balance these two roles often struggle and
sometimes fail. The sheer time demands coupled with the unrealistic yet
normative conceptions of “idealized” mothers and “100%” academics
mean that one can never truly be both. These tensions and contradictions
can be particularly explicit during graduate school, when aspiring acade-
mics are being “socialized” into their new vocations, and when many
women are experiencing motherhood for the first time.
Furthermore, whereas there is substantive literature aimed at under-
standing and addressing the needs of faculty parents (Armenti, 2004;
Bassett, 2005; Bhattacharjee, 2004; Colbeck & Drago, 2005; Mason &
Goulden, 2002, 2004), there is much less available for graduate student
parents. Certainly many of the issues faced by faculty and student parents
are similar, such as work–life balance struggles and the need for adequate
parental leave. However, there are circumstances often specific to graduate
student parents or exacerbated for graduate student parents—including but
not limited to relationships with advisors, financial insecurity, career uncer-
tainty, and open or flexible timelines. Furthermore, most institutional and
national efforts devoted to retaining and recruiting parents in higher educa-
tion tend to focus on faculty rather than graduate students. As Kennelly and
Spalter-Roth (2006) argue, “these policies are primarily designed to aid
scholars who have already attained academic jobs, while there is even less
systemic help in place for graduate students” (p. 31).
In this article, we attempt to make the needs and experiences of gradu-
ate student parents more visible. We describe a growing population of
436 Journal of Family Issues
Authors’ Note: The authors contributed equally to this work. We thank our spouses and
children for their emotional and instrumental support while we worked on this project. We also
thank Eve Fine, Ivy Kennelly, Mary Ann Mason, Roberta Spalter-Roth, and Eviatar Zerubavel
for their advice; Karolin Moreau for her research assistance; and Janine Baker, Karl Minges,
and Dawne Mouzon for their editorial expertise. Myra Marx Ferree deserves special thanks for
her continuing support, connecting us with publishers, and providing concrete organizational
suggestions. Finally, we acknowledge the other members of our “mom dissertator” support
group (Erika Barth Cottrell,Shannon Sparks, Jessica Shumacher, Andrea Vogel, and Pilar
Useche); this article would not have been possible without them. Please address
correspondence to Kristen W. Springer, Department of Sociology, Rutgers University, 54
Joyce Kilmer Avenue, Piscataway, NJ 08854; e-mail: kspringer@sociology.rutgers.edu.
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graduate student parents and discuss the theoretical and practical tensions
between society’s view of idealized mothering and academia’s vision of an
idealized graduate student. We then present results of a survey on existing
campus-wide and departmental supports for graduate student parents that
were distributed to the top PhD granting sociology departments in the
United States. Finally, we conclude by offering suggestions on how it might
be possible to square the circle of incompatibility between graduate school
and parenting. In particular, we discuss an array of existing and recom-
mended formal initiatives to support graduate student parents.1In doing so,
we hope to contribute to a more sustained dialogue within and beyond soci-
ology about improving and expanding pathways for graduate student
parents—a discussion that goes beyond simplified conceptions of and
synthetic narratives about “opting in” or “opting out.
A Growing Dilemma: Graduate
Studies and Childrearing
In recent years, women have been entering and completing graduate school
in record numbers.2Because the median age for women at doctoral degree
completion is 33.6 years, the likelihood that women’s time in graduate school
will coincide with their childbearing years is quite high (Hoffer et al., 2006).3
In fact, 24% of women and 28% of men enrolled in doctoral programs have
dependent children, and 42% of women enrolled in masters degree programs
or first professional degrees have children (Mason, 2006). In addition, many
women (including sociologists) who want children forgo having them in
graduate school because of fears about insufficient maternity leave, delayed
progress in graduate school, and the perceived incompatibility of academia
and caregiving (Mason, 2006; Spalter-Roth & Kennelly, 2004).4
Having a child or raising a family while trying to complete coursework,
exams, and a dissertation introduces new barriers to an already difficult and
often overwhelming process (Detore-Nakamura, 2003; Gerber, 2005; Jirón-
King, 2005; O’Reilly, 2002). One study found that graduate student mothers
spend 102 hours per week on their paid and unpaid duties compared with
95 hours for graduate student fathers and approximately 75 hours for child-
less graduate students (Mason, 2006). Furthermore, a study by the American
Sociological Association found that many crucial resources—including
help with publishing, mentoring, effective teaching training, and fellowships—
were less available to graduate student parents, particularly mothers, than
to other students (Spalter-Roth & Kennelly, 2004). Researchers have also
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found that graduate students with children are less likely to be enrolled in
the highest ranking departments and hypothesize that this trend is due to the
heavy demands placed on students within these institutions as well as the
shortage of female faculty, and hence the lack of role models, in these
departments (Kennelly & Spalter-Roth, 2006).
Given these data, it is not surprising that there are differences in degree
achievement and career paths between graduate students who have children
and those who do not. Men and women with children are a smaller percent-
age of doctoral recipients than those without children (Lovik, 2004).
Although no data are available on attrition rates among graduate school
mothers, a review of the literature leads us to believe that this is an important
“pipeline leak” for women. In terms of future careers, graduate students with
children are much less likely to enter research universities than those without
children (Long, 2001; Williams, 2004) and to cite work–life balance as a rea-
son for shifting away from “professor with research emphasis” careers
(Mason, 2006). Within academic sociology, gender and parental status dif-
ferences are evident. Longitudinal research on the 1996-1997 cohort of soci-
ology PhDs demonstrates that even 4 years after graduation, men and women
who had children in graduate school were less likely to be in a tenure track
position—with women particularly disadvantaged. Specifically, 36% of men
who received a PhD in sociology in 1996-1997 and did not have children
while in graduate school were in a tenure track position by 2001. This is in
contrast to 33% of women who did not have children while in graduate
school, 25% of men who did have children while in graduate school, and 24%
of women who had children while in graduate school (Spalter-Roth &
Kennelly, 2004).
Graduate student mothers are not only confronted with logistical diffi-
culties, limited support, and eventually constrained career paths; they must
also contend with conflicting and powerful ideologies that surround academia
and motherhood.
In a Perfect World: Idealized Academics
and Self-Sacrificing Mothers
Mythology, expectations, and ideals surrounding the culture of academia
abound. Academics are trained to be monkish in their devotion and slavish
in their pursuit of knowledge. They are not to be fettered by “worldly annoy-
ances” (Eliot, 1994) that might distract from their pure and single-minded
pursuits. Time demands are high, and pressure to publish is constantly
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increasing. Graduate students are hardly immune to these pressures. In fact,
they are often simultaneously teaching, conducting independent research,
writing, working with faculty, and participating in a number of “informal”
obligations, such as networking, attending departmental colloquia, and
supporting their advisor’s research activities.
At the same time, cultural ideologies and normative expectations
surrounding motherhood are even more pervasive and pernicious. If acad-
emics are supposed to work around the clock, mothers are supposed to do
so with perpetual smiles on their faces and in a stylish pair of shoes. In
addition, a mother’s slavishness is supposed to be selfless; her devotion
undiminished by lack of financial reward or professional prestige. The pres-
sure to achieve perfect motherhood—referred to as “the new momism” and
“intensive mothering” (Crittenden, 2002; Douglas & Michaels, 2004)—is
augmented and accompanied by the ongoing media celebration of mothers
who are “opting out” (Belkin, 2003). Here, affluent and successful women
who have made it to the top and who supposedly have access to the vast
array of choices available to modern women are now choosing to stay home
with the children. Of course, the media idealization of “opting out” ignores
the myriad social and institutional constraints that push mothers out of the
labor market, namely workplace inflexibility, inadequate family supports,
and discrimination against mothers (Correll, Benard, & Paik, 2007; Williams,
Manvell, & Bornstein, 2006).
The discourse of “choice” implicit in this “opting out” rhetoric also
plagues graduate student parents—mothers in particular. Indeed, many
graduate student mothers “choose” to take time off from school to parent or
“choose” to leave graduate school altogether. Also, many women “choose”
to apply to non–tenure track positions in lieu of other faculty positions.
However, choice and discrimination are not mutually exclusive; many
women who are “pushed out” of the labor market describe the situation as
a “choice” (Williams, 2000; Williams et al., 2006). The “opt out” myth is
further complicated for graduate student mothers by the invisible and devalued
nature of social reproduction within academic institutions. Mothering and
fathering is not normative on campus. Student mothers experience awkward
pauses rendered by pregnant bodies on campus, struggle to navigate strollers
in classrooms, and search to find clean and discreet places to feed their babies.
Although sometimes subtle, there are constant reminders in the social and
physical environment of the university that graduate student parents and
their children do not truly belong.
This culture of idealized parenthood, although increasingly affecting
men, remains largely about mothers and their cultural identities as women
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and caregivers. Women with children, including graduate students and
academics, spend much more time on tasks related to caregiving and the
household than men with children (Crittenden, 2002; Hays, 1996; Mason,
2006; Williams et al., 2006). Furthermore, it is mothers who are the objects
of discourses about “opting out” and whose decisions are regularly glorified
and demonized (Williams et al., 2006).
When placed side-by-side, the archetypes of ideal graduate students and
ideal mothers are clearly incompatible. For graduate student mothers situated
amidst these impossible ideologies and institutions, the challenges are vast.
It is to these challenges—and possible solutions—that we now turn.
Patchwork Supports
In the book Women on the Fast Track, Mason and Ekman (2007) report
that “Women in PhD programs . . . perceive a ‘no children allowed’ rule in
the prevailing climate” (p. 15). We understand why this perception stands.
Although limited, extant research suggests that insufficient institutional
supports exist for graduate student parents. In a study of doctoral students
within the University of California system, 58% of women reported that
they were dissatisfied with department support for career–life balance
(Mason, 2006). Likewise, Spalter-Roth and Kennelly (2004; Kennelly &
Spalter-Roth, 2006) argue that there is little “systemic help” for graduate
student parents, and that institutional resources are biased toward nonpar-
ents. Our own survey of sociology departments supports this contention.
In the spring of 2007, we conducted an online survey of Graduate Program
Directors for the top 63 U.S. sociology departments, as ranked by U.S. News
and World Report (2007); our response rate was 63%. The goal of the survey
was to find out what supports were available to graduate student parents, both
at the departmental and institutional (campus-wide) level. Because depart-
ments are where students’ graduate experiences are most intensely embed-
ded, it is important to assess resources that might be specific to departments
as well as available campus-wide. We selected sociology departments to
survey because they have high proportions of female graduate students and
female faculty; a potentially high proportion of mothers; and disciplinary
awareness about gender, families, and associated societal issues. We thought
these departments might be exemplars of informal or formal parental support
policies. Graduate Program Directors were selected as contacts because of
their ongoing interaction with graduate students and presumed familiarity
with related departmental and university policies.5
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We found three underlying patterns in the data: There are few formal
institutional supports tailored to the needs of graduate student parents; there
is limited knowledge on the part of faculty regarding supports that may
exist for graduate students with children; and departments accommodate
graduate student parents on a flexible, case-by-case basis. All three serve to
create a message that children are not a standard feature in the lives of
doctoral candidates. As Table 1 indicates, departments provide limited
resources and programming tailored to the needs of these graduate students.
Fewer than 15% of departments offer any of the following: family-friendly
space, dissertator support groups, childcare subsidies, or faculty training on
the issues faced by graduate student parents. Only slightly more (17.5%)
provide professional development opportunities tailored to graduate student
parents, such as a session on going on the job market while pregnant or with
an infant. Holding family-friendly social functions was the anomalous item,
with more than three quarters of respondents stating that their departments
held such events.
A slightly different picture emerges with supports present campus-wide.
Childcare subsidies and family-friendly space become more prevalent, with
25% to 30% of institutions reporting that these are available to students.
This signals that although sociology departments may not, for example,
have their own space available to create a lactation room or financial
resources to help contribute to their students’ childcare fees, these supports
may still be part of the campus infrastructure. Similarly, sociology depart-
ments may defer the organization of peer support groups to the Graduate
School or a campus body that provides health and wellness or writing
services for students.
If it is indeed the case that some supports fall under the purview of cam-
puses and not departments, what becomes problematic is not only the large
number of institutions not offering these resources, but also respondents’lack
of knowledge about what supports were available at the campus level. Almost
33% report not knowing about childcare subsidies, and 40% state they do not
know whether lactation rooms or other child-friendly spaces are available on
campus. Furthermore, at least 45% of respondents do not know about disser-
tator support groups or professional development opportunities for graduate
student parents. These figures may be even higher if some of the missing
responses are due to lack of knowledge about the campus supports available.
This means that students may have difficulty accessing information about
policies, take-up rates might be unnecessarily low, and—in a worst-case sce-
nario—students may actually leave their program perceiving no way to
accommodate their parental and student status. Moreover, the fact that
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442 Journal of Family Issues
Table 1
Supports for Graduate Student Parents
Do Not Know No Answer
Offered at the Departmental Level Yes (%) No (%) (%) (%)
Training for faculty on how to 0.0 92.5 0.0 7.5
support graduate student parents
Professional development 17.5 62.5 2.5 17.5
opportunities tailored to the
circumstances of graduate student
parents
Dissertator support groups specifically 2.5 80.0 7.5 10.0
for graduate student parents
Social activities where graduate 75.0 17.5 5.0 2.5
students’ children are encouraged
to attend
Family-friendly space (such as 10.0 67.5 5.0 17.5
lactation rooms)
Subsidies for childcare 5.0 80.0 0.0 15.0
Offered at the Institutional Level
Training for faculty on how to support 0.0 47.5 35.0 17.5
graduate student parents
Professional development 5.0 35.0 45.0 15.0
opportunities tailored to the
circumstances of graduate student
parents
Dissertator support groups specifically 7.5 20.0 47.5 25.0
for graduate student parents
Social activities where graduate 35.0 7.5 32.5 25.0
students’ children are encouraged
to attend
Family-friendly space (such as 30.0 15.0 40.0 15.0
lactation rooms)
Subsidies for childcare 25.0 25.0 32.5 17.5
Source: Survey conducted by authors of top 63 sociology departments in the United States
(N=40).
many supports are “unknown” suggests that institutions, departments, and
faculty do not have the level of recognition necessary to help address the
growing population of graduate student parents.
It is less clear whether and what kinds of maternity, paternity, or parental
leave policies are available to graduate student parents. In a recent review
of the resources available to graduate student parents attending institutions
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belonging to the American Association of Universities6(AAU), it was
found that 26% of these institutions provided a maternity or parental leave
policy, whereas only 10% of members had paid maternity leave policies
(Mason, 2006). A survey conducted by the American Physical Society’s
Committee on the Status of Women in Physics (n.d.), to gauge the presence
of “female-friendly climates” for graduate students in physics, found that
37% of respondents (49/133) reported having a family leave policy in
place.7On closer examination of the data, however, it became clear to us
that several representatives from physics departments answered “Yes”
when what was in fact available to students was the Family and Medical
Leave Act (FMLA) and little or nothing more. For example, one respondent
wrote that
For the typical student on a half-time appointment, up to 5 days (20 hours)
of sick leave may be used per year for attention to the medical needs of
immediate family members. All employees are covered by the Family and
Medical Leave Act.
Another, also responding positively to the availability of parental leave,
wrote that they provided “Nothing beyond what is required by the Family
Medical Leave Act”; whereas a third respondent wrote that “Graduate
students are covered by the Family Medical Leave Act. Up to 12 weeks of
unpaid medical leave is guaranteed to all graduate students with at least
1,250 hours of work in the previous year.” This last quotation is, in fact,
incongruous, and points to the limitations of the FMLA as a meaningful
support for graduate student parents because few are likely to officially
work the 24 hours per week necessary to meet the eligibility requirements.
We also found this lack of clarity surrounding leave policies in our own sur-
vey. Although we found that 40% of respondents stated that a maternity
leave policy was available either at the department or university level, we
do not know whether this includes paid or unpaid leaves, or whether
respondents were referring specifically to the FMLA.
The last pattern that emerged from our own survey data concerns the
flexible approach used by sociology departments to support graduate
student parents. More than two thirds of responding sociology departments
indicated that they had research and teaching assistant positions with flex-
ible deliverables and hours, which could conceivably be held by graduate
student parents. An open-ended question at the end of the survey resulted
in comments such as the following: “The Sociology Department makes an
effort to accommodate graduate student parents on a case-by-case basis and
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prides itself on being as flexible and supportive as possible” and “Our
department policies are very flexible and we try to accommodate all special
issues graduate students have, including parenthood.
Flexibility is paradoxical. On one hand, departmental flexibility in time
lines and assistantships is critical and can make the difference in a gradu-
ate student parent’s desire and ability to complete her program. Flexibility
can create the space for graduate student parents to focus part of their time
on their studies and part of the time on their children, and to tailor their
graduate experience to their needs and temporal circumstances. This can be
especially important when childcare spaces are hard to find. However, flex-
ibility should be supported by official policies and practices. Without these
formal structures, the distribution of flexibility options will likely be incon-
sistent across students and departments, will be subject to the discretion of
individual actors, and is implicitly framed as “asking for a favor” rather
than using a policy or resource. This can leave a graduate parent in a pre-
carious or vulnerable position. For example, one of our graduate student
colleagues who had negotiated a paid maternity leave of 6 weeks was later
asked by her supervisor to make up those hours. Without a formal policy,
the student did not feel that she had the capacity to challenge this “change
of terms.” Thus, flexibility is a necessary but insufficient strategy to support
graduate student parents.
University and Department Initiatives to
Support Graduate Student Parents
Although our study found that in general there were insufficient sup-
ports in place for graduate student parents, we found exceptions, signs of
progress, and reasons to be optimistic about future change. First, we know
that universities can and do implement policies and programs to accommo-
date specific subgroups of students. Examples include creating resource
centers for people with disabilities, as well as providing these students with
auxiliary aids, such as wheelchair accessible classrooms, and adjustments
to academic requirements (Wolanin & Steele, 2004). Student athletes com-
prise a second subgroup acknowledged by campus communities: They are
offered supports ranging from academic assistance (which can include
tutoring and liaison services between the athletes, coaches, and faculty) to
counseling services (Gabbard & Halischak, 1993; Jordan & Denson, 1990).
We are not stating that the needs of graduate student parents are similar to
students who have a disability or who participate in athletic activities, or
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that the structures currently in place to assist these other two subgroups are
fully adequate or standard across universities. Our point is simply that there
is a historic (and often positive) precedent for tailoring academic environ-
ments to different kinds of students.
Furthermore, the literature suggests that there is an association between
graduate school success and implementation of supportive policies and
programs. For example, past research has demonstrated that attrition is
linked to poor integration into graduate programs, which is partly created
by inadequate information available to students, informal norms rather than
formal policies, and a weak sense of community in departments (Bair &
Hawarth, 2004; Lovitts, 2001). Furthermore, evaluation of an intervention
designed to reduce general graduate student attrition and accelerate time to
PhD completion (the Graduate Education Initiative) identified a number of
program-level stumbling blocks that impede success (Ehrenberg, Jakubson,
Groen, So, & Price, 2007). These stumbling blocks include lack of clarity
regarding faculty expectations, inadequate financial resources for students,
departmental culture, and infrequent feedback and support from advisors
(Ehrenberg et al., 2007). These were some of the same resources that
Kennelly and Spalter-Roth (2006) found most lacking for graduate student
mothers. Unfortunately, however, Kennelly and Spalter-Roth did not have
attrition or success data. This literature on the general graduate population
suggests that departmental and institutional initiatives could help graduate
student mothers deal with the incompatibility of idealized mothers and ide-
alized academic expectations.
One possible reason that departments and universities have few institu-
tional supports for graduate student parents can be partly explained by the
concept of “structural lags.” Specifically, it is likely that policies and
programs have not yet caught up with the needs and realities of graduate
student parenting duties—perhaps due to the relatively recent influx of
women doctoral students. In an effort to help bridge the gap between iden-
tifying needs and developing policies, we now turn to possible support
strategies for graduate student parents. Specifically, based on existing
model policies, academic research, and the experiences of graduate student
mothers, we have composed a summary of possible support strategies
aimed at departmental and university administrators. These strategies are
not mutually exclusive—on the contrary, the strongest support systems pro-
vide multiple types of initiatives and combine institutional and departmen-
tal mechanisms for supporting these students.
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Family-Friendly University Strategies
There are multiple concrete ways that universities can, and do, support
graduate student parents, including paid parental leave, extending academic
deadlines, and providing subsidized childcare and dependent health insur-
ance. Efforts to create a family-friendly university culture are also crucial.
Paid Parental Leave
To facilitate a healthy recovery from childbirth and support the transition
into joint parenthood–student status, we suggest that universities provide
paid parental leave for birth and/or adoption. Although, ideally, all students
would be given this option, most existing policies provide funding only for
graduate students who are already receiving some form of paid support.
The average range of paid leave is 2 to 12 weeks and some paid leave poli-
cies are available to mothers and fathers.
In cases where paid parental leave is not possible, unpaid parental leave
should be offered while allowing the student to maintain “enrolled” status.
Remaining registered as full-time students facilitates retention of library
privileges, graduate student housing, health insurance, and informal ties
with faculty and other students. With international students, official univer-
sity affiliation can be the difference between staying in the United States
and returning to their home country.
To help address these issues with enrollment, some universities have
explicitly classified time for caregiving as an “academic accommodation
period” rather than a leave of absence. During an academic accommodation
period, students maintain full-time enrollment status but are allowed to
extend deadlines. The accommodation period varies by university, but typ-
ically ranges between 1 semester and 1 year.
It is important to point out that most graduate students are not covered
by the FMLA. The FMLA requires organizations with more than 50
employees to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain family and med-
ical reasons each 12-month period. However, to be eligible, employees
must have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past year—an average of 24
hours of work for each of 52 weeks. The vast majority of graduate or teach-
ing assistantships legally work for 20 hours/week or less, making the
majority of graduate students ineligible for FMLA. The fact that most grad-
uate students do not have this legal recourse for unpaid parental leave
underscores the importance of university-based leave programs for gradu-
ate student parents.
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Extension of Deadlines and Part-Time Options
Paid parental leave is an important strategy to assist new parents during
the initial transition to parenthood. However, as any parent knows, life does
not go back to “pre-baby normal” after the initial 2 to 12 weeks. To help
graduate student parents obtain their PhD, some universities give automatic
extensions of deadlines when graduate students adopt or give birth. This
automatic semester or year extension on academic deadlines covers require-
ments such as preliminary exams and time to completion of degrees. These
extension policies have been accompanied by an additional term of financial
support at some universities.
Although not a policy specific to parents, university support of part-time
graduate training could also be an important alternative for some graduate
student parents who are unable, or unwilling, to return full-time. This alter-
native is akin to arguments for half-time tenure track options and job sharing
to retain tenure track parents (Drago & Williams, 2000). Part-time students
would be expected to complete their classes and other PhD requirements less
quickly than full-time students. As students become dissertators, the funding
solution could be as simple as providing a stipend commensurate with their
level of work (i.e., half stipend for half commitment). However, the situation
is more complicated when students are taking classes and their funding
therefore also includes a substantial amount to cover tuition remission.
Childcare Support
Quality childcare is expensive and graduate students almost never earn
large salaries. However, it is next to impossible to make any progress on
degree completion without child-free time to work. There are many institu-
tional supports to help provide quality childcare for graduate student parents.
Universities can, and some do, provide need-based financial support for
childcare services. These subsidies generally do not cover expenses for
full-time quality day care, but can cover part-time care or offset the costs of
full-time care. Some universities will provide funding only for institutional
care, which makes it particularly difficult for parents who would prefer at-
home care or who can not secure an opening in a childcare center. One pos-
sible avenue for future support of campus childcare services is through
federal funding. For example, the U.S. Department of Education already pro-
vides Childcare Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) grants to uni-
versities in order to support low-income parents. Eligibility for CCAMPIS
funds is determined by eligibility for Federal Pell Grants (2008), which are
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exclusively for undergraduate students, with the small exception for postbac-
calaureate students in a teacher certification or licensure program that does
not lead to a graduate degree. Although CCAMPIS funds are not available for
any graduate degree seeking student, the already established infrastructure
could provide a relatively easy foray for the U.S. Department of Education to
provide childcare subsidies for graduate students.
In addition to providing financial support for routine childcare, some
universities offer subsidies for secondary care (back-up childcare, sick
childcare, and evening childcare) to enable graduate student parents to meet
their academic commitments when routine childcare is not available.
Furthermore, there is growing recognition that graduate student parents
miss important networking and professional development opportunities
when they forgo conference participation, in part due to childcare con-
straints. Some universities offer funds to pay for on-site or at-home child-
care while graduate student parents participate in academic conferences.
Even in the absence of university funding, departments can (and at least one
already does) provide childcare funding to support conference participation
of graduate student parents.
Childcare services and support extend beyond subsidies and remunera-
tion. One campus women’s center, for example, runs a volunteer childcare
program where student volunteers are matched with student parents for 3
free hours of childcare each week. The student volunteers are screened by
the university. This same women’s center also provides a monthly “kids
night out” where volunteers provide free babysitting for student parents.
Health Insurance for Dependents
One very important concern for any parent is health care coverage for
their children. This concern may be even more pronounced for graduate
student parents who earn a limited salary. If student health coverage is not
readily extendable to dependents for a nominal fee, students may pursue
paid employment outside of school, slowing down if not completely derail-
ing degree completion. It is therefore essential that the dependent health
insurance be affordable on a graduate student budget.
Enhancing Family-Friendly University Culture
The family-friendly culture of universities is crucial for supporting grad-
uate student parents.8Certainly, policies such as those already described
strongly signal that universities value graduate student parents. However,
without a family-friendly culture, graduate student parents may not feel
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comfortable taking advantage of these policies—a problem well docu-
mented with faculty family support policies. Furthermore, family support
services can alleviate the isolation often experienced by graduate student
parents and help keep these parents connected to university life.
Some examples of support services that have been established and are
useful include support groups, listservs or Web-spaces for graduate student
parents, and parent resource centers. University health services will often
offer dissertation support groups and group counseling sessions tailored for
specific needs. Although some of these groups could be useful for graduate
student parents, the needs of graduate student parents are specific enough
to warrant offering a tailored group. For maximum success, universities
could provide childcare during these meetings. Several universities have
also established bulletin boards or listservs for graduate student parents.
These informal networks are easy to set up and provide invaluable access
to other parents across campus. Finally, parent resource centers—or even
just one parent resource specialist—can provide valuable information on
available policies, childcare opportunities, and links to the community.
A less obvious—but crucial—signifier of a family-friendly culture is the
availability of lactation rooms and changing tables. Changing tables are
becoming ubiquitous in public restrooms. However, university bathrooms
frequently lack any suitable changing space—especially bathrooms in
departments and places infrequently visited by nonemployees. The mes-
sage in this absence is clear—small children are not expected or welcome.
The addition of changing tables is a relatively inexpensive, yet powerful,
way to show support for all parents on campus.
Lactation rooms are also hard to find on university campuses and pose a
particular problem for graduate student parents who usually share office
space. For parents who would like to return to work and continue breast-
feeding, it is essential to have a secure, discreet, comfortable place to nurse
or pump breast milk. By not offering suitable space for pumping, universi-
ties and departments give the message that mothers must choose between
work and parenting. Importantly, lactation rooms are relatively inexpensive
and can be made out of any small office space. Although there are ideal
components of lactation rooms (i.e., soft light, comfortable chair, relaxing
music), the reality is that any room with a power outlet, table, chair, and
door lock will work fine. University-level initiatives could increase access
to lactation rooms and changing tables campus-wide. However, depart-
ments could make these modest modifications with departmental resources
even in the absence of university policies. It is important to recognize that
space is almost always at a premium in universities and creating a lactation
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space for one, or a few, mothers might compete with other departmental
space needs. In the event that lactation space is not available for each
department, the chairs of departments within close geographic proximity
could discuss the possibility of creating a shared lactation room.
Obviously, these family-friendly strategies are not useful if parents are
unaware of them or cannot locate them. This is an obvious point, but one
anecdote highlights the importance of making this family-friendly infor-
mation readily available. As an exercise, one of the authors called her uni-
versity’s women’s center to find out the location of lactation rooms and/or
changing tables. The women’s center directed her to call the university gen-
eral information line, who transferred her to university facilities, who then
transferred her to operation services where she left a message that has yet
to be returned. At this same university, a reference librarian laughed out-
right at a graduate student mother who asked about a discreet place to
express breast milk.9
Clearly, it is essential to disseminate information about family-friendly
services, including the location of changing tables and lactation room—
preferably in a central location such as a parent resource center or Web site
known by all relevant university facilities. Some universities provide a list
of lactation rooms and changing tables on Web sites. One university pro-
vides a “parent-friendly” campus map where a regular campus map is
enhanced to include locations of changing tables, lactation rooms, child
play areas, and food services with high chairs.
Family-Friendly Departmental Strategies
Although university family-friendly culture is important, the norms and
culture of individual departments may be at least as consequential for the
success or failure of their graduate students. As such, it is crucial to under-
stand how departments can create a culture of support and encouragement
for graduate student parents. Indeed, some of the strategies discussed
already can be implemented at the departmental level, if not available
through the university. For example, departments can provide modest fund-
ing for childcare during conference participation, create lactation rooms
and changing table space, develop departmental parent dissertation support
groups, and extend departmental deadlines. Furthermore, there are some
specific strategies best suited for implementation by departments, rather
than by universities.
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Mentoring
Mentoring and faculty support are crucial for any graduate student’s suc-
cess, but are disproportionately lacking for mothers. Enhancing mentoring
for graduate student parents is an important task for departments. Specific
strategies to improve mentoring include department chair training, faculty
training, family–life discussion in standard first-year proseminars, and job
market workshops for parents.
Department Chair and Faculty Training
Department chairs and graduate program directors can have a huge impact
on understanding, supporting, advertising, and implementing family-friendly
policies. Furthermore, department chairs can be instrumental in fostering and
promoting a departmental culture supportive of combining paid work and par-
enting. Recognizing the importance of department chairs in creating a family-
friendly atmosphere, the University of California Faculty Family Friendly
Edge initiative developed a “toolkit” for chairs and deans at University of
California schools (Krasch et al., 2007). The toolkit presents data on how
family formation affects academic careers, articulates the importance of creat-
ing family-friendly departments, offers advice for chairs and deans, reviews
relevant policies and laws, and presents several best practice scenarios based
on plausible cases. Although this toolkit is designed to support faculty parents,
the general ideas and issues are relevant for graduate student parents. However,
it would be even more helpful if each university created a similar “toolkit” for
departmental chairs focused on supporting graduate student parents, complete
with specific examples based on university policies.
Faculty training could be similar to department chair training; however,
greater attention might be directed specifically at how to mentor graduate
student parents. This training could adequately be covered during one fac-
ulty meeting. Faculty could discuss the research showing differential men-
toring dependent on parenthood status. In addition, faculty and staff could
be told about departmental and university policies for graduate student
parents. Furthermore, faculty might not know that students supported with
federal funding may be able to receive paid leave for parenting, even if their
university does not have a specific parental leave policy. This short training
could be very important given that many of the responding department
graduate directors reported not knowing about university policies. In addi-
tion, not one of the departments reported training for faculty members to
enhance support for graduate student parents. Faculty meetings would also
be an obvious time to emphasize a zero tolerance policy for discrimination
based on parental status.
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We recognize that there may be limited institutional resources available
for training chairs, graduate program directors, and faculty. However, it may
be possible to adapt existing materials (such as the University of California
family-friendly toolkits) and/or combine training on family issues with other
planned departmental or university trainings. Furthermore, disciplinary
organizations, such as the American Sociological Association (ASA), can
help deliver and coordinate trainings. For example, ASAs 2008 Directors of
Graduate Study conference explicitly addressed graduate student parent
issues including family-friendly policies and departmental support strate-
gies. Other types of low-cost awareness-building activities, such as depart-
ment brown-bag discussions, could be used in the absence of resources for
formal training. Training of chairs, graduate program directors, and faculty
can yield important rewards such as improved climate and enhanced reten-
tion and satisfaction of highly qualified graduate students.
Graduate Student Training
Many graduate programs provide an orientation to incoming students,
often in the form of a weekly proseminar. These proseminars generally
involve faculty members discussing their research in an effort to inform
new gradate students. This proseminar would be an ideal forum to include
several sessions on balancing work and life. These sessions could include
discussions about parenting as a graduate student, but could also focus on
the general struggle with being a productive academic and a well-rounded
person. Incorporating work–life sessions in this proseminar series could
help alleviate some of the major fears of all new graduate students, as well
as give the message that the department values the combination of work
with other life activities.
At the opposite end of graduate training, departments could help support
graduate student parents by providing training on job market issues specific
to families. Some important issues include telling or not telling about
children/pregnancy, whether or not to discuss spousal hire issues if relevant,
and accounting for gaps in curricula vitae or longer time to PhD comple-
tion due to raising children.
Departmental Culture
The essence of creating a family-friendly departmental culture is to support
caregiving responsibilities as well as academic endeavors. Ideally, depart-
ments would not just tolerate graduate student parenting—but would value
graduate students as whole people with a career, a life, a family, and so on.
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One simple way to help create family-friendly culture is to have departmental
activities where children, partners, and spouses are explicitly included. In one
of the author’s departments, annual picnics always had activities planned for
children of all ages, including bubbles, coloring, and football. The message
was clearly that children are welcome. However, not all departments and uni-
versities are supportive. For example, an article on graduate student parenting
by O’Connor (2004) in On Campus With Women included this story:
In some cases, universities barely acknowledge that students have children.
“When I started the doctoral program” one doctoral student recalls, “I was
informed of a welcoming barbecue at the dean’s house, on a Saturday after-
noon. I thought, ‘How nice!’ Then I asked if I could bring my ten-month-old
and was told, ‘Well, no.’ The reasoning I was given was that [the dean] had
fragile things in his house.” This experience was, says the mother of three,
“Not a good way to start the program.”
Departments can also create a safe and supportive environment for grad-
uate student parents by encouraging all student parents to avail themselves
of family-friendly resources, posting and disseminating university and
departmental parental leave policies to student and faculty, and enforcing a
zero-tolerance policy for discrimination based on parental status (among
other statuses).
Evaluation
We also advocate evaluating the effects of these supports and policies,
both at the departmental and university levels. The importance of collecting
data on attrition and time to completion is becoming increasingly understood
by academic administrators, as is assessing initiatives put in place to prevent
graduate students from dropping out or to expedite the PhD process. Any data
collected with the purpose of tracking student attrition and time to comple-
tion should, at the very least, include whether graduate students have children
and whether and when they gave birth or adopted a child during graduate
school. Programs implemented specifically to retain graduate student parents
should also include an evaluative component.
Conclusion
Mounting research demonstrates that having a baby during graduate
school in the social sciences harms women’s careers. Women in the social
sciences who have children during graduate school are less likely to obtain
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a tenure-track job immediately after graduate school. When these women
do obtain tenure-track positions, they are less likely to receive tenure com-
pared with similar men, or to women without children. Unfortunately,
despite increased recognition of the “brain drain” resulting from mothers
leaving the academic pipeline, few universities have established compre-
hensive policies to support graduate student parents. Indeed, the reality is
that many universities do not have even the most meager of supports, such
as changing tables or lactation rooms.
Graduate student mothers are not the only ones to suffer from inade-
quate support. Although women with children are the most disadvantaged,
graduate student parents of both genders are less likely than nonparents to
complete their degrees, to earn tenure, and to eventually work as faculty at
top research universities (Kennelly & Spalter-Roth 2006; Lovick, 2004;
Spalter-Roth & Kennelly 2004; Williams, 2004). Also, our survey of soci-
ology programs showed an overall lack of institutional supports for both
graduate student mothers and fathers. It is important that institutions see the
importance of providing adequate mentoring and support for all parents as
they pursue their graduate studies. As Joan Williams and other feminists
have argued, the path to both broader gender equity and reduced family–work
conflict will necessarily involve a shift in roles for both men and women,
including greater involvement in parenting by men (Williams, 2000).
Institutional supports for all graduate student parents have the potential to
attract and retain a diverse and intellectually rigorous student body that
includes talented mothers and fathers.
Notes
1. We recognize that informal support systems can be important and critical resources for
graduate student parents. Informal support networks can provide safe space to share frustrations
and possible solutions to balancing the demands of academia and family life. However, because
the focus of this article is on formal institutional supports, we do not discuss such informal
activities here. Elsewhere, we explore and affirm the importance of informal supports for grad-
uate student parents and also provide a variety of recommendations aimed at individuals strug-
gling to balance graduate school and parenthood. See Leviten-Reid, Parker, and Springer’s
(2008), Learning Through Life: Mothering and Graduate School.
2. For example, in 2002 women comprised 60% of sociology PhD recipients (Spalter-Roth
& Kennelly, 2004).
3. Among faculty that went on to achieve tenure, the average period for graduate school
completion was 9.3 years in 1999, compared with 7.6 years in 1985 (Mason, 2006).
4. The choice to delay childbirth has important consequences for women, including declining
fertility, constrained reproduction options, and/or ultimately having smaller families than
desired (Mason & Ekman, 2007). Data suggest that male graduate students and early-career
faculty do not defer childrearing at the same rate as women.
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5. We recognize that graduate program directors are an imperfect source of information
about the university, but also argue that most graduate students’ experiences with the univer-
sity are centered in and often “filtered” through their departments. In this way, graduate
program directors’ knowledge about supports at both the departmental and university level
offers useful data for this study.
6. This review was done by looking at the Web sites of these institutions and so may not
paint a complete picture of the policies and programs available.
7. Respondents were department chairs or designated departmental representatives.
Furthermore, we examined the data when 133 responses were available, although at the time
of submitting this article there were 142 survey responses.
8. A family-friendly departmental culture is, of course, critically important. In this section
we focus on university culture and then move to departmental support in the next section.
9. The student ended up pumping milk over the sinks in the public restroom while other
library patrons came and went.
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... Undergraduate orientation programs often build concurrent programming for students' supporters to orient them to what their students will be experiencing (Ward-Roof et al., 2008). Graduate students benefit from similar supports and often require more assistance balancing family and graduate life (Springer et al., 2009). ...
... Graduate students are also more likely than undergraduates to have a child or be raising a family during their studies (Hoffer et al., 2006). Orientation practices that serve this population include professional development tailored to the circumstances of graduate student parents, social activities where graduate students' children are encouraged to attend, and family-friendly spaces, such as lactation rooms (Springer et al., 2009). ...
... The success of graduate students can be dependent on the emotional, financial, and childcare support they receive from their network of supporters. Graduate students can need more support balancing their academic and personal responsibilities than undergraduate students (Springer et al., 2009). Effective and impactful GSOP must include intentional space for students' supporters and additional resources for supporters. ...
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This study surveyed graduate student orientation programming (GSOP) professionals (n = 33) on the current programmatic landscape for graduate orientation to build a taxonomy of interventions. The results indicate that GSOP addresses campus logistics and interpersonal belonging more frequently than institutional belonging, academic acculturation, or adjustment for students’ supporters. Additionally, orientation professionals were not involved in GSOP. Implications for practice are presented.
... As enrollment rates for graduate student women have been rising in the United States, the pipeline continues to leak, with multiple justice issues present, such as declining graduation rates for graduate students who are also mothers (Wladkowski & Mirick, 2019). While there are existing problems experienced by graduate students with children such as financial instability, relationships with consultants, and increased demands from family obligations (Springer et al., 2009), there is more to be learned about graduate student mothers. The lack of movement through the academic pipeline for women is a central problem. ...
... Broadly, there was repetition of findings relating to pressures and lack of systemic policies and practices which acknowledge and value graduate student mothers. For example, consistent with previous research, graduate student mothers face internal barriers such as balancing multiple roles and lack of finances (Lynch, 2008;Springer et al., 2009;Wladkowski & Mirick, 2019). However, the focus on the individual can be viewed through a neoliberal construct (Holborow, 2012) which bypasses institutional or systemic changes for mothers. ...
... However, having their family members understand and support them by performing roles that participants were expected to perform enabled them to focus more on their research. Rockinson-Szapkiw, Spaulding and Bade (2014) and Springer, Parker and Leviten-Reid (2009) affirm that family is a crucial support structure for doctoral students. According to Nussbaum (2000), women are able to function well when they are given the necessary support such as good nutrition, education and family support. ...
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Doctoral education is regarded as a crucial engine for development by the knowledge economies, thereby making the research capacity of scholars play a critical factor towards development. Widening participation within doctoral education is seen as a way of enhancing this capacity. However, African scholars produce only 1.4% of all published research, indicating that Africa lacks research capacity. Even though both men and women contribute to the development of their continent and their countries, the number of women holding doctoral degrees on the African continent remains low across all nationalities. In high-income countries, there are 3963 PhDs per million people, whereas in some African countries (such as Tunisia, Egypt and Kenya), the number ranges from 100 to over 1500; however, in most low-income countries (such as Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania), the number is less than 100. Much research in doctoral education examines the reasons for low graduation rates and high attrition rates, but little research examines the contributors to the doctoral study for African women, especially in these times when doctoral education is viewed as a driver of the economy. Based on a qualitative study that interviewed 14 women from African countries, this article aimed to investigate how women account for completing doctoral studies. Data were gathered through semistructured interviews and analysed thematically using a capabilities approach as a theoretical framework. The findings suggest that institutional support, peer support and academic support played a role in their achievement. Contribution: The article contributed to doctoral education scholarship of African women and indicated that religion contributed to African women’s success in doctoral programmes, granting them strength to push until completion. This research may greatly encourage more women to enrol in doctoral programmes when reading other women’s success stories.
... Institutions aiming to increase the participation of women should consider policies and programs to facilitate this transition into faculty and other academic roles. The importance of work-life integration and work support for women has consistently been shown in previous studies (Mirick and Wladkowski, 2018;Springer et al., 2009;Wladkowski and Mirick, 2020). Higher education administrators can apply these findings to help shape policies to encourage more women to pursue and complete engineering doctorates, to accommodate parenthood, to enhance programs and doctoral student socialization to alleviate challenges associated with ideal worker norms and to develop alternative career pathways to the professoriate across a greater time span following PhD completion. ...
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Purpose The underrepresentation of women in engineering has important consequences for meeting the need for a larger, talented scientific and technological labor force. Increasing the proportion of women faculty in engineering will help increase the persistence probabilities of women undergraduate and graduate students in engineering, as well as contribute to the range and diversity of ideas toward innovations and solutions to the greatest engineering challenges. This study aims to examine the association among gender, family formation and post-PhD employment patterns of a cohort of engineering doctorates. Design/methodology/approach Using the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Doctorate Recipients data, 2001–2010, descriptive and multinomial logit regression analyses are conducted to illustrate the career trajectories of engineering PhDs over a ten-year period. Findings The career trajectories of engineering PhDs are nonlinear, and transitions between employment sectors commonly occur over the ten-year time period studied. Although women engineering PhDs with young dependents are less likely to be employed initially after PhD completion, they tend to enter the workforce in the academic sector as time progresses. Early post-PhD employment as a postdoctoral researcher or in the academic sector contributes to the pursuit of the professoriate downstream. Originality/value While previous studies tend to focus on the early career outcomes of science and engineering students, this study contributes to the literature by focusing on the long-term career outcomes of engineering doctorates. Research findings provide engineering PhD students and PhDs with more information regarding potential post-PhD career trajectories, highlighting the multitude of career options and transitions that occur over time. Research findings also provide higher education administrators and doctoral program stakeholders with foundational information toward designing and revitalizing professional development programs to help PhD students prepare for the workforce. The findings have the potential to be applied toward helping increase diversity by shaping policies and programs to encourage multiple alternative career pathways to the professoriate.
... In contrast to their male counterparts who benefit from their parenting role, graduate student mothers have traditionally experienced caregiver bias, or the assumption that they will spend more time caring for home and family than on their academic pursuits (Hochschild, 1997;Mason et al., 2013). They are also more likely to struggle with institutional barriers and lack of supports such as daycare, transportation, and health insurance, and to leak out of the pipeline entirely (Gibbs et al., 2014;Kelly & Grant, 2012;Mason et al. 2013;Springer et al., 2009). As Lynch (2008) contends, this "imbalance of opportunity" has dire implications for both academia as a profession and the institution of higher education. ...
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While the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the once marginalized conversation of academia’s gendered imbalance of opportunity, discussion of its impact on graduate student mothers has remained absent. Resilience has been cited as key to overcoming in the pandemic era with little discussion of how its conceptualization continues to marginalize females in the academy. Our phenomenological study explores graduate student mothers’ conceptualizations of balance, failure, success, and resilience using a family resilience framework which acknowledges the multiple identities to which they may avow and contexts in which they may operate. Employing an ecological conceptual framework, we engaged nine graduate student mothers and their children in focus groups and analyzed data using a constructivist grounded theory approach. Our research found that many graduate student mothers’ definitions of success led them to delay qualifying exams and comps during the pandemic. Our exploration of the ecology of our participants’ resilience during quarantine begins the generation of a new graduate student mother resilience theory in which the ability to overcome adversity is rooted in celebration, gratitude, collaborative problem-solving, connection, and flexibility. We recommend continued development of this new theory and provide insight into the supports higher education can offer to address the leaky academic pipeline.
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Aim/Purpose: This descriptive study examines indicators of well-being and sources of emotional connection for social work doctoral students at American institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic, including symptoms of depression, anxiety, work-related burnout, emotional connection to others, and changes in child care among parent respondents. This study also explores if particular groups of doctoral students experience heightened risks to well-being during the pandemic. Background: Social isolation strategies associated with the COVID-19 pandemic present challenges for doctoral student well-being, mental health, professional relationships, and degree persistence. Of particular concern is the potentially disproportionate impact the pandemic may have on the well-being of students who already face additional barriers to degree completion, such as parents and caregivers, as well as those who face obstacles associated with structural oppression, including persons of color, women, and sexual minority (SM) students. Methodology: Baseline data was used from a longitudinal survey study conducted by the authors on social work doctoral student well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants (N = 297) were recruited through the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work’s (GADE’s) publicly available list of 89 member institutions in the United States. The majority of respondents identified as women (80.1%), 35% of the sample identified as a person of color and/or non-White race, 30% identified as a sexual minority, and 32% were parents of children under 18 years of age. Contribution: This study contributes to the larger body of literature on factors associated with risk, resilience, and well-being among doctoral students, and it offers a specific exploration of these factors within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. This study deepens our understanding of social work doctoral students in particular, who have higher rates of doctoral enrollment by women and persons of color than many other academic disciplines. Findings: Emotional connection to loved ones was significantly correlated with lower levels of depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, and work-related burnout. Outcomes varied by race, with Black and Asian respondents indicating higher levels of emotional connection to loved ones as compared to White respondents, and Black respondents indicating lower levels of anxiety and depression compared to White respondents. SM respondents indicated significantly lower levels of emotional connection and higher levels of depression and anxiety, as compared to heterosexual respondents. Parents reported receiving substantially less child care assistance than they were before the pandemic, but also reported lower levels of anxiety, depression, and work-related burnout compared to childless respondents. Recommendations for Practitioners: Recommendations for doctoral program directors and chairs include implementing a purposive communication strategy, faculty modeling self-care and boundaries, creating opportunities for connection, scheduling value-added activities driven by student interest and needs, approaching student needs and plans of study with flexibility, and creating virtual affinity groups to help students connect with those facing similar challenges. Recommendation for Researchers: Outcome evaluation studies of doctoral program initiatives and policies to promote student well-being--both during and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic-- is warranted. Impact on Society: The COVID-19 pandemic presents complex financial, interpersonal, and programmatic challenges for doctoral faculty and program directors, many of which affect the well-being and mental health of their students. Findings and recommendations from this study may be used to address the needs of doctoral students and support their path to doctoral degree completion. Future Research: Future studies should include measures that tap a broader range of indicators of depression, anxiety, and emotional connection, and additional domains of well-being. Multivariate analyses would permit predictive conclusions, and follow-up qualitative analyses would offer deeper insights into doctoral students’ well-being, coping skills, and experiences within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Drawing from the experiences of graduate students who become parents during graduate school in the United States, we argue that working parents encounter multiple liminalities, defined as “betwixt and between the original positions arrayed by law, custom, convention and ceremony” (Turner, 1977, p. 95) in their work-family negotiation. Findings revealed that graduate student parents (GSP) experienced permanent liminality when navigating parental leave policies, transitional liminality when managing work-family demands, and limbo liminality as GSPs are compared against “the ideal worker” in their everyday work. GSPs engaged in pivoting to unleash the agentic potential of their liminal positionality. Pivoting is enacted through (a) stepping into X or Y side of the liminal space to unlock oneself from the inbetweeness, (b) rotating back and forth between X and Y positions to attend to different roles, and (c) turning to an alternative space whereby the hybrid X-Y identities are embraced.
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Affordable, accessible, and quality childcare is important for student parents in higher education who are raising children under the age of 5. With a growing student parent population (Noll et al., 2017), it is important to explore how student parents make decisions on childcare for their children, ages birth to 5, to support their pursuit of higher education. Limited research exists on student parents’ childcare choices and the factors that inform their decisions. To identify how student parents choose childcare for their children, we conducted 36 in-depth interviews with student parents attending a 4 year university in the Western United States. We relied upon the accommodation model (Meyers & Jordan, 2006) to guide our research analysis as it allowed for a deeper understanding of the process and outcomes of childcare decision-making. Our findings demonstrate that student parents have diverse childcare needs. Student parents’ choices are shaped by larger social forces, particularly family necessity, family financial resources, beliefs and aspirations, community context, and social networks. We provide recommendations for institutions of higher education, policymakers, and researchers to support the educational pursuits of student parents and provide childcare that best suits their needs and desires.
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As COVID-19 reached pandemic levels in March 2020, schools shifted to remote learning. Student parents in higher education had to adapt to their own remote learning and assume responsibility for childcare and their children’s education. Few studies have explored the impact of COVID-19 on mothers who are also full-time students. This study utilized a phenomenological approach to understand the lived experiences of mothering students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Student mothers were recruited from a large, public, Hispanic-serving university in a Southern state. We conducted interviews with 15 student mothers who had at least one child under the age of 18 during the first six months of the pandemic. Three main themes emerged from the analyses: (1) successfully meeting educational requirements; (2) dealing with the mental health impact of the pandemic; and (3) changing the institutional structure. The first theme captured strategies mothering students implemented to ensure their own or their children’s educational goals were met. The second theme encompassed how mothers handled the stress caused by the pandemic. The third theme explored ways that mothers resisted gendered expectations and norms around care. Implications for policy and social work practice include changing institutional structures to enhance support for mothering students.
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The study investigated the academic challenges of student mothers in tertiary education, its implication for inclusiveness and counselling. The study adopted the mixed-method design. The purposive and convenient sampling procedures were used to select 20 student mothers from Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu Alike Ebonyi state Nigeria. Data were collected through focused group discussion and a semi-structured questionnaire. The study found that the majority of respondents go through serious academic challenges such as inability to attend lectures regularly because of tiredness, sickness of child, taking baby to the hospital and insufficient funding. To cope with the challenges respondents relied on paid house helps, keeping children at daycare centres, and relying on husbands and friends for support. The study recommended the Counselling Unit of the University to intensify education on inclusive practices, best motherhood practices and problem-focused coping strategies and for an inclusive approach through the provision of daycare centres and remedial school counselling services for student-mothers.
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Traditionally, gender equity in the academy is evaluated in terms of women's professional success as compared to men's. This study examines gender equity not only in terms of professional outcomes but also in terms of familial outcomes, such as childbirth, marriage, and divorce. Using data from the Survey of Doctorate Recipients as well as data from a 2002 to 2003 survey of the work and family issues facing ladder-rank faculty in the nine campuses of the University of California system, the authors followed more than thirty thousand Ph.D.s in all disciplines across their life course and surveyed more than eighty-five hundred active University of California faculty. Results indicate that gender equity in terms of familial gains is as elusive as gender equity in terms of professional employment, raising the fundamental issue of what gender equity means in a university setting or in any fast-track employment setting.
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Academics share their personal experiences American academics have begun to recognize the "maternal wall" in their profession. The path-breaking work of Mary Ann Mason, dean of the graduate division at the University of California at Berkeley, has shown that academic women who have babies within five years of receiving their Ph.D.'s are much less likely to get tenure than women without children or than men, with or without children. Robert W. Drago's Faculty and Families Project at Pennsylvania State University has shown that professors often defer having children because they fear it will be held against them in the hiring or tenure processes. But what about women who have children in graduate school? How do they fare? One of the many graduate students I spoke with in my work on the topic put it this way: "The message is: This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You are at a great university; don't let your personal life get in the way." That came from a man, but I heard many similar remarks from men and women alike: • "The feeling is that children are an optional accessory you can think about having once you're tenured." • "One professor told us all that you should not have kids if you want to get tenure." • "If you have a child, you are made to believe that you don't have a place here." In this column, I'd like to look at how doctoral students who decide to have children in graduate school are affected by the decision. In my next column, I'll discuss what can and should be done about those problems.
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Joan Williams' Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict And What To Do About It (Oxford, 1999) is a "theoretically sophisticated and thoroughly accessible treatise" that offers a new vision of work, family, and gender. (Publisher's Weekly, Nov. 1, 1999) It examines our system of providing for children's care by placing their caregivers at the margins of economic life. This system that stems from the way we define our work ideals, notably from our definition of the ideal worker as one who takes no time off for childbearing or childrearing and who works full-time and is available for overtime. The ideal-worker norm clashes with our sense that children should be cared for by parents. The result is a system that is bad for men, worse for women, and disastrous for children. Williams documents that mothers remain economically marginalized, and points out that when mothers first marginalize and then divorce, their children often accompany them into poverty. Williams argues that designing workplaces around the bodies of men (who need no time off for childbearing) and men's life patterns (for women still do 80% of the child care) often constitutes discrimination against women. She also engages the work/family literature to show that "flexible" workplaces are often better than existing practices for employers' bottom line. On the family side, she argues that the ideal worker's wage -- after as well as before divorce -- reflects the joint work of the ideal worker and the primary caregiver of his children, and should be jointly owned. In a comprehensive examination of the theoretical issues surrounding work/family issues, she uses the work of Judith Butler and Pierre Bourdieu to explain why gender has proved so unchanging and unbending, reframing the special treatment/equal treatment debate, the debate over "women's voice," and offering new perspective on how to avoid the persistent race and class conflicts that emerge in debates over work and family issues.