Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Why Grad Students Make Great Parents

The most important lesson I learned from grad school was that it's possible to spend six years doing one thing.

This has been invaluable to a new parent. Because you know what lasts less than six years? Babies. Also, toddlers.

That means every related experience will also last less than six years: pregnancy, breastfeeding, diapers, hourly night waking, etc. I've often found these experiences to be pleasant or at least not unpleasant, but when they become challenging, I just have to remember that if I spent six years in the service of this rather unattractive* document:

Reproduction and early life of the Humboldt squid - Staaf, D.J.

then I can spend less than six years doing [whatever it is] for this charming creature:

Product of reproduction by D.J. Staaf and early life thereof

I don't mean to suggest that parenting is over when the kid reaches school age, or that there won't be new and different challenges in childhood and adolescence. But they'll be new and different. And they probably won't last more than six years, either.

I figured a graduate education must have other applications to parenting, so I crowdsourced ideas on Twitbook--I mean, Facetube--sorry, FACEBOOK. As usual, my friends were brilliant, and generous with their brilliance. The first on the list is mine; the rest were inspired as noted. Behold, the


Top Ten** Lessons For Parents From Grad School


  1. Do nothing once that you are not willing to do a thousand times more. This is as true of zooming a toddler around the house in a laundry basket as of sorting plankton under a microscope.
  2. Be prepared to answer the question "Why?" at any time, about anything, suggests Michael O'Donnell. I'd add that your toddler won't accept "Because!" any more than your graduate advisor did.
  3. "Sitting down to a peaceful, uninterrupted, well-balanced meal is a rare experience," says Amber Kerr. If you stop expecting it in grad school, you won't miss it when you're a parent.
  4. Someday you will have a dissertation and a degree. Someday your offspring will sleep all night and use the toilet independently. That day is not this day. Therefore, as Mollie Manier says, "Celebrate the small wins: my PCR worked! The kids are asleep by 9:30!"
  5. She also points out that it's unwise to hope for specific outcomes. Do you want to prove that two species are closely related? Are you expecting your kid to love volleyball? Way to set yourself up for disappointment.
  6. Ellen Garrett Mirus must have seen the university library's copy of Cephalopods of the World that lived on my desk for almost the entire six years, because she says, "Always borrow your books from a library with no late fees." That will be great advice when I can actually make it to a library again . . . 
  7. "Never become a self-declared expert in something (diaper changing, GIS) because then you will forever be the go-to person when that service is needed," says Liz Alter. "And it will inevitably be needed often."
  8. Do not think about how much you would have been paid for certain tasks if you were not a grad student or parent. As John Ott points out, doing these things for free is (ironically) part of your job.
  9. Maybe you've been meaning to write up those awesome results, or teach your kid about inside voices. Then one day you see the same results in someone else's paper, or you cringe at what just got announced to the entire restaurant. Thomas Hayden may be referencing moments like these when he says, "Just because the deadlines are vague doesn't mean that the stakes aren't high, nor that you won't be called to account at a moment's notice."
  10. Often the people around you would be better company if they had a nap, notes Tracy Walters. Sadly, you cannot force someone to fall asleep.

* I did manage to sneak a bit of cute into said document. I hope it's happily coexisting with the 25 tables, 39 figures, and 21 pages of references . . . 


** As decided by me, because it's my blog and I can do that. Many other excellent ideas were also put forth on the 'book.

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