Graduate School and Parenting
By Haley Potts (2020-2021 Chair-Elect)
Graduate school in psychology and/or law is a challenging time for anyone. Your schedule is full, your inbox is overflowing, and your to-do list is never-ending. It’s tempting to fall into an “I’ll do that after grad school” trap, as personal goals (e.g., developing healthy routines, learning a language, or even starting a family) take a backseat to research, coursework, and internships. Summed up in platitudes like “self-care “and “work/life balance,” we know that these sorts of meaningful life choices are what make us full and happy human beings; so, can we really wait these three to seven years (or more!) before we start living?
I wanted to know what parenthood might look like for graduate students, a population that is disproportionately female, overwhelmed, and at or beyond the average child-bearing age (i.e., late twenties to early thirties). So, I asked two psychology and law graduate students to explain how they balance the joys and chaos of parenthood with that of graduate school. A big thank you to Claire and Anna for their honesty and wisdom!
* Claire, Clinical PhD law and psychology student, two children (ages 34 and 28), and one grandchild (age 2)
* Anna, Experimental PhD law and psychology student, two children (ages 3.5 and 11 months)
Finally, make sure to check out @PandemicParent on Twitter, a science-based COVID parenting resource developed by two parents and professionals in law and psychology (Drs. Lindsay Malloy and Amanda Zelechoski).
What are the benefits of having children while in graduate school? Any disadvantages?
Anna: Children, in general, help you take perspective. They remind you of what’s important in life and force you to prioritize those things. They are not flexible or understanding. So, in a moment when you need to choose between an interesting webinar and baking with your toddler, or between a symposium and family dinner, they force you to choose. And I assure you, when you’re sitting in an ER in the late hours of a Sunday night, that research paper you were supposed to complete or that data waiting to be analyzed is the least important thing in your life. Important as it is, it isn’t nearly as essential as your real world, your commitment to your family or your responsibilities as a spouse and parent building a home. Don’t get me wrong – I assign enormous value to the work I do. And in some ways, my children are the very reason I do it – to create more kindness and justice in the world they will occupy. I do what I do so that one day I can tell them that their mother saw injustice and moved heaven and earth to do something about it.
But in the end of the day, my children remind me that my tombstone will not list my academic publications. It will not list the committees in which I participated, or the guest lectures I’ve been invited to teach. But it might reveal that I was a loving, patient, kind parent who loved my children more than life itself. I’m reminded that maybe our part in creating more justice and goodness and love in the world starts at home, raising children who have values of defending and protecting human dignity, of standing up for what’s right, of knowing when to be polite and when to shout at the top of your lungs until someone will hear you demand rightness.
From a more practical lens, being a parent student also has very specific advantages as it pertains to my actual work. I have learned to juggle and to compartmentalize like a pro. Which means that my “work” time is hyper-productive. I sometimes feel like I can get done in one hour what many non-parents get done in four, because I have no choice. Especially these days, when I am literally a stay-at-home parent (I did not sign up for that!!), my workday starts at 8pm and often ends at midnight or 1am. I don’t have the luxury of binge-watching the hottest show, I don’t have the luxury of having time to complain about being too tired. There is no other time. I have no choice. So, I get it done. And I do it well, because my work gets my entire attention when it finally gets my attention at all. No one knows self-motivation and hard work like a sleep-deprived parent.
It’s not all rainbows, though. Parenting – even if your child is in daycare/school all day – is a full-time job. I don’t mean that as a hyperbole: you are literally on call every minute of every hour of every day. And every night. Forever. It’s a privilege, but it’s a huge challenge. It’s a privilege that means sacrifice. You can be a star in school. You can achieve just as much as your colleagues – if not more. You can rise to the top and become number one in your field. But when that phone rings and the school nurse is on the other end of that line, you drop everything and you go.
Claire: My oldest son had already left home when I began college at age 48 (now 56). The youngest was just finishing high school. The only advantage I had was not having to pay for college while I had a dependent at home. I have noticed at my current academic institution, my program provides free healthcare for the graduate student, and reduced healthcare for their family/children. My university also provides and free childcare for families, and a designated location for graduate student family housing.
How has being a parent impacted your research and/or clinical work?
Anna: To be honest, it hasn’t much impacted my research. I think I would probably be doing a bit more research if I were not a parent, but that’s not the life I chose. And I am completely and totally whole with my decision to build a family and raise tiny human beings who themselves will change the world one day. I’m still fully committed to my work, and I am doing my research and moving ahead with my requirements for my degree.
Claire: I noticed how my clinical training impacted my being a parent. My first practicum was in my university's counseling center, and I couldn't help but think about parenting styles. Parents who PUSHED their students to be "perfect" compared to my own style of allowing my sons to follow their own pathway in young adulthood.
Have the heavy or dark parts of the psycholegal world (e.g., researching psychopathy or working with offenders who commit crimes against children) impacted how you parent?
Anna: The dark parts of my work haven’t impacted my parenting in a negative way, they’ve just opened my eyes to some very real challenges in this world. The way I speak to my children about police or about their rights or about what they should expect in the world is now just more informed and well-rounded. Our home is a place where we discuss any topic, and we’re very open with our children about the reality of our world. I think my education has really helped me become a more informed parent in that way.
Claire: The intersection of my research and in law & psychology often causes me to worry about the safety of my sons. My previous and current practicum has placed me in the adult and juvenile justice jails and courtroom. Some of the recounting of police response and behavior at time of arrest of defendants of color (compared to White defendants) are clearly different, and more violent. Although my sons do not look as though they have Black roots, they do and in the current climate of race, policing, and racism in America, I wake up every morning, look at my mobile phone and feel relieved to see there are no messages of concern.
What advice do you have for graduate students about to become parents?
Anna: I’d tell them that no parent is perfect. Far from it. And that the juggle is very difficult. But it is so worthwhile. You don’t get rewarded and you don’t get acknowledged, but you’re doing something extraordinary. I’d also say that having a social support system in place is a huge source of relief and strength when you’re a student parent. Very few fellow students understand what it means to have children while trying to complete graduate school. Even those who want to understand… they just can’t. Find people who do understand and share your struggles and frustrations and joys over a margarita (or three) once in a while. Have at least one person you can text at 3am. And just remember not to compare yourself to anyone else – this is your life, your ride of a lifetime.
Claire: My advice would be to wait until you have finished your program to have children. The stress of clinical work keeps me away from communicating with my sons and granddaughter. Pre-COVID, I only saw her during Fall break (in October) and when the academic year ended (in May). Each visit was generally for a long weekend, and that was it. Only photos and the odd telephone conversation kept me close to my children. If you do decide to have children, try to keep your family very small (I recommend only 1 child) because children need their parents' love and attention (especially when they are not well) to learn and grow.
What do your kids think of your work? Or what do they tell other people you do for work? (Only if they are old enough for this, of course)?
Anna: They’re a little young to fully understand, but they know that I do work to try to help make the world better. They know that I try to understand why people behave the way that they do, so that we can all understand the world a little better. It’s a little vague, but it works at 3 years old.
Claire: My sons are supportive of my work and research. They do praise my successes, however, I tend to keep a lot of what I am doing to myself (I don't really know why I do that actually) because I do not want to come across as bragging. However, this week I defended my master's thesis and passed. I shared that news with my sons (via text :( message) and they were both very supportive and caring with their congratulatory words. Basically, I just want my sons to be happy with the fact that I am trying to be an educated mom, grandmother, mentor, and example for women in science, and for women of color in science. I mostly want to have my PhD degree so I can hand it to my one and only grandchild. To be honest, I haven't really asked my sons what they say to other people about their non-traditional, PhD seeking graduate student mom/grandmother. I can only hope they are proud and share any stories about my journey in a positive light.
Breaking In: How to Get Hired in Academic Research, and What Graduate Students Can Do Right Now by Dr. Eve Brank, JD, PhD
If you made it to our Student Committee panel at last year's AP-LS conference, you were lucky enough to hear Dr. Eve Brank, JD, PhD speak about ways to get hired in psychology and law. Dr. Brank is currently an associate professor of psychology in the Law-Psychology program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), and has served on faculty search committees as UNL as well as the University of Florida. She is also a good friend to the Student Committee, and the Treasurer for AP-LS. This blog entry is one of three authored by Dr. Brank, so be on the lookout for more great posts from her in the future!
In academia we perch daily on our three-legged stools of research, teaching, and service. Those three words are the categories in my google calendar—color-coded like they were different children’s activities. Some days, the whole day is yellow (my color for service), while others have a lovely rainbow of yellow, purple (research), and orange (teaching). The goal, of course, is to spend as much time and have as much impact as possible on purple—I mean, research. You see, although we sing, “Research, Teaching, and Service,” we face pressure to make the research leg of our stool to be much larger than the other two. And, not just any research. No, what is important are grants and peer-reviewed publications, and that is also what we want our job candidates to have.
What can a graduate student do to get grants and peer-reviewed publications? Like the
audience who attended the live session, I commend you for reading this and taking proactive steps now. If you are early in your graduate school career, then that is even better and I give you more commendation. By starting your research story early, you can make everything count. As an example, if you are taking a social psychology class that has a paper requirement, don’t pick some random topic for your paper. Instead, pick a topic that fits with your research or complements your research. In my lab we take this one step further and meet as a group to discuss all the students’ paper assignments for the semester. If we have a manuscript or grant proposal that needs a literature review and that topic fits one of the classes a student is in, then perfect! Two birds—one literature review draft. Also, be sure your conference presentations are turning into publications. Sometimes it takes a couple of presentations to make up a manuscript, but the goal should always be to have publications and not just presentations. Think of presentations as a means to an end. Presentations give you the opportunity for feedback (and sometimes collaborations) from colleagues outside your university, force you to make progress on a project, and provide you a reason to visit places like San Diego in March. Although I might be jealous of all the cool places a person has visited and presented their research, a long list of only presentations and no publications on a CV will not impress me.
What about teaching? Well, despite the universal sigh of relief at semester’s end when the
student parking lot is empty, we do prioritize teaching at large research universities. And, most of us actually like teaching and we want our new colleagues to like it and be good at it too. So, yes, you need some teaching experience, but don’t let it eclipse your research. The best advice I received about teaching was that my teaching record won’t help me, but it could hurt me. You need the teaching experience and you need to do it well – that’s the expectation. So, get some experience and it’s even better if that experience is in core classes that departments usually need people to teach.
Finally, how much service should you do? The truth is that service won’t get you a job. Faculty search committees do not say, “She doesn’t have any publications or teaching experience, but she planned the department picnic and served on the graduate student senate! Give this woman a job!” The best kind of service to do is the kind that advances your research or builds collaborator networks. There will be plenty of time when you have tenure to do service that fulfills your soul and allows you to give back to your profession-- trust me, I’m the one who got roped into – I mean volunteered to write this blog post aren’t I?
7 Tips For A Successful Winter Break
Congratulations on making it through another Fall! After working so hard throughout the term, winter break can be a great time to recharge your batteries and prepare for a fresh start in 2016. Still, we all know what it feels like to reach the end of winter break wishing you had done things differently. Maybe you stressed yourself out too much trying to get everything done, and now you are burned out even before classes have started. Or maybe you prioritized relaxing and having fun, but you wish you had been more productive. There is definitely a Goldilocks situation when it comes to productivity during a long vacation, and so the Student Committee teamed up to give you our top tips for making the most out of the winter break!
Negotiating Start-Up After Being Hired in an Academic Position (by Kirk Heilbrun, Ph.D. – Drexel University)
With many of us focused on finishing dissertations or applying to internship, it can be hard to even consider *gasp* a real life job. Yet, before we know it that time will come where we must consider not only the position that we want, but also what to do when we find it. For our first official blog, please read some expert advice on negotiating in an academic position from Dr. Kirk Heilbrun, PhD. This entry is excerpted from our AP-LS 2015 panel "How to Get Hired in Psychology and Law". Be on the lookout for advice from some of the other panelists in our future posts! - The Student Committee
Negotiating with a college or university after receiving an offer to join the faculty is sometimes overlooked for a variety of reasons, but it should be taken seriously. Faculty members will probably never again have the negotiating leverage that is part of this stage. There will be differences in the job demands depending on whether the academic setting includes doctoral training or masters training, whether it is primarily focused on undergraduate teaching, on size, on whether it is public vs. private, and whether the contract will be 9-months or 12-months. Other presenters in this symposium described such differences, but they clearly will affect how well the information presented here will apply. Learning more about the particular academic setting making the offer is valuable; this can be done by talking with other junior faculty who have been recently hired and by reviewing the website and strategic plan of the college.
The candidate will probably be negotiating ultimately with the Dean, but may be talking directly with the department chair or a program director. But the hiring authority is typically vested at the Dean’s level, so consider that the department head may be negotiating but probably does not make the ultimate decision. The recommendation of this person, however, is very important. In preparing for these discussions, it is valuable to talk with one’s mentor and senior colleagues about what is minimal, reasonable, and aspirational under the circumstances.
There are five main points to negotiate: annual salary, teaching, space, research support, and summer salary.
1. APA collects annual salary figures, so the candidate can learn not only about national averages but can specify the type of university, public vs. private, and the geographic region in making more tailored estimates of a reasonable range. Usually the initial offer is perhaps $5,000 lower than the college might be prepared to pay. Some, however, initially offer at the top of their available range. You won’t know which it is until you ask. (A flat response of “we can’t go any higher” is informative, particularly if the offer was reasonable and the probing is for aspirational possibilities.)
2. Teaching load refers to the number and type of courses the individual will be expected to teach. Usually this is fairly standard across the department, college, and university. For instance, a large public university with a recognized doctoral program might have a faculty member teach two courses per term, or three courses per academic year. Teaching loads at smaller colleges, particularly those primarily for undergraduates, might be much higher—up to three courses per term. This gives you valuable information about the research productivity expected of faculty; it is very difficult to publish 3-4 articles and chapters per year and pursue extramural funding if you also have a 3-course per term teaching load. Nonetheless, this can be a good fit for those who are passionate about teaching and less so about research. You also will want to know about the policy for “buying out” of teaching with grant/contract funding. Buyout policies range widely from “cost of hiring an adjunct for this course” (inexpensive) to “20% (or higher) of 9-month salary for this course” (expensive). This is important because a small grant or contract could still fund your buyout from several courses under the former policy, while it would take a major grant to fund much buy-out with a more expensive policy. During the first three years of assistant professorship, it is reasonable to expect a reduced teaching load. For example, a college with a two course per term teaching load might offer 0-1, 1-1, and 2-1 for the first three years before the 2-2-2 load is fully implemented. Space covers the amount and nature of room(s) you will need to conduct research.
3. Do not try to negotiate office space. They will give you an office, and for many reasons it’s best for you to just take what they give. (Imagine the reaction of more senior colleagues, for example, if the new assistant professor received a larger office than they have.) But space affects where your graduate students can work when they are around, and what you need to run research participants. Some space should be provided to you as part of your hiring (e.g., one dedicated room), while additional space might be available if you receive a grant requiring such space.
4. Research support refers to the amount of money the college makes available to you in order to establish your research program. It’s expected that this will facilitate pilot work, which will in turn lead to more successful grant applications. If a college offers this as part of the start-up package, then there is the potential to increase it. On the other hand, if you have “construction” needs for space, modifying existing space into something you need in your lab, that tends to be very expensive and might limit the availability of this kind of research funding. When this is available, it might be in the amount of somewhere between $5,000 and $50,000. This would include things like participant payments, software purchases, travel, and other research expenses.
5. Summer salary is the amount that can be earned by 9-month faculty during the three months in which they are technically not under contract. (Productive faculty members work all summer; wise faculty members distribute their 9-month salaries over 12 months. But this does present a chance for significant extra income, either from grants or from teaching.) You should investigate whether summer salary through teaching is routinely available. In any event, however, it may be feasible to receive 1-2 months of summer salary during the summer after your first academic year as part of your start-up package. Negotiate through preparation and willingness to use the leverage you have achieved by receiving this offer. You will be working with these folks, so don’t be unreasonable. It’s certainly fair, if you have more than one offer, to let people know this. (Don’t ever say something that isn’t true, such as there is another offer when there isn’t. People have long memories for this kind of thing.) But the more frequent error is to “underask” at this stage.
A final bit of perspective: deans are accustomed to hiring faculty in other areas for whom the start-up packages can approach $1,000,000. Granted we often don’t have expensive lab equipment or major construction needs—but this does make a start-up package worth $150,000 for psychology seem minor by comparison.
About the Editor:
The American Psychology-Law Society (Division 41 of the American Psychology Association) Student Committee is composed of elected student leaders representing the interests of our student members.