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Thread: Family Issues and finding a program

  1. #1
    Trying to make mom and pop proud
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    Family Issues and finding a program

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    Hi everyone

    Me and my wife will both be applying to grad school together (albeit in different departments) this coming fall. We are international students. Aside from the obvious difficulties in getting accepted to good programs in the same (or near by) schools, we will have a 6 months old baby by the start of semester. I have tried to find lists of 'best universities for families' but have found this lacking. What lists I did find were college oriented and were noticeably lacking in top schools.

    My questions in no specific order of importance:
    1. Are there major differences between schools in family-friendliness?
    2. If you have a family or small children during grad school, how do you manage?
    3. What should I ask, if I am actually accepted to multiple schools in order to help me decide?
    4. Are schools situated in areas with lower costs of living (e.g., Duke) better in that regard to places with high costs of living (e.g., Harvard)?
    5. (also what about Canada?)
    6. Can differences in the conditions (stipend, cost of living, family friendliness etc..) be actually large enough to warrant going to schools I am less excited about?


    Really, my main goal is to make it through grad school whilst having some fun, and trying to remove as many unnecessary obstacles from an obviously difficult journey.

    A bit about me (not looking for a profile evaluation per se, just as background):
    GRE: 168Q (~94%) 163V (~93%)
    Undergrad: Summa cum laude (Humanities)
    Grad: Magna cum laude (got a 98 on my thesis)
    Experience: 2 years of teaching social science statistics, 3 years of fairly intensive RAship for several professors, doing heavy lifting in R and Stata. I do not have publications, but had a working paper presented at a top conference in the field.
    I am mainly interested in OB programs.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    An Urch Guru Pundit Swami Sage
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    Re: Family Issues and finding a program

    Hi,

    My wife was pregnant when I was applying, so I was looking at these things myself. I ended up choosing between two programs, so I looked at those in detail. The big difference for me was health insurance. One program completely covered me, but getting family coverage was very expensive and it was a higher cost of living area. The school mentioned that I would probably qualify for medicaid given my income level, but I don't know if that applies to you as an international. The other schools covered 90% of the premium for whatever level of insurance I chose. So that was much cheaper to cover my whole family.

    2. My wife stays at home and it is very helpful. (sorry that doesn't do much for you). The truth is that it is a lot of work and you have to sacrifice most other things in your life in order to do well in the grad program and spend time with family. Lot's of people do it and they figure out the details that work for their family.

    3. I would ask about health insurance, daycare, and areas you could live with small kids. The grad students will have better information about this than the professors.

    4. I am in a lower cost of living area and it is very nice. I can actually afford a decent place to live on my stipend and still go out to eat without being completely strapped for cash.

    5. Don't know, that would help with the health insurance thing.

    6. I actually chose my current location because of the program, but all of these other things were factored into my decision making. If you are in New York on a grad student stipend with children you will probably live in a small apartment with a 90 minute commute and have to budget very carefully. That additional stress and time would seriously affect your performance if you compare it to living in the midwest with a 10 minute commute. These things matter enough to affect your decision, but balancing how much these aspects matter is up to you.

  3. #3
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    Re: Family Issues and finding a program

    Yeah, I guess I will just have to wait and see.
    What you said regarding New York and a long commute is true, I assume, for any large city? (e.g., Chicago, Boston) Is it also true if both me and my wife will be of PhD stipends?

    Thanks again!

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    An Urch Guru Pundit Swami Sage
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    Re: Family Issues and finding a program

    I can't say for sure because I have never lived in one of these large cities myself. I am in the midwest. It is great.

    Rent in New York would still be tough on 60k/year (about what 2 stipends would get you), but double the income obviously helps. I wouldn't be surprised if childcare takes up most of that second income though, especially in a big city.

    I looked at Northwestern closely and commutes there seemed more reasonable. I haven't ever been to Boston, but I know people there that have families and are making it work. Commutes in LA and San Francisco would be long as well.

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    A long long time ago XanthusARES's Avatar
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    Re: Family Issues and finding a program

    So the bigger issue for you (I think) will be finding a school where you and your wife will both be accepted. Very few (if any) grad schools will do a spousal hire, so you'll both need to be accepted on your own merits. This is not easy, but I applaud you both for pursuing your dreams. It's not the easiest, but we have people in our program who have spouses at other schools in other states. That being said, as someone who has a child and is only a single parent when my wife goes on business trips, being a single parent while in a PhD program sounds impossible (although it's definitely not). So yeah, try to focus on places with multiple schools.

    The problem with these places (as noted) are that they are usually in larger cities. This can influence cost of living dramatically. The situation is what it is, though. The first step is just getting into a program. So on to your questions.

    1. Yes there are differences. Mainly in terms of insurance and child care. Some programs offer both, some programs offer neither and some provide one or the other. There are also a lot of intangible family support that a program can offer. These intangibles, though, aren't really known or knowable until you get there. Some programs and faculty will be adverse to you being married and having children because this will take away from your studies. Some places will expect you to work in the office 12 hours a day. Try to talk to some students at schools where you interview to find out if the school is this way. I would advise against bringing up your family in interviews with faculty, but definitely talk about it with students. See what married students' lives are like. Try to get a feeling for the intangibles from the students. This will help if you get multiple offers. Honestly, though, if you want a PhD and to be a good parent you'll need to make some trade-offs. Those tradeoffs might include additional time in the program. It might mean saying no to projects you would otherwise be interested in. It might mean working a weird schedule (I show up to the office around 5 AM). But you can make it work.

    2. I manage not well. I mean a lot depends on what you mean by manage. I work a lot. I put in a bunch of hours between the office and working from home. But I also have strict limits on when I won't work. This isn't always ideal for my work load, but it guarantees that I'll have time with my family. I set limits on when I won't have my phone on me and my wife and I have a date each week. Sometimes that's as little as going out for coffee. Other times it's just watching a show on the couch together. Finding that balance is key and comes with practice. I can say for my first year I spent too much time on family and too little time on school. The second year that flipped too much time on school, not enough on family. 4 years in and I think that I finally have it down. A good combination, with give and take from all of us (minus my 2 year old who only takes). My point is that it's hard, really hard. But I can truthfully say that I couldn't do this program without my family here with me. Having someone to come home every night and a kid who loves my unconditionally has gotten me through some turbulent self reflections over the past 4 years.

    3. Wait until you get multiple offers. While you might get some, the likelihood that your wife will get the same offers is low. Don't worry about making a decision until later. We'll still be here.

    4. I'm not positive what you mean by this question. Yes you can afford more house in North Carolina than you can in Manhattan on your stipends. Cost of living (I assume) is secondary to a place where you and your spouse will both be able to go to school. I know people that make everything work. If you are willing to work hard at finding a place and live poorly for 5 years, you'll be fine no matter where you end up. Remember that you have a big payday coming at the end of it all. Seriously, though I know people who live off of one student stipend with a child in New York City. It's not easy on them and they don't go out or travel ever, but it works for their family. In the more expensive cities I'd suggest seeing if the school has student housing that may be subsidized a bit. Again you won't be rich no matter where you go, but you'll be able to make it, just maybe with less luxuries than you're used to.

    5. Canada exists. As far as I know they are similar to the US in terms of different places having different costs of living. I can't add anything more to that.

    6. The short answer, in my opinion is, no. Don't choose a school that you less interested in (i.e. lower ranked) because you like the location better. This will hurt you in the long run for many reasons. In the short run during those periods of the PhD program where you're questioning every choice you've ever made about graduate school, knowing that you could have gone to a different and better school may be enough to encourage you to quit. Choose the best school you got accepted to where your spouse can live nearby.

    I'll be honest with you. You have an uphill battle for the rest of your life. If you and your spouse both want to stay in academics you'll be looking for the same thing again once you graduate, a school that will let you both in on tenure track positions. The likelihood of this is low (although not unheard of). Then you better hope you both get tenure, because if one of you doesn't you'll face a really tough decision. I don't envy any part of your decision, but I respect that you both are going to be doing something that you love. That is the most important part of finding a job. The most important part of life is relationships. Remember that. Your family should come first. Don't let anyone tell you differently. Good luck.
    Til now I always got by on my own
    I never really cared until I met you...

  6. #6
    Within my grasp! Dak601's Avatar
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    Re: Family Issues and finding a program

    I'm not certain of the stipend at NW , but the cost of living in the area isn't so bad compared to NY, LA, Miami, etc. there are a number of relatively reasonable areas. It can be tight, but potentially doable.

    It does not, of course, compare to something like UIUC and similar Midwest cities, which would be significantly cheaper.

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