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Thread: Doing an OB PhD with a family

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    Doing an OB PhD with a family

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    Hi all,

    I'm currently going through the interviewing process and will be starting my OB PhD program in Fall of 2021 (haven't committed anywhere yet). I am married and my wife just gave birth to our first little girl. It is a very exciting and special time, but also, in the back of my head I'm wondering how we are going to make it all work. Questions such as if we can afford buying a small house or condo, if my wife can continue working with our child, if there is child care at the universities, if we may have to go into debt, etc., come up in my head and bring a bit of stress.

    I'm wondering if anyone has advice on how to best handle a PhD program with a family, things to watch out for, things to consider, etc.?

    Thanks!

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    Re: Doing an OB PhD with a family

    Quote Originally Posted by Snagret View Post
    Hi all,

    I'm currently going through the interviewing process and will be starting my OB PhD program in Fall of 2021 (haven't committed anywhere yet). I am married and my wife just gave birth to our first little girl. It is a very exciting and special time, but also, in the back of my head I'm wondering how we are going to make it all work. Questions such as if we can afford buying a small house or condo, if my wife can continue working with our child, if there is child care at the universities, if we may have to go into debt, etc., come up in my head and bring a bit of stress.

    I'm wondering if anyone has advice on how to best handle a PhD program with a family, things to watch out for, things to consider, etc.?

    Thanks!
    Finance PhD student, married, started the PhD with two kids under age 5 and had another one summer between first and second year. A couple other students in my program are married and had little kids either when they entered the program or during the program.

    In some ways it is tougher, with childcare being the biggest factor. If you are in the US, a number of states have childcare subsidy programs for parents who are working or are full time students, though you need family income below a certain level in order to qualify. In my case we were able to qualify for a small subsidy my first two years, and it was enough to keep us from having to go into debt (in my third year my wife received a promotion with a significant raise at her job). Some universities have discounted childcare available for graduate students. Email or call them to find out.

    No matter what, you will have less time available to study than single students without children. On the other hand, having family to emotionally support you is a big help - PhD students have some of highest levels of anxiety and depression and having a supportive significant other and having children to play with and distract you at times definitely helps.

    Whether to buy or rent depends on where you live. But many universities have some form of graduate student family housing for full time students who are married and/or have children, and this is usually cheaper than renting in the area especially after utilities are taken into account.

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    Re: Doing an OB PhD with a family

    Quote Originally Posted by Snagret View Post
    Hi all,

    I'm currently going through the interviewing process and will be starting my OB PhD program in Fall of 2021 (haven't committed anywhere yet). I am married and my wife just gave birth to our first little girl. It is a very exciting and special time, but also, in the back of my head I'm wondering how we are going to make it all work. Questions such as if we can afford buying a small house or condo, if my wife can continue working with our child, if there is child care at the universities, if we may have to go into debt, etc., come up in my head and bring a bit of stress.

    I'm wondering if anyone has advice on how to best handle a PhD program with a family, things to watch out for, things to consider, etc.?

    Thanks!
    Interesting question. PhD is do-able with a family, though definitely more difficult with multi things to balance. Funding varies by school, so probably consider the location and the COLA for each of the locations appropriately so you can get a sense of how it will impact your budgets.

    Can you afford a small house or condo? Sure? It completely depends on where you are doing your PhD. I think most of your concerns are very university dependent, so probably some research (or inquiries directed towards the program directors) is necessary.

    Advice for handling a PhD program with family? From my observations of other students with families, it's perhaps having strict boundaries between the work/study side of things and what is 'family' side of things. If you make your boundaries 'permeable', you gain some flexibility when workloads are higher (in work or on the family side) .... but the downside is in phd studies... there is always more that you can be doing, either for your own learning or setting up for your career upon graduating.

    With more strict boundaries, you will have to learn to be far more efficient with the time you have than other students who may not encounter the same issues. For the first year or two, for example, one of the important skills to pick up quickly is how to read and assess large amounts of academic literature and extract the information that you need to. When you advance in the program, the strict boundaries will be helpful in that it takes time to 'get into the flow' of writing and thinking, so distractions that come up will eat away at your time, since getting back into the flow of thinking will take some time with each distraction. Finally, work with your partner to really understand what will be happening during this time and some general ideas on how the two of you will be approaching this tough period of your lives. Connect with others that have family too, either in your program or seek them out around the business school when you get there, so that you can get a sense of some of the strategies that may have worked for others.

    Best of luck! Hope my perspectives are helpful for you to think through!

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    Re: Doing an OB PhD with a family

    Quote Originally Posted by Snagret View Post
    Hi all,

    I'm currently going through the interviewing process and will be starting my OB PhD program in Fall of 2021 (haven't committed anywhere yet). I am married and my wife just gave birth to our first little girl. It is a very exciting and special time, but also, in the back of my head I'm wondering how we are going to make it all work. Questions such as if we can afford buying a small house or condo, if my wife can continue working with our child, if there is child care at the universities, if we may have to go into debt, etc., come up in my head and bring a bit of stress.

    I'm wondering if anyone has advice on how to best handle a PhD program with a family, things to watch out for, things to consider, etc.?

    Thanks!
    Congratulations on where you are. My wife was pregnant with our first when I started my PhD and we had kids the second summer and third summer. So 3 kids in the first 3 years. It was hard, but doable. My wife didn't work and we actually lived pretty comfortably. I was in the Midwest, which really helped. I rented the whole time. An apartment to start and then moved into a 4 bed house that we rented and got a good deal on. I considered buying early on, but am happy I didn't. My family situation changed enough that I wouldn't have bought the right house. Also, I was able to rent a bigger place than I could have bought. My university did have child care available. I didn't use it, but another student did and I think it was like $1,400 a month per kid.

    Something to consider is healthcare. I had an offer from a school that covered my health insurance 100%, but adding family insurance was like 6k/year. Which isn't a terrible deal, but a lot of money as a student. The school I went to covered 85% of the premiums for my family, so it was quite affordable. We actually ended up qualifying for Medicaid after having a kid, so it wouldn't have mattered for too long anyway. SNAP, WIC, and the EITC were other benefits of remaining low income while having kids. It created a pretty strong incentive for my wife not to work, but that's probably what we would have chosen anyway. I just mention this because it sounds like you aren't sure if your wife will be working. You can PM me if you want details about this kind of stuff.

    Taking out some loans isn't a big deal if you have to. Definitely talk to students with families at prospective universities. You can even go to other departments in the B School, because the details will be pretty similar between programs.

    That's money. Another issue is time. A PhD can easily fill every waking moment. You have to put in a lot of time, but you have to carve out time for other stuff. Make time for your family, spending time with your kid, etc. You will definitely regret not doing this. Also, you need to make some time for yourself. I didn't do this and it really ended up getting to me near the end of the program. Carve out time on a regular basis for a little exercise and doing something you enjoy that isn't mentally taxing. You'll be much more productive and a better husband / father if you are mentally healthy.

    TM's advice on boundaries sounds good. I'm happy to answer more questions, but students at prospective universities will be your best resource.

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    Re: Doing an OB PhD with a family

    Great advice, thank you!

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    Re: Doing an OB PhD with a family

    PhD student who had a child in the 3rd year.

    In general, having a kid made me reassess my commitment to academia. I came in with the sole desire to be a research professor, but I left for industry after graduating. The flexible schedule was nice, but as others said, research can easily dominate your life. To a large degree, those who spend all their time thinking about research have a big leg up in this very competitive market. Carving out time for work and protecting family time is key, though, to keeping your family happy. So it's a balancing act that will likely hurt your career prospects, all else equal. OB is arguably the most competitive B-School PhD field to land a TT job, so this matters more for you than for others (say in Finance or Accounting).

    IDK about your family's financial situation, but stipends usually mean that you are scraping by, potentially going on public assistance like the first responder mentioned. You also need to realize that your life will be very unstable for the next 10-15 years on a variety of financial, geographic, and other life dimensions until you either get tenure at a school or leave the profession. There's no in-between here, and progression is very much not linear like in a conventional career. It's a very tough road without a family, and with a family, it's even tougher. While your family might make the mental stress of a PhD a bit lighter, it will largely be because you don't have the luxury of dealing with academic stress. The existential stress of reviewer criticisms, not being able to publish, and not getting a job take a backseat to immediate financial pressures, negotiating family and work time with your spouse, and other things that keep your family unit functioning.

    My take is that, after two years of uncertainty pre-graduation, I wasn't willing to sacrifice stability any longer, especially since outside options pay roughly the same and largely consist of the same work. I graduated last year, and I am a data scientist in industry. While my work has a lot of boring elements and I can't necessarily choose what I want to work on at all hours of the day, I couldn't be happier with the stability my family has. I also found academia wasn't all that it's cracked up to be. It's glacially slow, the daily work can be very boring and frustrating, and most of my peers and the tenured/tenure track professors in the department didn't enjoy their jobs nearly as much as you might think. There's a "sunk cost" mentality in academia, where people invest a lot into this career, realize they don't like it, but feel like they invested too much time, are too specialized, or too risk averse to leave. That's a recipe for disillusionment, so make sure you are wildly passionate about research before entering.

    Given that you have a kid already, you probably have thought these cons through, but I wanted to provide an alternate opinion. Good luck!

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