This list is for anyone interested in a career in biotechnology who has considered the reasons to do a Ph.D., and is wondering whether to pursue one while in the process of raising a family. Many woman, and men, have gotten Masters degrees and PhDs, either full-time or part-time, with children of various ages at home. It is certainly possible, with a good support system, ample financing, discipline and a solid plan. Read below for a few items to consider before filling out that application.
1. Your Support Network
What kind of support network do you have? Are you in a stable relationship and is he/she fully supportive of your decision to become a student? No matter what your level of committment is to school, whether you go full or part-time, or hold a job at the same time, odds are there will be times when your partner will wind up shouldering more of the household and child-rearing responsibilities than you.
Are there other family members or close neighbors nearby who might help with daycare, household chores or be there in emergency situations, or in case you are held up late in the lab? Of course, these resources are essential for anyone raising children whether or not you are in school or hold a job.
2. How Organized Are You?
Graduates must be self-motivated and organized. Added responsibilities, like a family, compounds that necessity. Some people approach their research like a full time job, with regular hours, allowing for evening "family time". Many students keep irregular hours. If you have no responsibilities at home, you can afford to arrive late, read the paper over a long lunch and stay at the lab until midnight. A graduate with a family doesn't have that luxury and needs to be more efficient with his/her time.
In biology/biotechnology research, because of the unpredictable nature of experiments using sometimes finicky organisms, organization is also critical and includes having that support network in place, as mentioned in list item #1.
3. Financial Resources
Before you embark on the path to graduate studies, you certainly need to know if you have ample financial resources to pay tuition and handle your household bills. If you have been a stay-home parent, these bills will now include daycare. If you have held a job up to this point, you will, of course, be losing that source of income, if you plan to attend school full-time. Make a thorough list of all your expenses and resources, including possible study grants and bursaries, to see how it adds up and where you might make adjustments.
If your children are not of school-age, what will you use for daycare? Even if they are, will you need a babysitter for occasional days or hours before and after school, and who will meet them at the bus or be there when they get home? Again these are issues to be addressed with the help of that all-important support network (list item #1).
Look into whether your partner's work sponsers a daycare, or if the school you plan to attend has inexpensive student daycare facilities or provides financial assistance for daycare (see list item #6).
5. Your Intended Level of Commitment
Do you wish to study full-time or part-time and how quickly do you want to graduate? The answers to these questions will dictate your cost of tuition per year, and overall, and your ability to hold a job while you study, all of which affect how you organize your time and whether or not you have financial resources to return to school.
If you are currently working in biotechnology, does your company offer education benefits such as tuition reimbursement? It might be difficult to find family time, with an 8 hour workday plus the hours of research, reading and writing for school. A child may demand more of your attention than this would allow. Therefore, it isn't always the best option, despite the lure of having a company pay your tuition.
6. What School Are You Considering?
Across the USA, a number of elite Universities (including Princeton, Yale, Stanford, and Berkeley) have "family friendly" policies and the numbers of schools recognizing family needs are growing. These policies include financial assistance such as paid maternity leave, mortgage subsidies and child-care grants. Before choosing a school, in addition to researching the program you will be studying under, consider what family friendly services are offered.
7. Your Intended Career Path
This item was added as an afterthought, not to discourage women, but to give a heads-up to those considering a PhD because they want to become University Professors. It is unfortunate, but the unwritten rule still seems to exist, that woman in science with children are less likely to be considered for tenure-track positions, or given tenure once they're hired and begin to raise a family. If you are a woman with children, or planning to have children while in a graduate program, it is likely wise to be aware that this trend exists at some schools still. Hopefully, time and perseverance will show an increase in the number of more "progressive" schools with equal and non-discriminative hiring practices!