UW Graduate School

Balancing your work and lifestyle

Family responsibilities

As the graduate student population increases in age, so do family responsibilities, such as raising children and being a caregiver for elderly relatives. If you have children or parents who depend on you for support, you may find that the structure of graduate education in a large research university still presumes that you can be on campus at any time, which can conflict with your other responsibilities.

Cultural beliefs influence the ways students deal with family responsibilities while in graduate school. For example, when mourning a family member, some students may be expected to spend considerable time consoling relatives at home.

Dual commitments

Students with family responsibilities are often highly organized and intensely focused during the time they carve out for their graduate work. Unfortunately, students may fear that their professors might misconstrue their attention to other responsibilities as a lack of commitment to scholarship. Emergencies occasionally prevent them from attending a class, which can exacerbate that misperception. Childcare demands do not lessen after a child enters school. Other demands arise, such as illness or taking children to school or sports.

Isolation

Students with family responsibilities might find it difficult to attend some social, academic and professional functions. As a result, they may feel isolated from their cohorts and departments, missing out on the “academic business.”

Time constraints

Students with family responsibilities often need to be home in the evenings. After-hours study group assignments or research projects can present difficulties, as can having to return campus for evening lectures or departmental meetings. 

Recommendations

  • Help your mentors and others understand that you might need to be away from class sometimes or are able to work in the department during certain hours.
  • Ask professors to distribute assignment schedules in advance so students with family responsibilities can integrate them into their schedules.
  • Alert your professors and peers if you use a cell phone to stay connected in case of a family emergency.
  • Seek out graduate students and faculty who can share strategies and resources for balancing family and academic life.
  • Ask your peers to be flexible with study group times, or invite them to meet at your home.
  • Use email, listservs, live chats or discussion boards to facilitate group discussions.
  • Be open with others about your family responsibilities.
  • Demonstrate your professional commitment and productivity by being highly focused and productive when you are in the classroom, office or lab.

Resources