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Finding a Job and Managing Your Boss | BenchFly
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Starting a Family, Finding a Job and Managing Your Boss

Dear Dora: Starting a Family, Finding a Job and Managing Your BossThanks for all of the great questions!  We’re addressing three questions each month, so If you don’t see your question this time, keep an eye out for our future issues where it will likely show up!  Send your questions to DearDora@benchfly.com.


Dora Farkas is the author “The Smart Way to Your Ph.D.:200 Secrets from 100 Graduates,” and the founder of PhDNet, an online community for graduate students and PhDs. You will find links to her book, monthly newsletters, and discussion board on her site.


Dear Dora, I’m a third year grad student and my husband and I would like to start a family. My friends think it’s a horrible idea to have a kid in grad school… is it?!

KP, graduate student

Dear KP,

The decision to have a child at any time, whether you are in grad school or not, is one that needs to be considered very carefully. The tough part about having a baby in graduate school is that you cannot just quit your job if life gets tough. You need to work hard until you get your diploma, which is tough even when you do not have children. At the same time, many graduate students have flexible schedules, so they are able to fit their work around their children’s needs.  While contemplating your decision, remember that a baby needs care 24/7, around the clock and every day. Therefore, there are two very important things you will need: money and support.

You will need a lot of money to pay for childcare. In some parts of the country, the cost of daycare is the same or even more than a graduate student stipend. Depending on your household income, you need to decide whether your finances allow you to send your baby to a daycare. Take into consideration all the other costs such as diapers, formula, baby food, baby clothes, medical bills, etc. You can probably get an estimate of these costs from a local parenting group. If you can afford to have a baby, then you passed the first part of the test.

The second part, which might be even more challenging, is finding support. Graduate school is rarely a 9-5 job, so even if you have a full-time daycare, you will still need help on weekends, evenings, and when your baby gets sick. Here are some suggestions from other graduate student parents:

  • Talk to your husband about how you will share childcare and housework.
  • Find out your university’s policy on maternity and possibly leave of absence.
  • Enlist the help of your family after hours and on weekends (if they live close-by)
  • Trade babysitting with other students, taking turns watching each other’s kids
  • Hire a young teenager (much cheaper than a babysitter) who plays with your baby while you are at home, so you can work or clean the house
  • Borrow money from your parents to pay for childcare. Although this might put you in debt, you will probably graduate sooner.
  • Daycares fill up fast, so get on all the waitlists as soon as the baby is on the way
  • Consider “nannysharing”, where one nanny cares for 2-3 kids, making the cost/family reasonable.
  • Look at home-based daycares, which are usually cheaper than traditional ones

Before you finalize your family plans, be sure to talk to other students who are parents. While having a baby is a lot of work (and costs a lot of money) parents usually find ways to become more efficient at work and to live on less money. Parents in your area are the best resource, so ask them many questions!


Dear Dora,

Do we have a responsibility to tell our PI when we’re looking for a job?

Jim, Postdoc

Dear Jim,

In general, it is a good idea to keep your PI in the loop about your job-search for several reasons: 1) your PI might be able to help you find a job, 2) for potential employers will ask for a recommendation letter from your PI, and 3) it is important for your PI to know how long you will stay, so they can plan their research accordingly. Postdoctoral fellowships are, by definition, temporary positions so many PI’s assume that postdoctoral fellows always keep their eyes open for job openings.

Of course, there are exceptions to this framework, depending on your funding situation and your relationship with your PI. Some postdoctoral fellows are on external funding, such a two-year grant from the NIH. Many PI’s will expect you to finish your fellowship, because it will look bad for their lab if you turn external funding down. However, many postdocs do accept industrial or academic job offers before their fellowships are completed, especially in tough job markets.

Another complicating factor could be your relationship with your PI. Some PI’s are so focused on their research plans, that it can be intimidating to discuss your career plans with them. Hopefully, you have a collegial relationship with your PI where you can discuss your job search openly, so that he/she can be a good mentor to you, and you can wrap up your research professionally before starting a new position. Remember that a job search does not necessarily mean posting your resume on job banks or submitting applications online. (In fact, that is usually one of the least successful ways of getting a job). If you go to conferences or seminars and network with professionals, you are already putting yourself out on the job market. Networking will give you the opportunity to get a feel for the job market, and give you an idea of when to start discussing career plans with your PI.


Dear Dora,

I gave my PI a draft of a paper three months ago and it’s still just sitting on his desk. Every time I ask about it, he seems to get annoyed. I need to have this published by the coming Fall job search and I’ve made this clear to him before. My patience are wearing very thin- what are my options?

Mark, Postdoc

Dear Mark,

It can be frustrating when your PI keeps postponing the review of you paper, especially if you need to have it published by the Fall job search. While the publication of your paper is on top of your priority list, it is just one of hundred things your PI needs to do. However, it is in both of your interests that your paper be published in a good journal, so you can remind him of that.

If your PI gets annoyed whenever you bring up the paper, it is best to approach him with a different topic. Try to catch him at a good time, and share your results with him or ask for his input on your job search. Then you can steer the conversation towards your paper, with a phrase such as: “Speaking of …I wanted to ask you some questions about the paper we are still working on.” It is possible that he will get annoyed again, so just listen to what he has to say. Try to find out why he has not reviewed your paper yet. Does he need input from other authors? Or, is he just too busy? Just stay calm during the conversation, and explain to him why you need to have this paper published by a certain deadline. Perhaps he had not realized how important this paper was to you.

One way to make your discussion more productive, is “prep him” for reading the paper. For example, you can point out specific aspects of the paper that you would like his input on. This way, he will know what to look for when he reviews it, and he will not feel like you are just trying to rush him to get the paper out. At the end of the meeting, ask your PI when he thinks he will finish the review, and then talk about a timeline to get your paper published on time. Perhaps your PI knows about journals that have a faster turnaround time. Once you set a date, be sure to check in with your PI and the status of your paper. Another way to indirectly bring up your paper is to get your PI involved in your job search. Talking to him about your application package will help him understand your deadlines, and remind him of your paper as well.


Stay tuned for the next Dear Dora in two weeks!  In the meantime, check a few of Dora’s recent posts:


Submit your questions to Dora at DearDora@benchfly.com, or use the comment box below!


5 comments so far. Join The Discussion

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