This is the first post of a series on navigating the world of external funding as a parent in graduate school.
Students with children undoubtedly face a unique set of challenges and time constraints in graduate school. As graduate students, we’re taking courses; studying for exams; grading exams; teaching classes; conducting, presenting, and publishing our own research – the list goes on. It’s rather remarkable that we find the time to do all of this while also raising a small human (or several of them!). With all the responsibilities of being a parent in graduate school, it is tempting not to “waste” time applying for external funding, particularly if you already have a guaranteed internal funding package.
If this thought has crossed your mind, you’re not alone. As a parent who has missed prestigious grant and fellowship deadlines because I didn’t have time to apply for them, I’m writing to tell you that it’s important to make the time.
1. Childcare is expensive.
It is not surprising that graduate students struggle to pay for childcare. At Rutgers, more than one-quarter of graduate student parents have no access to childcare, according to a survey conducted by Rutgers AAUP/AFT. This lack of childcare leaves parents with even less time to complete their degrees and makes grant applications seem even more daunting.
But keep in mind that grants can help to subsidize your cost of childcare. While a fellowship or TA/GA stipend is largely inadequate, pairing that stipend with several smaller external grants can help to alleviate some of these costs.
2. Networks matter.
Building networks can be an intimidating and challenging process for all graduate students. But research shows that for women with children, in particular, it can be even more difficult to participate in career networking opportunities.
Many prestigious fellowships carry with them benefits aside from financial support. For example, winning a Ford Foundation Fellowship also opens the door to professional development and networking opportunities. Making time to apply for fellowships now can make it easier to advance your career later, even in the face of everyday family constraints.
3. So do conferences.
One issue many graduate student parents face (largely due to the cost of childcare) is not being able to present at professional conferences. Importantly, there are funding opportunities that exist specifically for conference travel. Receiving conference funding can allow you to present your research and network with fellow scholars. It may also be beneficial to look into the childcare options available at your conference and whether or not the grants you apply for will help to cover those costs (some will!).
4. You can give yourself the gift of time (really).
Dedicating time now – even just one hour a week – to your grant applications can give you the time you need to complete your degree on your own terms. Hiring research assistants to collect or code data, for instance, lets you focus on other aspects of your dissertation and helps you make significant progress on your research.
And of course, applying for an extra year of funding can give you the additional time you need to make yourself a competitive candidate on the job market by ensuring you finish your dissertation, publish articles, and, well, have some external awards to place on your CV!
Graduate school can often feel like an unwelcoming place for parents. While there is undoubtedly a need for structural changes that would allow graduate students with children to more easily navigate the world of academia, it is also important to think about what you can do now. Making the time to apply for external funding will make all the difference in your graduate school experience.
In the next post of this series, I discuss more specific strategies on how to balance grad school, parenting, and grant applications.