Please Wait, Baby Loading: Pregnancy, Graduate School, and Computing

These are notes from the Grace Hopper 2009 Conference session titled “Please Wait, Baby Loading: Pregnancy, Graduate School, and Computing”.

There is an image divide between “being the smart one in your family, the one who will do great things!” and “being a good mommy”. So often mothers will have their children and drop out of schooling, academia, or their industry. You CAN balance your family and your career.

The ladies have prepared an informative online pamphlet at LaurianVega.com .

Is there a best time to become pregnant?

It can depend on your program, but for the most part, no. There will always be an obstacle or excuse in your way, you will end up continuously telling yourself, “I’ll wait untill after my courses are finished”, “I’ll wait another year untill I get tenure.” 1 in 3 women in computer science never become a mother. Women in computer science are scarce, married ones are even scarcer, and ones with children/families are the rarest of all. Again, for your career, there will never be a best time to have a child. Instead, have one when it is most convenient for you personally, and your career will follow. Things rarely work out as you plan them to. Family and career are both very important and you can do them simultaneously and successfully.

My Last Advisor Said “Don’t Even Think About A Baby!”. How Do I Bring Up The Topic With My New One?

It is important to have the pregnancy discussion with your advisor. There is no set way to start the topic, but just start it, and sooner rather than later. If your family plans are important to you and your advisor is not supportive of you, it may be time to find another advisor. Another piece of advice is not to take your advisors with you on the journey with your pregnancy, every little detail and bump in the road, pregnant, maybe pregnant, not pregnant, possibly pregnant again… you don’t need to and shouldn’t inform your advisor you are pregnant untill it becomes noticable. Also be aware that having this conversation about a baby in theory can be much different from when it comes about in practice.

And What Kinds of Questions Should I Ask… ?

Do a tour and see what the space you might be designated will be like. Will it be feasible space-wise to bring your child to work, will you be able to focus and get your work done? Don’t be afraid to talk with other graduate students, they will tell you how it is straight up! Ask them if they knew any pregnant mothers, what happened to these mothers, did they go back to school?

What Should I Expect Regarding Any Possible Changes In Career Plans After I Have My Baby?

Surprisingly, graduate students, with their massive workloads and nonexistent social lives, spend inordinate amounts of time seeking relationships, looking for their possible spouse, thinking about whether the relationship will last, and fretting about such details. A child can help focus your time and be on task, that is, when you come in to work, you will know that you need to get X, Y, Z done and that you are at your workplace to do just that, and then you will go home and spend time with your lovely children(s).

How Do I Deal With The Guilt Of Not Spending All Of My Time With My Child?

It isnt easy to let go of the child related guilt, but you will get used to it. Spend some time finding out what doesn’t matter to you and stop doing it! That is, you need to optimize and prioritize your life. There will be times in your life when you will have to compromise time between your family and your work or academics, but remember that life is full of compromises. There isn’t any perfect formula that works for everyone on how much time to spend where, but you should find the one that works for you.

What About Being SuperMommy?

There is an incorrect idea that you have to be a supermommy. In reality, this just isn’t feasible. Instead, consider being a “good enough” mommy. You don’t need to worry about “What if I didn’t do X for my child”, “What if I am not paying enough attention to Y in my child”. Your child will come to you and seek out what they need from you. That is, your child will have its own individual personality, and you can smooth out the edges, but you cannot ever change that core personality. Your child will train [b]you[/b] on how to meet their needs.

If you are the sole child care giver, your work, thesis, etc will never get done. You need to have child care. You will have much more energy to “do stuff” with your children and do all of the special things you want to do with them when you are not around them all of the time. It is extremely hard to “switch” from being a mommy to being an industry professional or assistant professor. Being in school is the same as working!

When emergencies come up, you just have to do the best that you can. One of the things that CS students may not realize that as a CS student, you have control. That is, you tell the computer what to do, you make it do what you want it to. But in life, this is just not true.

How Do My Career Outlooks Change After Becoming A Mommy?

One of the core functions of a child regarding your career plans is to mess them all up! Again, you will be trained by your child on how to deal with their individual personality. Many people mothers work because they need the two-person income to get by – in America, unless you are extremely privileged, you will need that two person income. It requires a lot of energy to go back to work after staying home and weaning your newborn, it is a hard task to get that train moving again.

My Husband Is Not Supportive / I Am A Single Mother… ?

You just cannot do it all if you are all by yourself! Get your husband involved if you have one. A note to make is that when you have children your friends will tend to change and gravitate towards others that have children, just out of that common bond. Back on topic, you need support! Consider getting involved in baby support groups, it is not difficult, and is inexpensive. Sometimes the groups may have days when they trade off days doing events with children so the parents can have some alone time away from them. But again, think about what is important to you, what you really need, and be sure to join some support groups. Also, you should take a look at childcare and think about the system you are a part of, you pay a massive amount of money and the care-workers have tiny salaries and tiny pension plans, what is going on here… ?

My Friends/Family Are Unsupportive…?

It is sad, but sometimes people just don’t become supportive, and there is little that you can do about that. Instead, utilize the tools in your toolbox that you do have, take advantage of the support that you do have.