Graduate School… Deciding as a Family


I met my husband (then-boyfriend) a few months after I had started my master’s degree programme. When we started dating, we were both incredibly busy with our careers ( I was working full-time on top of pursuing a Master’s degree). We had an understanding that the relationship, while important, would not consume or distract us from our existing obligations.

Fast forward many years later, and we have a lovely daughter. And boy did this marriage and baby distract and almost consume my entire self! But in a good way.

I knew that my husband had wanted us to return to Japan after I had completed my Master’s programme and so when I brought up the topic of a Phd programme, his first question was “How many years?”. He wasn’t familiar with this level of graduate study back in Japan so after I had explained what it entailed and that most offers come with a full scholarship (plus stipend), while relieved, he asked if I could manage.

At first I felt a little disappointed at that question. Was my husband trying to undermine my ambitions or competency at this? Since we became a family unit, I can count by the fingers on one hand, the number of times when decisions would affect us on the whole. And this was one of them.

When I probed a little further (long story, Japanese men are by and large, men of few words leaving you to second guess everything else–and sorry if this is my gross stereotype), he voiced his concerns about me being able to cope and more importantly, to be there for our daughter growing up. “She has only now and あと言う間に (in a blink of an eye), she will be in primary school and want her friends more than you.” We talked about how busy I was during periods in grad school and with work and that I was always irritable and spent very little time with our daughter.

“You can always do grad school but R only has you now. “

If you are thinking about graduate school and have a family, it helps to explain as clearly as possible what the graduate study will entail, details such as:

  • keeping office hours (whether at home or at the graduate student office)
  • possibility of travel to conferences and field trips
  • crunch periods (such as certain milestone submissions)

I think it also helps to prepare as much as possible, especially when children are concerned, what the caregiving arrangement is during travels. busy periods and crunch time. And even work out who’s doing what house errands and cooking. Also, we had to talk about how much time my husband could take off from work when I needed him. So we discussed what the next couple of projects for him would be like and realistically how much time he could take off from work and what our contingent plans were- such as babysitters/ nannies.

This discussion would be a more responsible way of approaching graduate study so that everyone can be on board. It also helps to assess if this is indeed the right time, given the level of support.  If your children are older, then it might (the operative word being ‘might’) be easier for them to understand why mummy can’t spend the entire day playing.

Eventually, we decided that I would do it if only I had the confidence to manage myself and time and not let that be at the expense of missing out on my daughter. And that was how we decided on graduate school, as a family.


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