In this series on the blog, we explore the joys and the tribulations of being both a graduate student and a parent. Over the next several weeks, we will post pieces by graduate students from all stages of our program. Each has a unique perspective on parenting and academia. It is our hope that this series will speak to graduate students everywhere, who have either entered graduate school with children, have had children as graduate students, or are contemplating it. We also think it will speak to any and all parents and prospective parents, regardless of whether they are students or not, who simply want to hear the perspectives of other parents. Third in the series is a post by Samira Franklin.
I have bounced around this department more than most. I first came in 2002 and quickly left, as I wasn’t sure I could merge my then-dedication to creative writing with an academic path. I was also just having a general life breakdown, having left behind a boyfriend who would become my husband and still in mourning over a novel I had taken years to write and was not able to sell. I left, taught English at a small college in Iowa, worked at a bookstore and gathered up enough steam to come back in 2004, where I was generously welcomed. I will also say that I was generously encouraged not to leave when I originally went in 2002. In 2004 I was married, more focused, and ready to truly begin. I loved my courses, changed my focus from 20th c American to 18th c British (thank you, James Turner!) and was excited to charge ahead. In 2007 I studied for my orals along with the rest of my cohort, the only difference being that I was nine months pregnant when I took them on May 4, 2007. The process of preparing for orals was nerve-wracking and soul-scouring but wonderful. My generous and rigorous adviser kept me going and I felt like the baby I was about to have was the light at the end of the tunnel. I knew I would have a year of fellowship time after my exam to spend with him. After that I figured we would do university child care and I would pick up where I left off. I worked up until the week before delivery and had Eli ten days after my exam, on the day of the final for the class I was GSI-ing.
I then basically got lost in the wilderness of child-raising. We didn’t get university child care that first year or the next year I applied for it and nonsubsidized child care seemed too expensive, especially when I was, ostensibly, home. We had another son in 2009 and I came back for a semester when Eli was two and a half and Leo was six months old. I had childcare organized—a two-year-old program for Eli, a babysitter for Leo—but I would find myself sitting in a café on the third day of my work week staring at the same article. It was too much and I worried that I was too changed. I left again, and focused on raising my kids until I received the notice of my lapsed candidacy in May of 2012. Candidacy lapses five years after your oral exam and knowing that mine had lapsed made me realize how much I still wanted to be a part of the life of the university. This past spring semester, I came back to read for a course and prepare my dissertation proposal.
But apparently the university’s time clock had run out on me. About halfway through the semester I was told that I was not actually eligible to hold the position that I already held and that I wouldn’t be eligible to teach at Berkeley until my candidacy was reinstated. The catch being that my candidacy could only be reinstated for a semester, at the end of which I would need to file my dissertation. That would be the dissertation that I’ve thought about and mused on but in no way have begun writing. I think that falls squarely under the category of “not going to happen.”
The lapse in university support was understandable but a jolt nonetheless. My priorities had been elsewhere and from the university’s perspective I guess it was becoming clearer that I was not a good bet. The irony is that I was just getting to a place where I could do it, with my older son in kindergarten and my younger son settling into preschool. At the very time that my life was opening up, the department doors were closing to me. Outside of parenting time five years is a long time to wait for someone, so I understand, but within it, it’s a blink.