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Consejos for Starting a Ph.D. Program for Mother-Scholars of Color

Over the last year, we have received some questions about how we balance (is there such a thing?) our academic lives with mothering, especially for those who are just beginning their graduate degree programs. In response, the five of us came together to write out a few of the strategies we’ve used, individually and collectively, to both survive and thrive in the academy. So we thought we’d share them this week on our blog for other mother-scholars of color preparing for the new academic year. At the end of the day, what matters most is that you honor yourself, prioritize your needs and your family’s needs, and do what feels right for you and your community. Suerte!

  1. It’s okay to not to do it all. Be okay with focusing on one task over others and switching off without feeling guilty. Set a schedule and keep to it as best as you can, which also means scheduling in lots of family and me time. However, sometimes it might all feel overwhelming (including family time, school demands, and community work) and you might not be able to check everything off on your schedule. It’s okay! Tomorrow is a new day.

  2. Join or create a peer support group, even if it's just with one or two people. You don't have to love everyone in your program but having a small support group of people who are dealing with the same classes, requirements, and materials will help you tremendously.

  3. Also, consider creating a support group of other badass mommas outside of your program. They can support you with studying, venting, and playdates while also being allies who will give you the FYI on scholarships, conferences, articles, and publications. These are things that we often, as mommas, don't have time to look into but the shared responsibility helps us all.

  4. Seek additional funding for parenting students. If there are no funds allocated specifically for parenting students at your campus, ask around and see if there are special grants that you can access. The gender and women's center on campus or the office of diversity are good places to start building supportive networks and these are places where you can learn about additional funding and resources.

  5. Be unapologetic about saying no. As a graduate student, you will be asked to do many things without compensation. It’s good to say yes to things that compensate you (whether it’s financially, for experience, or if it aligns with your values or self-care) but please don’t feel obliged to say yes to everything, otherwise you will get depleted really fast. It’s okay to say no to others and say yes to yourself. Protect your time, energy, and labor.

  6. Be flexible, especially with yourself. Things happen, babies get sick, childcare falls through, last minute meetings or assignments come up. If you cannot make it to campus, utilize skype/hangout/facetime meetings, or consider taking your child with you - every campus has different policies, but remember that you should not have to keep your motherhood closeted.

  7. Listen to your gut! If something feels off or wrong, don’t ignore it. This applies to your health and also your long-term career goals. For example, some of us developed chronic health issues in graduate school and if they had not been treated, it could have worsened. Likewise, all of our paths have been very different and they don’t always lead to a tenure-track position. You need to follow your intuition even if it means taking a different path.

  8. As mothers of color in academia, micro-aggressions will likely occur in the workplace but that doesn’t mean you have to accept it. Professors, administrators, staff, or fellow graduate students may commit microaggressions by making unsolicited and even offensive comments to you about pregnancy, nursing, mothering, parenting, etc. For example, some may express doubt about your dedication to academia simply because you have children. Don’t listen to them. It’s not your job to educate them but you can own your power and set professional boundaries. Remember, you’re not alone and you don’t have to accept this behavior.

  9. Lastly, your pace is the right pace*. Take it one day at a time. The path to finishing the PhD can seem daunting but if you focus on making progress at your own pace, even if it means that you’re at a slower pace than your peers, you will eventually finish.

*Mil gracias to Chicana mother-scholar Marisol Silva for this wonderful phrase!

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