Learn about how becoming a Ph.D student and a parent changes these peoples lives.
Compiled by Seth Pitman, M.A.
Sarah Bloch-Elkouby, M.A.
Being a Ph.D. student in clinical psychology and a mother of young children involves much more than balancing two discrete social roles. They should probably be best described as two separate identities that alltoo- often end up conflicting with each other.
Let’s start with the positive. Both functions entail nurturing and healing to support growth, and each requires constant selfmonitoring and unremitting self-analysis. Both involve a constant effort to improve. Understanding my own history also impacts my relationships with both my children and patients. These dual identities can be complementary, as the type of insights and skills I use in these two separate worlds often inform and enrich each other. They also each contribute to shaping a more nuanced and complex understanding about human functioning, human pathology, healing, and growth.
However, these two identities can also be conflicting, as each involves a total investment of time and mental availability. Reconciling them requires a great deal of creativity and organization, and can often result in unmanageable schedules. Juggling between the world of a mother and a Ph.D. student has inevitably induced some guilt for not devoting my whole self to each world. I sometimes experience a conflict between my loyalty to my children and my patients, especially when my schedule makes it impossible for me to be in two places at the same time. I worry that my internal resources are exhaustible, and that any “depletion of the stock” in one area may imply less of it in another.
Overall, I find my understanding of child development enhanced by my double identity. The bottom line is that going back and forth from home to the therapy room and vice versa, involves constant self-monitoring along with many complex, conflicting feelings.
Foula Gavrilis, M.A., J.D.
For one, I never feel like I’m doing either well enough. On the one hand, I feel guilt about the time spent away from my kids, but also the time not devoted to papers, research, clients, etc. I know I’d be devoting a lot more time and energy to the pursuit of my Ph.D. if it was not for the fact that there is a little person tugging at my heart strings. Hence, I try to pick and choose what I devote my precious time to, and would probably be a lot more involved (like participating on committees) if I was not a mom. However, being a mother really helps keep things in perspective. Instead of stressing over the amount of work and various other demands and expectations thrown at me, I learn to prioritize and focus on the most important (and pray that “good enough” really is good enough).
Vanessa Li, M.A.
Balancing graduate work and family is not easy. I think I was fortunate that I delivered over winter break, so I could recover and spend time with my baby without missing many classes. Having said that, the faculty was supportive when I only came back as part time. However, when I was looking for an externship last year (obviously pregnant, with a bump), I felt many training directors were hesitant to accept me because of my uncertain schedule.
My priorities have no doubt shifted from when I began my Ph.D. I had intended to excel in all aspects of my academic and professional career, but after having my baby around, I think it became important to keep a more balanced lifestyle. It has been challenging, because we do not have immediate family close by to help babysit. But so far the long academic breaks have been great opportunities for me to spend time with him.
I had always been interested in working with adolescents, but after having a newborn, I think my interest in treating children has grown. Interestingly, there have been moments of transference and countertransference with patients while I was pregnant and thereafter. Those were unexpected learning moments that I have found invaluable to my clinical work.
I confirm that I am a student and a dad when it’s 12:30am, and I’m in the middle of a paper due the following day, and my son wakes up and needs a drink. My wife is sleeping because she was up with the kids since 5am and went to work. So I get my son a drink and change his diaper. When he’s settled back in bed, I sit back down in front of my computer to continue the paper. When I am finally able to remember my train of thought, and figure out why the last few sentences all sound the same, my daughter starts crying from her bassinette. Oh ***! I rush and try to mix the correct amount of formula with water (maybe drop in some scotch), and try to soothe her. Soon my son wakes up again. I simply give in, and camp out next to his crib on the floor. I confirm that I am a clinical psychology doctoral student and a dad when I experience the following conflict. I understand that my kids are not supposed to be waking up during the night as much as they do; however, I don’t want them to suffer any long-term psychological trauma from letting them cry all night.
Being a dad has influenced my research and inspired me to focus on father-child relationships. Reading about parenting and relationships pushes me to be a better father and husband. In my clinical work, I am mindful about how I speak to parents, since I know how challenging parenting can be, and many times it’s easier said than done. Being a father makes my work more meaningful and I appreciate it more as well.
I try to finish as much as possible in school since it is difficult completing any schoolwork before the kids are asleep. There are always parenting responsibilities that need to be taken care of at night as well, such as buying new diapers, formula, clothing, medicine, scheduling babysitters, paying bills, etc. When the kids are sick or need to go to the doctor, I might have to miss class or externship (if my wife is busy). Actually, I once received a phone call from my wife telling me that my son fell and needed stitches in three places around his mouth. This was 10 minutes before a child intake! Next thing I knew the client arrived, and I couldn’t cancel the appointment. I was anxious, but I had to push that out of mind to focus on the new case.
For further information, please contact:
Strategic Communications Director
p – 516.237.8634
e – firstname.lastname@example.org