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Anne Savitt asavitt at ccmail.sunysb.edu
Tue Aug 31 16:11:27 EST 1993

Hi, all.

I am one of those !anonymous! USENET listeners, and a graduate student in
the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology program at SUNY Stony Brook.  My
thesis work is on a DNA binding protein in vaccinia virus.

It has been interesting reading everyone!s comments on when is the best
time to have children.  My daughter was two and a half when I started
graduate school seven years ago.  I found that to be physically and
mentally exhausting.  It was very difficult having to care for a child,
take courses, teach, work in the lab, etc., etc.  However, as graduate
school progressed and my daughter got older, things became much easier. 
Until, that is, my elderly mother moved in with me, suffering from
Alzheimer!s disease (at the start of my third year of graduate school). 
For the next two and a half years, I was her primary care giver, as well
as wife, mother and graduate student.  Needless to say, my research
suffered terribly.  When she finally moved into a nursing home, it took a
while for me to return to normal.  I was told by friends at school that I
had been babbling about quitting school to stay home and take care of my
mother since it took so long to find a nursing home.  Fortunately, they
and my family gave me emotional support, my thesis advisor was
understanding about the situation (his mother is the same age as mine and
was deteriorating also, although not nearly so badly as my mother), and I
survived.  Now I am starting my eighth (!) year of graduate school, in
control of my work and expecting to defend within the next six to eight

I agree with previous comments that there is no one !best time! to have
children, but I suspect that the least stressful times are before/during
graduate school and after tenure.  We have gone from day care and diapers
to soccer practice and ballet lessons.  And I have a feeling that puberty
is going to be an experience like no other.  The thing is that
pregnancy/infancy/early childhood are very stressful for the women
physically as well as emotionally, because it takes your body a while to

I believe it was Kay Kliers who said that her department was considering
family leave - for caring for children as well as elderly parents.  I
strongly support this.  No matter how stressful child care can be, it is
nothing compared to finding yourself in the position of parenting your
own parent.  There are no rules that apply.  You are in charge but have
no authority.  And if you are sandwiched between an elderly parent and a
young child, as I was, then all hell breaks loose.  My mother wanted to
be my child and competed with my daughter for my attention!  

Finally, I think it is really important that these issues be addressed in
the work place.  As a graduate student, I would not admit that I had
difficulties because of my parenting responsibilities, because I was
afraid that I would prejudice the admissions committee against accepting
other women with children in the future.  But caregiving responsibilities
are a definite distraction, whether for a child or elderly parent, and
they make graduate school and work much more difficult.  They should not
be an excuse for poor performance, but they may be a real reason for
inferior performance.  I would be really interested in what suggestions
anyone reading this has as to how these factors can be equitably
addressed when evaluating a person!s performance.  I know that I have not
worked to the peak of my abilities, nor have I proven the kind of
scientist I am capable of being.  But I also know that I have done my
personal best under the circumstances, and I have survived.  Now if I can
only convince others of that without looking like I am making excuses. . .

Anyway, if anyone out there finds her/himself in a similar situation and
needs someone to !talk! with, feel free to contact me.

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