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Parenting and a Ph.D.

SK: How did he handle daycare and/or preschool?

EF: We live in a moderately-sized metropolitan area, so a daycare center was the right choice for us. He loved it and had so many wonderful experiences there.

SK: What benefits did he gain from his early childhood experiences?

EF: I think that when you are a single parent who has the child 24/7 and are doing basically everything on your own while still so young yourself, it is helpful to have a safe and encouraging environment for your child to go during the day. Since I was still taking classes and didn’t have them all day long, I could use the time before picking him up or in between classes to study or do homework, so that I could focus on him as much as possible once we came home at night.

He learned how to trust other care providers, make new friends, and adjust to a variety of different circumstances. The daycare center he went to was multicultural (both the children and the staff) as is the city in which we live, so he learned a lot about being around different types of people and their cultures. They also provided field trips on a regular basis, even for the toddlers, and I often was able to attend those trips due to a flexible student schedule. Even now, in fourth grade, he attends school with some of the children he knew as a toddler!

SK: How did you handle studying while you had a little one at home?

EF: As I had mentioned, I tried to do as much as I could while he was in daycare, but there were many times I had to try to study while parenting, and multitasking in that way does not work very well! Most nights, though, I would put my all into parenting and then study when he went to bed, staying up until the wee hours of the morning when I had to.

I should also say that studying with an infant around is infinitely easier than studying with a toddler around, and things get easier again when a child reaches age 3 or so. By the time I started my master’s program, Tavin was 4, and studying was a breeze. I always made sure to focus on him for a while as soon as I got home and through dinnertime. He would easily play by himself and give me some time to study after that, though it truly wasn’t very necessary during my master’s since my coursework was different and didn’t require the type of memorization required for my bachelor’s degree.

SK: When did you graduate (both bachelor’s and master’s) and what are your degrees in?

EF: I finished my Bachelor of Science in biology in 2006 and a Master of Public Health in maternal and child health in 2009.

Doctor Mom

SK: When did you decide to pursue your Ph.D.?

EF: Before starting my master’s degree, I decided that the Ph.D. track would be more fitting for me than the M.D. track. While pursuing my master’s degree, I did some work in public health and realized the programmatic side of public health definitely wasn’t for me. I knew that I was interested in doing research, but didn’t have a clear idea about what kind of research I wanted to do. I was mostly battling with whether I wanted to go the clinical/biological route or the social/behavioral route within maternal and child health research.

I took a year off after my master’s degree to solidify those ideas (and decided that social and behavioral research was more appealing to me and had a greater chance to impact the most people), applied to the Ph.D. program during that year off, and was accepted.

SK: Can you briefly explain what you have to do to get your doctorate?

EF: The program I’m attending requires a master’s degree in a related field in order to be accepted. Most people take about four years to finish, and in that time complete two years of coursework, pass a variety of preliminary exams, and write and defend a dissertation. There are, of course, other requirements and experiences along the way, but there is a support system here in order to make sure everything happens. Now that I’m in my third year, I am done with coursework and my first preliminary exam, so I have checked a few boxes on the list at this point! My dissertation has been in the works for over a year.

SK: You are also working, correct? Can you explain your job for us?

EF: Yes, I have held both research assistantships and teaching assistantships throughout these first three years of the Ph.D. These assistantships cover my tuition and health benefits as well as pay a salary, which is typical of graduate assistantships. I am just now finishing up with two teaching assistantships, from which I’ve gotten experience lecturing, grading, assisting students one-on-one, and so on. I will be starting a new research assistantship in January where I will help with the design, implementation, and analysis of a large clinic- and hospital-based study.

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