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When Your Graduate Students Have Babies: Should advisers keep silent or raise the family issue early on?

More than two dozen doctoral students have chosen me as their dissertation adviser over the years, but only one ever interviewed me for the job. Let’s call her Diana. She and I knew each other already, of course. She had taken one of my courses and done wonderfully well. I was excited at the prospect of working with her.

One moment stands out from our conversation. I was telling Diana that she would be the CEO of her own dissertation—and of her whole graduate education—and that I would do my best to support her and guide her through the decisions that she would have to make over the coming years. “You may choose to start a family while you’re in graduate school,” I said to Diana, “or you may not. Whatever your decision, my job will be to support you and help you reach your goals.”

I saw that comment register on Diana’s face. A few days later, she officially chose me as her adviser.

Diana told me a few years later that my willingness to raise the question of children had helped her make up her mind.

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[Posted: 09/25/2014]