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canoe-stick brain

IMG_1371By Sarah Hudson
Ph.D. candidate, Department of Biology, University of New Brunswick

“Have kids while you’re in grad school…I did it, it was great!” The advice came from a well-respected, friendly professor in my department. I was 23, single, and in the second year of a master’s degree in science.

In many ways, the advice was good. There are jolly reasons to have your kids while still in grad school. It can be tricky to envision jumping into parenthood at the beginning of a degree, when you likely have commitments to taking classes, teaching, delving into your own research, and possibly doing fieldwork. However, in many graduate programs you can at some point be flexible with your work schedule, and parenting-friendly arrangements can be made. I have fellow-grad student friends who found time to get their theses written between their kids’ naps, after they had gone to bed at night or with the help of a sitter to entertain their kids while they wrote from home. Others travelled as a family doing fieldwork in remote locations. These friends managed to juggle the responsibility of graduate school and parenting, in order to get both jobs done.

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IMG_4576This is a sketch I doodled of myself during a recent academic event. I drew a lot when I was a kid. I never do it anymore (you might see why after looking at this). But this represents how I felt while listening to someone smart talk while at the same time I was thinking about whether or not my kid was asleep. Yes, I have entered into that strange zone that so many professional mamas before me have experienced and expressed, of trying to divide yourself in half and on being amazing at two very hard things. One friend described clipping her newborn’s fingernails as being harder than writing a dissertation and a first book combined. Another claimed that she was constantly searching for words postpartum that just would not come to mind, to the point that she referred to a paddle as a canoe-stick. I really (REALLY) hate the term “mommy-brain,” so I will forever describe what I’m experiencing instead as canoe-stick brain. It seems to make more sense anyway.

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