Chris Uggen's Blog: babies and the two-step process

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

babies and the two-step process

it has been slow blogging since thanksgiving, but i'm energized after stumbling to the finish of another semester. my new nephew leif visited and i showed him the chord changes to a cowboy junkies-esque version of ben lee's catch my disease. most babies love music, but really cool babies seem partial to guitars.

on the day i noted riley wakefield's arrival, julie barrows was welcoming althea kay (shown here with sister lily) into the world. so now my other advisees are looking around nervously wondering who's next. my kids were born during years 2 and 5 of grad school and i've always shared my story with students. i doubt that my experiences have any impact on their weighty decisions, but many have been quite procreant. is it just my imagination, or do professors who have kids during grad school tend to have advisees who have kids during their grad school years? is this due to self-selection, modeling, or meddling/advising?

well, here's the story i tell. in '91 i was broke and nervous about fatherhood, given my luxurious ta/ra/fellowship earnings and my partner's new job. when we asked, "should we have kids now?" the answer was pretty clearly "No!" then, i distinctly remember breaking the decision into the infamous two-step process that led to a different answer.

we asked,
step 1. "do we ever want kids?"
step 2. "conditional on #1, is there really a better time to have kids than now?"

o.k., that was easy. we had enough money to survive in madison, i was looking ahead to a long tenure run, and i doubted i'd have any more time or energy at 36 or 46 than at 26.

for kid #2, the same thing happened. we asked "should we have a second kid now?" and again returned "No!" then, the two-step got us again:
step 1. "do we ever want to have a second kid?"
step 2. "conditional on #1, is there really a better time to have a second kid than now?"


whoa! that was too easy. at this point we placed a moratorium on further two-stepping. i don't know whether you do the two-step, but it might offer a fresh perspective on big decisions.


At 10:22 AM, Blogger Brayden said...

That's the same logic that we used to decide if and when to have our three children. I'm not sure that for most people there really is a good time to have kids, but once you have them kids sure are worth having around.

At 12:49 PM, Anonymous sarah said...

Chris, your perspective is vastly more compassionate (particularly for female grad students) than another I heard from a (male) faculty member, who shall remain nameless, who, when I mentioned the possibility of another baby post-prelims, said, "Well, that might slow you down." I thought, well damn, isn't that just what kids do???

At 3:06 PM, Anonymous chris said...

brayden, i was really shocked at how much emotional support my kids offered during grad school. i naively figured it would be one-way love and affection for the first few years. instead, my kids were wonderfully warm and supportive when i'd be stressed over dissertations, prelims, and other grad hurdles. the timing turned out well for us too.

thanks, sarah. people try to give helpful advice, but sometimes it can seem insensitive. i'll never forget karen heimer (now at iowa) for being so genuinely happy and excited about me having kids. it was such a relief to get a congratulatory hug from a respected friend in the business. most of my guy friends didn't know how to react ("was it planned?") and, yes, some folks just furrowed their brows. that said, i know that even female grad students with enlightened partners often go home to a second (and third) shift. i know that in some places only the women get furrowed brows, while the guys get cigars.

more practically, i tell my advisees that their goal is tenure -- not getting the ph.d., not getting published, and not getting a job. so, anything that "slows you down" in grad school -- be it an especially ambitious dissertation or having kids while your timelines are more flexible than at any other career stage -- may actually help keep you on track for getting tenure in the job of your choice.

At 3:29 PM, Anonymous sarah said...

Speaking of Iowa (I knew of Karen Heimer while there but never, to my own detriment I'm sure, took a class with her), you'd better mark your calendar for January 22nd and plan to take your young grappler to the Hawks v. Goophers meet at Williams' Arena. It'll be a good ol' fashioned throw-down. Buy you a beer!

At 5:17 PM, Anonymous minor threat (aka sara) said...

You can take a little credit, Chris, for providing a supportive environment for grad students to combine work and family. It meant a great deal to me that news of my pregnancy was met with a big smile and congratulations as opposed to a furrowed brow and declining contact... Riley thanks you too!

At 5:23 PM, Anonymous minor threat (aka sara) said...

One more thing... After one month, I've found that kids are a great motivator to work. I keep a photo of Riley on my desk not out of sentimentality (though she is pretty cute) but to remind me to get to work!

At 11:44 AM, Anonymous chris said...

thanks, sarah. sounds like fun. he could learn a lot watching cole conrad at heavyweight.

sara no-h (minor treat?), i'm glad you didn't mention how i kept bugging you for numbers late into the night...

At 4:31 PM, Blogger Brian said...

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Declaration of Heaven on Earth!
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Please chant this prayer to recieve heaven on earth:
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Dearest, greatest, holiest!
Please give us all, the full heaven on earth!
I thank you, & I worship you.
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