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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Bridget Newell glanced down beside her, her son’s forehead barely appearing at the corner of her computer screen. An action figure was in his hand. She asked him to go play while she answered a few questions. It’s a familiar scene.

Being a parent and a Ph.D. candidate at the same time is synonymous with having a full plate. However, graduate students at UF make it work. 

Newell, a 35-year-old UF Ph.D. student in curriculum and instruction, has had to learn how to balance her responsibilities as a mother and a student. She has two sons, 11 and 5 years old. 

Newell gets to spend more time at home now that being a graduate student is her full-time job. Her schedule is more catered to what she needs to get done, like having Fridays open to take her sons to the doctor. She said she’s lucky she has a spouse who can carry most of the financial burden. 

“I just have more flexibility in how I choose to work and when I choose to work,” she said. 

But it’s not always easy. If she focuses more on her research or classes for a few days, she has to order takeout instead of cooking. 

During her first semester, many of her classes were in the evenings. She missed dinner time with her sons and husband multiple times a week because she had a class from 4 to 7 p.m. 

She said having more classes available during the day could be helpful for graduate students with families. 

As a mother and a student, she’s learned to compromise. She recognizes choosing higher education is a sacrifice, but she’s glad that her sons get to see more of her, she said. 

Michelle Commeret, a 41-year-old UF Ph.D. candidate in curriculum and instruction, also teaches multiple courses during the Fall, Spring and Summer semesters. She has three daughters: ages 13, 11 and 8.

She didn’t know any specific resources for graduate students who have families. She knew family housing could be helpful for a lot of graduate students, but it didn’t make sense for her family. 

“There wasn't really a lot of space for parents that have more than like one or two [kids],” Commeret said. “So I didn't even really entertain that for very long.”

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Family always comes first to Commeret. However, she has to make sure she’s “not shortchanging” her obligations as a mother, teacher, researcher and student. 

“My work impacts my family, and my family impacts my work all the time,” she said. 

Thankfully, her adviser has been very accommodating, she said. He encourages her to take breaks and spend time with her family.

Her family followed her to Florida so she could get her Ph.D. She does it all for her family — she wants to show her daughters what it looks like to work hard and meet a goal, she said. 

“They’ve been my number-one fans from the beginning,” she said. 

Nanjie Rao is a 29-year-old UF computer science Ph.D. student. He and his wife, who is also a Ph.D. student, had their 18-month-old daughter in September 2022. 

After his daughter was born, his wife went on an unpaid, six-week maternity leave. However, after Graduate Assistants United won eight weeks of paid family leave, Rao took the opportunity to spend time with his newborn during Spring 2023.

He noticed how the dynamic between a graduate student and their adviser can get strained. New parents stress about taking care of their new baby, while advisers still expect tasks to be completed. 

“I understand where the angriness comes from, but it's still difficult, to say the least,” Rao said.

Rao has been on the waitlist for BabyGators, an on-campus child day care, for two years. Although he was aware of the possibility of being waitlisted, he wished the day care could have more staff so more children could be accommodated. 

Like many other students with children, his main challenge is balancing all his roles, he said. He needed to fulfill his responsibilities as a TA while working on his dissertation. His goal is “just to get by every day.” 

“There’s not quite balancing, per se,” he said. 

Richelle Ruiz had her daughter in September 2023, around a month into her first semester. She’s also pursuing a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction. Her daughter is now 6 months old. 

The 31-year-old was brand-new to campus and Gainesville when her daughter was born, so she didn’t know where to look for resources or what to ask for.

She learned about the lactation rooms on campus after her daughter was born. UF has lactation rooms at various locations, including the Reitz Union, Library West, Marston Science Library, Norman Hall, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and the UF Health Science Center Library. There is also an app called Mamava, which helps users map available rooms and pods across campus.

Ruiz is still adjusting to being a student and parent. 

“I just feel like I'm going to look back on this time and feel proud of myself, and I hope that my daughter feels the same way,” she said. “I want to be that kind of role model for her.”

Contact Delia Rose Sauer at Follow her on X @_delia_rose_.

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Delia Rose Sauer

Delia Rose Sauer is a second-year journalism major and the graduate & professional school reporter for The Alligator. In her free time, she loves drawing, crocheting and exploring music genres.

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