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Learning Objectives

  • Learn to maximize your personal control over these common challenges.


“My relationship with my partner has become strained since I started working on my dissertation. I get home from the lab late at night, and have to go in on most weekends. I am worried that he won’t be able to leave his job and follow me if I get a post-doc in a different city. I don’t know how much more our relationship can handle all of this.”

“I am a single parent with a 3 year old. The daycare closes every night at 7 pm, so sometimes I have to ask others to take over in the lab. My advisor recently mentioned to me that he was starting to doubt my commitment. Apparently putting my child in daycare 12 hours a day is not showing enough commitment.”

The Stats: Women and Career/Personal Balance

Can You Relate to These Women's Experiences?

If you also feel like you have to choose between a career in science and a personal life, you are not alone. As you know, graduate school can be all-consuming, and the long work hours don’t end once you receive your Ph.D. Everyone (men included) will need to make sacrifices to obtain a successful career in science and engineering. Unfortunately, women report significantly less satisfaction with the departmental support for finding balance in their lives,1and family responsibilities in particular are known to impact women’s careers more than men’s careers.2

  • Female doctoral student parents report spending more time on childcare and household responsibilities than male doctoral student parents.1
  • Many faculty expect women to wait until after they graduate to have children.3 Perhaps as a consequence, students who become pregnant are often afraid to share this news with their advisors.4
  • Even women without children might face a common stereotype that they are less committed to a career in science because it is assumed they will one day make family responsibilities a priority.5
  • If married, women in the science and engineering fields are more likely than men to be married to someone in the same field with an equally demanding career.6 This implies that women are less likely to have a partner who is available to help with non-work related responsibilities.
  • Women’s career mobility declines once they marry, more so than for men.7
  • Many girls and women decide against pursuing a career in STEM due to the perception that this career path does not provide sufficient flexibility for women with families.8
  • For women across academic disciplines (but not as much for men), a successful academic career often means having to make difficult choices about family.9


Which of the following best illustrates an issue related to balance for women in STEM programs?

The best answer is A. Answers B and C reflect students’ feelings about how they are doing in their respective tasks, and while they do have to do with time, they don’t necessarily address expectations of work/life balance specific to women. Answer A speaks to the imbalance that can occur for female students, in feeling that they have to be more productive than their male counterparts in order to be considered for the same opportunities. Unfortunately, this is somewhat common, and it often causes female graduate students to neglect their lives outside of school.

Why Does it Matter?

If you are single without children (and are not planning to have children), you might be wondering how these facts relate to you. Unfortunately, gender stereotypes are imposed on everyone regardless of whether they fit, now or in the future.

Finding a balance between career and personal responsibilities can be a challenge for all graduate students, and CareerWISE is for anyone who is feeling torn between various commitments during graduate school.

Your experience will depend on many different factors in your environment, plus your unique perceptions and coping styles. The information and skill-building content found within the CareerWISE site is designed to help you maximize your personal control over common graduate school challenges.


  1. Mason, M. A., & Goulden, M. (2006). UC doctoral student career life survey. Retrieved June 15, 2008, from
  2. Etzkowitz, H., Kemelgor, C., & Uzzi, B. (2000). Athena unbound: The advancement of women in science and technology. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  3. Preston, A. E. (2004). Leaving science: Occupational exit from scientific careers. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
  4. Widnall, S.E. (1988). AAAS presidential lecture: Voices from the pipeline. Science, 241, 1740-1745. doi:10.1126/science.241.4874.1740
  5. Cole, J. R., & Zuckerman, H. (1984). The productivity puzzle: Persistence and change in patterns of publication among men and women scientists. In M. W. Steinkamp, M. L. Maehr, D. A. Kleiber, & J. G. Nicholls (Eds.), Advances in motivation and achievement (pp. 217–258). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
  6. Marwell, G., Rosenfeld, R., & Spilerman, S. (1979). Geographic constraints on women’s careers in academia. Science, 205, 1225-31. doi:10.1126/science.472739
  7. Frome, P. M., Alfeld, C. J., Eccles, J. S., & Barber, B. L. (2006). Why don't they want a male-dominated job? An investigation of young women who changed their occupational aspirations. Educational Research and Evaluation, 12, 359-372. doi:10.1080/13803610600765786
  8. Mason, M. A., & Goulden, M. (2004). Marriage and baby blues: Redefining gender equity in the academy. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 596, 86. doi:10.1177/0002716204268744
  9. Xie, Y., & Shauman, K. A. (2003). Women in science: Career processes and outcomes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Getting Married During Graduate School
The decision to get married in graduate school.

Special Characteristics of Your Advisor and Struggling with Life Balance Issues
Advisor's experiences encourage well-informed career decisions.

Looking Back on Raising Kids While Working
Explains the role children play in career choices.

Words of Wisdom: Dr. Rosser
The importance of remaining passionate and remembering that the PhD opens doors.

I Get By with a Little Help from My Mother in Law
The importance of a supportive extended family in helping to balance school and children.

Sources of Support
The importance of a supportive network of colleagues.

Changing the System vs. Focusing on Cultural Barriers for Women
Suggestions for how to increase women's participation in science with an emphasis on policy change.

The Upside to Children Prior to a Tenure Track Position
Explains the choice to have children in graduate school.

Words of Wisdom: Dr. Lin
How to seek support and not be shy in asking for help.

Two Different Worlds: School Without Kids and Working with Kids
Being married in graduate school and having children as a faculty member.


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