Higher Education

Being a Caregiver with an Academic Career

holding handsThere is research to perform. Lectures to prepare. Exams to grade. Articles to write and meetings to attend. The life of a professor is like the pulse of an airport: arrivals, departures, a steady stream of events all lining up against a timetable. It’s a hard balance between commitments and managing one’s time. However, when a longterm care situation combines with an already demanding career, the demands for time and attention increase. When I use the word longterm care, I’m thinking of a family member or close friend requiring longterm care for an illness, an aging parent moves in, or a family grows through the birth of a child. For the purpose of this article, I’ll focus on the birth of a child, because my wife, who is an assistant professor of Psychology, and I just had our first baby and it’s a struggle.

Be Kind to Yourself

If you know in advance of the semester that you’ll be entering a care situation, then you may be able to reevaluate your syllabi. Are there assignments you can cut without hampering the learning objectives for the course? Can you reorganize when assignments are due so you don’t receive a flood of papers to grade all at once? If you start from the position that all of your grading will occur outside of business hours, how much time can you spare an evening, or a week? Are there breaks you can build into the course for when an emergency arises and class needs to be cancelled? If you’re a new parent, and need to pump milk, can you block off that time and multitask? Planning ahead can allow you to be kind to your future self.

Reset Expectations

One important realization is that what used to be sustainable can no longer be sustainable. Commitments will slip at home and at the office, but you have control over what those commitments are. Try to work efficiently using pomodora. Make sure meetings finish within their allotted timeframe. Prioritize your family time by spending less time cooking and cleaning. Can you cook double batches of food on the weekend and freeze meals? Do you need to spend as much time cleaning the house? Can you clean as you go? Or can you afford to hire someone to help?

It’s much harder to keep a new baby private, than another care situation; but, letting students and colleagues know the change in your home-life may provide them with a greater understanding of why you don’t email after hours or return work as quickly. One of my colleagues, who is also a new parent, mentioned the feeling that students seemed to treat him as a whole person; instead, of just their professor.

Forming and Finding Community

One aspect that being a new parent has with being a new professor is being unsure. You learn on the job. There’s no one telling you the “right” way to calm your child, or for that matter someone else’s child enrolled in your class. Speaking with other people in a similar situation can help. Consider setting up a weekly coffee or lunch to meet, talk about your experiences and listen to your friends talk about theirs.

Helping One Another

It’s hard to ask for help. If you know of a friend or colleague who has an added duty to care for another, consider starting a Meal Train in consultation with them and easily organize a way for people to drop off dinners. Some friends set up a Meal Train for us after our baby was born and it was so helpful, as cooking was one of those things we had to let slip.

Now, this is where I ask you for help. I’ve listed a few things that have helped us through the struggle that is caring for an infant, but what’s worked for you? What advice do you have to help your colleagues balance caring for another and working in academia?


Tim Lepczyk

Thanks, Chad. The semester is just about over and we’ve all survived. :)


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