I am often asked by other psychology graduate students, particularly women, about the experience of having a child while in graduate school. At the heart of these inquiries is generally the desire to know whether my decision to become a parent has made my graduate school career more difficult and whether I would make the same decision again. The simple answers to these questions are "yes" and "yes."
Being a parent is a monumental responsibility for anyone, and living up to it while also attempting to contend with the rigors of graduate school adds an extra layer of stress that can at times feel overwhelming. It has required me to manage my time carefully, to learn to say "no" firmly and diplomatically, and to effectively negotiate responsibilities and availability with both my spouse and with colleagues and supervisors. Parenting has influenced and perhaps even limited some of my career choices, including where I decided to apply for internship. On some days, being a parent has even led me to grapple with feelings of guilt, as I left my pleading little girl to go to school or work. However, parenting has enabled me to put my work in what I feel is better perspective and has elicited in me, however corny and trite as it may sound, a deep and unique sense of love and joy.
Partnered or unpartnered, parents or not, we are all called upon to set priorities and make choices about how to balance our professional and personal needs, roles and responsibilities. This is not an easy task, nor is it one that is often well-modeled for us. In a 2001 Journal of Career Development article (Vol. 27, No. 3, pages 167-176), Thomas M. Skovholt and his colleagues stated that "counselor training, congruent with the nature of the work and the people in it, is predominantly other-focused...with relatively little attention given to care for the self." Further, some of our professors, mentors and supervisors may have reached their level of professional success at significant personal cost and sacrifice and therefore either directly or indirectly encourage us to do so as well. Thus, while psychologists and graduate students, specifically those providing direct client services, often advise their clients to pursue balance in their lives, they may fall far short of this ideal themselves. In short, we are skilled at "talking the talk" but do not necessarily "walk the walk" when it comes to prioritizing self-care and life balance.
This raises two primary questions: First, is personal/professional balance a desirable goal for graduate psychology students? And, second, is striving for such a goal even reasonable; and if so, how can we best go about it?
The answer to the first question appears clear: We are human beings first and foremost, before we are psychologists-in-training. Therefore, in order to function at our best, we require the same things our research and clinical experience tell us that our subjects and clients require. This includes physical health and well-being, emotional and social support, a sense of purpose, safety and security, and feelings of connectedness.
In addition, those of us who engage in direct client contact are well aware that we have an ethical obligation to take care of ourselves.
The second question, however, is far more complex and suggests the need for meaningful changes in our institutions, our practices and our attitudes to facilitate moving toward personal/professional balance. Several examples of innovative ways in which some graduate programs are helping students meet their personal needs, including day-care subsidies and student support groups, are detailed in this issue's cover package (see "Strength in numbers" and "Taking action"). Furthermore, pursuance of licensure eligibility on completion of doctoral degree, which is also discussed at length in this issue (see "Removing a barrier"), is an example of an advocacy issue with important personal and professional implications for students.
As APAGS chair, I look forward to stimulating and facilitating further discussion of how students can effectively engage in self-care and achieve meaningful personal and professional balance, as well as advocate within their graduate programs and the profession for changes that help students better meet their personal and family needs.