Melody Schiaffino: When graduate students are also parents it's a tough job

Published: Monday, November 12, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 11:13 p.m.

The face of UF graduate students is diverse, vibrant and changing.

UF is one of the top public universities in the nation yet it is lagging in some vital areas of sustaining their ability to attract top doctoral and graduate student minds. These areas center on the resources devoted to the health, well-being and financial position of graduate assistants completing their studies.

PhDMoms, a graduate student organization at the University of Florida, readily endorses the proposals made by Graduate Assistants United (GAU), the contract is currently at the bargaining table.

GAU, the union representing all graduate assistants at UF, is focused on three areas of powerful importance to all graduate assistants, and perhaps more critically, to graduate student parents. Student parents are a growing population at UF, and many graduate students are married, starting second careers in response to the economy, or having their children during their academic career.

This trend does not seem to be diminishing, and empirical evidence shows that student parents are the most burdened by financial constraints and a lack of support at the university level.

GAU is working hard for graduate student parents by emphasizing the importance of family medical leave policies for students. Currently, most graduate assistants don't qualify under the national Family and Medical Leave Act since their appointments are “part-time” (teaching, research and writing duties easily surpass the 20 hours per-week covered by stipends).

GAU aims to secure family leave benefits for childbirth, medical leave, or leave to care for a loved one. Currently, a graduate student mom can only take five days of leave, and then she would be at the mercy of her department. Stipends and assistantships are not guaranteed when she returns. This means that a mom would have five days to have a baby and go back to work!

Further, they are fighting to end fees for graduate assistants that receive incomes below the federal poverty level. For parents this is an additional burden since student-parents also pay childcare. GAU has responded by highlighting the need for affordable childcare on campus.

Currently, Baby Gator offers a small subsidy for students but the waiting list can be up to two years and the subsidy does not keep pace with tuition and fee increases (care for an infant can easily surpass $800/month at a subsidized center).

Graduate assistants are the workers in the academic field that fill multiple roles for faculty. They require specialized skills under tedious conditions. We serve the Gator Nation willingly because we are passionate about the students we teach, the faculty that mentors us, and the research we conduct.

UF has benefited greatly from the efforts of graduate student researchers. It's time to recognize those efforts not only to improve the chances of success among graduate assistants and student parents, but also for the future Gators we are raising.

GAU will be having a Bargaining Rally on Tuesday at 12 p.m. at Plaza of the Americas. I encourage all graduate moms, dads, family members and supporters to attend and back their efforts.

Melody Schiaffino is president and founder of PhDMoms at UF.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top