Things We Wish We Knew When We Started Graduate School: Being a Graduate Student Spouse

by Anna Blanch on March 1, 2010

 In this series on What We Wish We Knew Before We Started Graduate School, I thought it would be helpful to have the perspective of the spouse of a Graduate Student. As I mentioned in that first article, Graduate School is not for the faint of heart! Grace Schuler, wife of Dr. Steven Schuler, now of the University of Mobile, offers these words of wisdom borne out of six years of being a grad school spouse!
Being a Graduate Student Spouse
Grace Schuler

The school year is cyclical. Expect that graduate school will fully absorb your spouse at times, and be prepared to keep track of everything, especially around the house, during those times. The good thing is that there is more vacation time with academia then with most other professions. Enjoy the breaks from class, but don’t be too disappointed if your spouse insists on doing some research or writing on break. Realize that your spouse will bring work home and allow him or her time to study, grade, read, and write without interruption. It’s necessary, unless you both want to spend the rest of your lives in graduate school.

While this time of your lives is (one hopes) temporary, do not put your whole life on hold during this time. Learn how to budget both time and money. This is easier to learn with little money than try to break bad habits later. Most graduate stipends are not sufficient, unless you do not have to pay rent and are very fond of pasta. Use the barter system whenever possible, and don’t be ashamed to shop second-hand stores. Borrow furniture and get creative when it comes to cooking. Now is not the time to buy a brand new house or car. Carefully consider the changes and expenses children would bring to your life and plan accordingly. Personally, I would advise waiting until your spouse is close to completing his or her degree before having children.

Learn enough about your spouse’s specialty to be able to carry on an intelligent conversation about it, but not so much that you’ve read as much as he or she has on that topic. This is especially helpful when you go on a date and need something to talk about. Realize that for the time being, the thesis or dissertation topic is probably consuming most of his or her brain and it might be hard for him or her to talk meaningfully on other topics right away. Do, however, feel free to bring up other topics to talk about that are of mutual interest once your spouse has updated you on his or her progress.

Academics tend to lead transient lives, at least pre-tenure, so enjoy this time by visiting museums, parks, zoos, exhibits, local attractions, and by attending as many concerts, lectures, and conferences as you possibly can, wherever you happen to be, preferably with your spouse (and children, if you have them). Many are free, inexpensive, or have days with reduced prices. Get involved in a nearby church, experience the local food and discover how to make friends and put down roots. These skills will help make subsequent relocations easier. Spend time with other graduate students and their spouses. They tend to have many of the same interests and concerns you have, and are also transient. You will eventually find that you have friends all over the world that you can visit when you are in their vicinity.

Grace Schuler is a stay-at-home mom with two daughters: Keziah (2 ½ years), and Alathea (3 months). She is married to Stephen Schuler, who spent 6 years in graduate school and now teaches English at the University of Mobile. The Schulers had Keziah their last year in graduate school. When the girls are asleep, she enjoys reading and is fascinated with the Middle Ages. Currently she is slogging through Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologicia (in translation) and is trying to teach herself Latin using Wheelock’s. One of her favorite family activities is baking cookies.

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