Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wife of a Grad Student

Being the wife of a graduate student is difficult.  Financially, we've had to make a lot of sacrifices, especially since the teaching job I was hoping for never materialized.  But I'm a thrifty  person at heart (thanks mom!) and I view living on a budget and looking for deals like a game.  I'm very happy and proud when I've found a good bargain and there is a real sense of satisfaction when I look at the budget at the end of the month and realize that although it shouldn't have worked out, we somehow have more money than we did at the beginning of the month.  Of course, it's been very helpful that my husband and I have great faith that God will help provide for our basic needs and that we've reevaluated what is truly a need for us.

What I find truly difficult about my husband's current career as a graduate student is the lack of permanency we have in our lives.  Although I'm sure this is not a common occurrence  among doctoral students, my husband and I are moving in two weeks because his graduate advisor left his university for another one several states away.  A year away from graduation, he (and four others from his lab) made the decision to move with her (to get his research finished, he needs to follow her grant money).  I moved here after we were married last year and I'm not looking forward to another move so soon, yet what really gets me is that we will most likely be moving yet again when he graduates next year and finds a job.  And while he will actively seek positions in Colorado, we really don't have a lot of control over where we will end up.  Obviously, that's not only a problem for grad students but for anyone seeking a new job.  Scarier still, we have no way of guaranteeing that he will find a job at all.  I was sure I would find a job as a teacher.  I'm a highly qualified candidate, with the ability to teach in three different content areas.  A lot of good that did me.

I hate not knowing where I'm going.  I'm a planner.  And I look forward to someday living in a place where I can paint the walls and spend time making it feel like home.  I think this has really come to the forefront of my mind with a baby on the way.  I want to decorate a nursery.  I want to make a place that my child can call home, where he or she will be comfortable, safe and protected.

But these uncertainties, the unknown that makes me so very uncomfortable, perhaps those are the greatest blessings of being married to a grad student.  I'm learning that I don't have complete control and that sometimes I have to learn to let go, to rely on God, to trust in the abilities of my husband, and to realize that I have the inner strength to thrive in less than ideal circumstances.  Although I would love to know where we will live next year, where (and if) my husband will get a job and how much his salary will be, I am starting to believe that it will all work out somehow, that we can be flexible as the circumstances require.  I can get a job and my husband can be a stay-at-home dad (he would actually love that, or so he says) for a time.  We could move in with my parents (my mom is already clearing two rooms for us).

In reality, when I think through what my husband's status of a grad student has meant for us during our first year of marriage, I end up being very grateful.  From the very beginning of our marriage, we have had to learn to be financially responsible, to have those hard talks about money, to learn that wherever home is, it's fine as long as we have each other.  We had a made a difficult decision together about moving to North Carolina and about having children while he's still in school.  I can't imagine that we would have learned as much about each other and about us as a couple if we had entered marriage in the "perfect" circumstances - each of us with great jobs, a house, etc.  I'm not advising anybody to purposely start a marriage during difficult circumstances, but I will say that if you know that God has called you to be together, you shouldn't let society's expectations of the perfect time to marry get in the way.  It is through difficult times that you learn to lean on one another.

I also don't want to be melodramatic about how difficult it is to be married and a grad student at the same time.  Many people do it, and there are certainly more trying circumstances for couples to endure.  If I had gotten a decent job like I had hoped for, it wouldn't have been difficult financially, although the uncertainty certainly still would have been there (including wondering if I would be able to find another good job once he graduated and we had to move for his job).  And there are benefits to being married to a grad student.  Since my husband is finished with classes, he can do his research on his own schedule, which means that we've been able to spend quite a bit of time together that he we wouldn't have been able to otherwise.  And I love being there to support him at the beginning of his career.  I am so proud of him and look forward to seeing him start his first job and flourish in his field.


  1. Hello! I just came across your blog a few days ago. I'm also the newlywed wife of a PhD student (we wed in September 2010), and my husband and I also met on catholic match.

    Your posts have been very inspirational to me. My husband and I are currently in "discussions" about starting a family. I am still growing in my faith (as is my husband, though he is a cradle Catholic), having converted in 2008...I just finished reading Good News About Sex &'s given me a lot to think about.

    Thank you for sharing your story of deciding to have a child despite your husband still being in the program. It gives me hope!

  2. Rachel, thank you so much. Just this afternoon I was telling my husband that I wasn't sure I was going to keep up my blog because I felt uncomfortable writing about myself so much. I'm glad that it was helpful to you to read our story.

    It's uncanny what similar situations we have! Congratulations on your marriage and good luck (or I guess I should say God bless) discerning starting a family - it is definitely a hard decision! I look forward to checking out your blog.

  3. Mandi, I'm so excited to have found your blog! I am also the wife of a grad student. We have been married 4 years (he's been a grad student that whole time, and I was too for the first couple years), and we have a 1-year-old daughter. I think that living a very frugal life, facing great uncertainty, has helped us to grow as married couple in many ways. It's really refreshing to read your take on the married grad student life! God bless you, your husband, and your baby-on-the-way. :)

  4. I just discovered your blog...and I love this post! My husband is working on his ph.D right now, and I'm staying home with our daughters (second one due soon!) and I relate soooo much to everything you've written here, especially about the uncertainty. It is so true that being a grad student family does make you learn to trust God alot sooner!


I'd love to hear what you have to say! You can also contact me directly by emailing me at