In this episode, Emily interviews Dr. Ilana Horwitz, an assistant professor of Jewish Studies and Sociology at Tulane University. Ilana started her PhD at Stanford when her first child was nine months old, and she had a second child after her third year. Emily and Ilana discuss the frugal tactics and time management strategies that she employed while her children were young. They also discuss the income disparity and gender dynamics that came into play between Ilana and her husband during that period and when Ilana was on the academic job market. Finally, Ilana makes the case for having children as a grad student instead of as a faculty member. If you are a parent in academia, whether as a grad student or full-time employee, don’t miss this episode!
Links mentioned in the Episode
- PF for PhDs Podcast Guest Submission Season 17+
- Host a PF for PhDs Seminar at Your Institution
- Emily’s E-mail Address
- Fair Play by Eve Rodsky
- PF for PhDs Subscribe to Mailing List
- PF for PhDs Podcast Hub
- Dr. Ilana Horwitz’s Website
Ilana H (00:00): I think really creatively and outside the box about how you can garner resources in your community, in your social network to help you sort of accomplish things. And it’s not necessarily like a specific amount of money, but that, you know, if you have a talent, like maybe you can tutor somebody in statistics and in exchange they can watch your kids for a couple of hours.
Emily (00:32): Welcome to the Personal Finance for PhDs Podcast: A Higher Education in Personal Finance. I’m your host, Dr. Emily Roberts, a financial educator specializing in early-career PhDs and founder of Personal Finance for PhDs. This podcast is for PhDs and PhDs-to-be who want to explore the hidden curriculum of finances to learn the best practices for money management, career advancement, and advocacy for yourself and others.
Emily (01:03): This is Season 16, Episode 4, and today my guest is Dr. Ilana Horwitz, an assistant professor of Jewish Studies and Sociology at Tulane University. Ilana started her PhD at Stanford when her first child was nine months old, and she had a second child after her third year. Ilana and I discuss the frugal tactics and time management strategies that she employed while her children were young. We also discuss the income disparity and gender dynamics that came into play between Ilana and her husband during that period and when Ilana was on the academic job market. Finally, Ilana makes the case for having children as a grad student instead of as a faculty member. If you are a parent in academia, whether as a grad student or full-time employee, don’t miss this episode!
Emily (01:50): This is your official invitation to please volunteer as a guest for one of the upcoming episodes! I love that on this podcast I get to feature PhDs and PhDs-to-be who are almost exclusively regular people and learn and share their real-life stories and strategies. Please go to PFforPhDs.com/podcastvolunteer/ and fill out the quick form, and I’ll be in touch over email. I look forward to interviewing you in the coming months! You can find the show notes for this episode at PFforPhDs.com/s16e4/. Without further ado, here’s my interview with Dr. Ilana Horwitz.
Will You Please Introduce Yourself Further?
Ilana H (02:57): Sure. Thank you so much for having me on on this podcast, Emily. I am an assistant professor of Jewish Studies and Sociology at Tulane University. I went to graduate school at Stanford in the Graduate School of Education and I got my PhD in Sociology of Education and Jewish Studies. But I had a long career before I started graduate school. I worked in management consulting and in several sort of researchy and evaluation kind of roles and a couple of startups. And so I didn’t start my PhD until I was 30. And then after I did my PhD, I stayed at Stanford for a two year postdoc and then joined the Tulane faculty. And I’m now in my third year at Tulane.
Ilana’s Book: The Entrepreneurial Scholar
Emily (03:44): Excellent. And please tell us the subject of this book, ’cause I can already see there’s overlap with your professional history there and the subject and everything.
Ilana H (03:51): Yeah, absolutely. The title of the book is called The Entrepreneurial Scholar and it’s really a book about how early career scholars and PhD students can think about generating influential ideas while working with very limited resources and navigating an environment of high uncertainty. This is something that people who are entrepreneurial are really good at, but people who are really good at school tend to not be as good at. So it’s really a book that tries to get people to think differently about the dispositions and sort of habits that they bring to graduate school.
Emily (04:26): I love it. Absolutely. There’s no way I’m gonna miss this when it comes out. So we are recording this interview in September, 2023. The book is expected to be out in summer 2024, and I will have Ilana back on the pro on the podcast during that post book period promotional period. ’cause I’m so curious about this whole process, not just the subject of the book, but the making of the book. So is really exciting, but this is not our subject for today. Our subject for today is the fact that you had a child before you even started graduate school, and then you had another one during graduate school. And so we’re gonna talk about kind of the financial stuff that you did to, you know, make that work while you were a graduate student. And so let’s start off by talking about kind of what was your family structure and and what were the finances like at that time and all those details.
Family Structure and Finances During Graduate School
Ilana H (05:09): Yeah, so I had my first kid in January of 2013. And at the time I was working and I had applied to graduate school. And ironically today actually my kids are off from school. So if you’re watching the video here, they are in the background. here, they are much older. But I had Aria I was working and then when I had her, I, a few weeks after she was born, actually my advisor called me and said he had accepted me into the program and so I decided not to go back to work. And I was able to stay home with my first one for eight months. And then I started graduate school when she was nine months old. We had our second baby between my third and fourth year we actually tried to plan it to h her between my second and third year because of sort of but it takes so long to get pregnant sometimes that I realized that planning. It was a very silly attempt. At the time, in terms of our finances, we were pretty financially stable. My husband and I had both worked at that point for about a decade. And so we had a lot of money saved up and he had a pretty stable job in the Bay Area. I had about $40,000 of loans from undergrad and from my first master’s at Teachers Columbia. But they were in deferment and we, I had a pretty generous stipend from Stanford. It was only, it was $25,000, but I had an additional sort of $20,000 for four for a couple of years from an outside source. So I was making about 45,000. But we had very high expenses. So living, we lived on Stanford’s campus in the family housing, which I’ll talk a lot about. But we, our rent started at about $2,000 at the start of graduate school. And then it was up to 2,700 by the time I finished graduate school a month. And then we had really high childcare expenses. We did put our children in daycare full-time. And basically by the time sort of my last few years of grad school, we were paying $50,000 a year in childcare expenses. ’cause Each kid cost over $2,000 per year. So that pretty much all wiped out my entire salary. But we did have my husband’s income to get us through it.
Emily (07:39): Wow, okay. Thank you so much for all those details. So it sounds like your stipend from Stanford at least initially was around 45 k. Did you get any supplement for like a childcare grant or anything? I’ve, I’ve noticed that some other students have had access to those kinds of resources.
Ilana H (07:55): I did not. While I was at Stanford, there was a big push to help parents because parents were really struggling. One of my classmates, actually, Tina Cheuk, somebody you could talk to someday started a whole campaign around mothers and parents in academia. And as a result of this like amazing advocacy work that she did, I think parents were able to apply for grants of up to $10,000, partly to cover not just childcare, but also healthcare. My understanding is that the healthcare expenses through Stanford were in extraordinarily expensive and people weren’t able to pay for it. I was on my husband’s insurance, and so we were able to do it that way. But the sort of advocacy work that she did made a big difference to some parents. And I think by the time I left, there were more resources available to parents.
Emily (08:44): Thank you so much for telling us about that effort because it just goes to show that these advocacy efforts are effective in, in various places. I love to hear that. Tell me a little bit about, more about like, okay, you said we’re basically trying to basically getting by on your husband’s salary because yours is effectively going to childcare. I just wanna know because you said it’s high cost of living, but presumably your husband also has a good Bay Area type salary. I’m trying to understand how much of a strain this was being in graduate school. So like, were you guys still able to invest? Were you guys still able to save or was it like, Hmm, nope. Like there’s no, the building towards the future is the career thing here. It’s not the financial thing at this time.
Ilana H (09:22): We were able to, I think, continue saving, but part of I think my own challenge was that I I had grown up sort of like a, as a working class immigrant, my family moved from the former Soviet Union when I was seven. And then my my, my parents had sort of like pretty working class jobs and then my father unexpectedly passed away when I was 14. And so I think having grown up sort of in some economic precarity and also seeing my mom really having to figure out her finances on her own has always made me very like nervous about being reliant on somebody else’s income, which is, you know, nothing that my, is my husband’s fault, but it’s my own sort of struggle. And so even though we were fine financially, I was constantly trying to think about ways to sort of be frugal, ways to be creative about resources which I know we’re gonna talk about. But I, I felt like I had to sort of because I wasn’t working and I’d been so used to working, I felt like I had to find all sorts of ways to save money and be really, really efficient with our resources.
Creative Financial Strategies During Graduate School
Emily (10:25): So what kinds of things were you doing? Like what could be helpful maybe for other people in a similar situation to hear in terms of how you could keep a lid on expenses related to your children?
Ilana H (10:36): I tried to think really creatively about using and harnessing the communal resources of the Stanford community. So I mentioned that we lived in graduate student housing and our apartments were tiny. But what was amazing is that we had these communal playgrounds and I started spending time hanging out with other parents, you know, on the swing set and whatever. And I realized that like everyone had a lot of really interesting skills and I was like, how can we all sort of bring together all of our unique skills to help each other? And so one thing I knew I was good at was taking family photographs. I had like a background in photography, I really loved it. And so I posted, there was like a parent listerv, and so I posted an email saying like, I would like to barter my photography services in exchange for somebody coming to help me build my furniture. I don’t have time to build my baby crib and the dresser and all these things. And so if you come and build my furniture, I will take family photos. And so that was one thing I started doing. I also sent out an email saying, who wants to do like a meal swap? Because during my winter breaks, spring breaks and summer breaks, I would go on a intensive sort of cooking frenzy where I would cook a ton of stews and soups and chilies and then freeze them in mason jars. And I was like, but I would get sick of the same soup. So I was like, if other people did this, we could have a big soup swap. So I thought about doing that. I also realized, you know, your kids wear some of their clothes like five times and they’re brand new. And so I started organizing baby clothing swaps and also not just for clothing, but like strollers and cribs and all these other things. And I, I think the key thing was like not being shy to ask and sort of put the ideas out there because I think some people feel like, oh you know, I have to, we live in this very individualistic society and I had to get out of this mindset and think about what is the, what can the community do together that’s bigger than what all of us can do individually. I also started all of our houses were attached and I realized that our baby monitors would reach across homes. And so like we had good friends who lived like one door down, like there was somebody separating us. But our monitor reached over there and I said like, we wanna go out to dinner. We don’t wanna pay for our babysitter once we put our baby to bed. Can we give you the monitor and like you just check on our baby? And we did that and we, and then we would exchange those sort of services for each other. So those were some of the ways that I creatively thought about using and leveraging all the parents in the community to help each other.
Emily (13:15): Well, I love those ideas, not just for the specifics of baby clothes or bartering services, but because you were leading by example and you’re still leading by example by sharing this with us on the podcast. So did you find that people were very receptive to these ideas? I would be if I heard them, then again, I’m a pretty frugal person. So how, how were they received?
Ilana H (13:34): Yeah, I think they were received great. I think people were really in the same boat. And I think everybody was trying to make ends meet. There was a lot of stay-at-home parents and graduate housing. It was very typical for men to be getting their graduate degrees and for moms to be full-time with childcare responsibilities. Because basically if you have more than like two kids, it doesn’t sort of make sense to pay for care. It’s often, you know, cheaper for the mom to stay home. And so people who had three or four children did that arrangement and they were still really struggling. So people, yeah, definitely embraced the idea of communal sharing. They loved it. And we also lived in the Bay area where there was like a mentality of recycle, reuse, repurpose. So I think that helped us also,
Emily (14:30): Yeah, my mind is boggling a little bit, thinking about a family being supported by a grad student or postdoc kind of salary or stipend in the Bay area. But I know this often comes up for, for instance, international students and postdocs, right, whose spouse doesn’t have a working type visa, so they literally have no choice. But to be, you know, the stay at home parent or a stay at home home spouse wow, okay. That’s such an awesome idea and I think it really helped in your case that you all did live. I mean, it sounds like you put things out to the parent listserv, but also many of you were actually neighbors. And so that like proximity and the familiarity that that breeds, I would imagine helped a lot with that initiative.
Ilana H (15:08): Yeah, because I think what that did was develop a sense of trust. Like it wasn’t random people who who you didn’t know who you were trying to collaborate with, right? We had this like, I’m a sociologist, so I’ll just say like we had developed this sort of these networks of trust of social capital. And so I knew that like giving my monitor to you and other parent, I knew who they were, I knew who their children were, their children had probably played at my house. There was a sort of sense of trust and reciprocity that developed by the virtue of the fact that we were all in the same boat and living in close proximity to each other. I also took advantage of a bunch of some Stanford resources that I think some parents don’t, didn’t even know exist. And I wanna put this out there, like for students to see if this exists on your campus. So Stanford dining halls had amazing food and children ate for free, completely for free. And so not only did I not have to cook and clean for my kids, you know, but also it was free. And so we went to the dining hall on a very, very regular basis. It was also like nice to see other families there. It got my children to try new foods, but that was an incredible resource. I also did some things like I co-oped at my kids’ school. If you co-op meaning like you volunteer in the classroom for two hours a week, you can get a discounted tuition rate. So I did that. I also served on the board, which got me 10% off of the tuition. And then I also thought creatively about outsourcing and when I wanted to outsource things. So I come from a business background. Sometimes I like to think like an economist. And so there was a period of time in my sort of fifth year I was taking really some really hard classes trying to finish my work on my dissertation. And it was just too much and I just like wasn’t able to do all the cooking. And so I had talked to one of the parents I’m sorry, not the parents, one of the teachers in my kid’s school and she mentioned like she lived on her own. She was kind of lonely and she loved to cook. And I was like, would you like to come and like spend a couple hours at my house cooking on a Saturday or Sunday and I will pay you? And so I paid her $25 an hour and she came and she did a couple hours of cooking that basically would hold us over for the rest of the week. And the way I thought about that expense was like I was also doing some side hustling and had some consulting jobs on the side and I was like, for me to do an hour of work, you know, I would generally get paid, you know, between like 50 to a hundred dollars depending on the job. Sometimes it was a lot less. But generally I was like, for an hour of my work I could basically get, you know, several hours of time from for somebody to cook. And so I thought about outsourcing in a pretty strategic way because I had this other income coming in from side hustling.
Emily (17:58): Yeah, I love that point and thank you so much for bringing it up. A lot of people within the personal finance community talk about your hourly rate, like your hourly compensation rate and say, ah, anything you know, below that you should outsource it if you can get it done for less. I don’t quite agree with that, but in your situation there’s an exact corollary, which you just said this was not your base salary that you were comparing to. This was the extra hours you could put towards the side hustle that you were comparing to. So it directly freed up your time for that particular income source. So that’s why the comparison works really well. And I love this idea of you like, you know, in your first four years of graduate school doing all this batch cooking during your breaks and like getting prepared and getting your family used to the system of we eat freezer meals and we do this bulk cooking stuff. And then after that realizing, oh wow, I don’t, I now don’t even have time for the cooking part of it, but we’re already used to kind of the system and so you can just outsource that last leg of it and make it work for you. So yeah, thank you so much for like talking about your thought process through that. Was there anything else that you considered outsourcing other than cooking or, or did outsource? I mean,
Ilana H (19:03): Occasionally I would outsource some childcare help. So my kids were in school full time, which was like eight to six. And occasionally I would have people some of their teachers would come on the weekend and I would pay them hourly to watch my kids if I ne needed to do something over the weekend and couldn’t real, you know, ask my husband to sort of watch the kids yet again. I don’t think there was anything else that I can think of.
Time Management During Graduate School
Emily (19:29): Okay. Well now that we’re into kind of the time management portion of the conversation, can you share with us any other like time management related strategies used to make this period of your life work?
Ilana H (19:40): Yeah, so I in the beginning of graduate school, probably my first and second year I would put my, my daughter, I just had one at the time and she would go to bed pretty early, right? That’s the great thing about babies. They go to bed by like seven 30 and I would do a lot of work at night, but then I realized I couldn’t sleep particularly when I was working on my qualifying paper, which is what we have instead of comps. Because I was just thinking about the data in my head all the time and like trying to resolve puzzles as I was trying to sleep and it just wasn’t working. And so I decided to totally shift my schedule to go to bed by about 9 30, 10 at the latest and then wake up five to five 30. And my kids, especially in sort of the later years, were not waking up until like seven. And so I would get a solid hour and a half of work time in the morning and I felt so productive and so fabulous. It took, you know, other people I’ve given this advice to have started it. And then they give up really quickly. The, the trick is you have to stick with it for a couple weeks. Like the first couple days are so hard ’cause your body is not used to doing that. So stick with it and for, you know, it, it can work.
Emily (20:48): So this strategy is called the split shift. It’s something that I learned about in Laura Vander cam’s, I know how she does it, which is about working moms with high impact jobs. And yeah, it’s super, super common as you said, because your kids are only awake for those limited windows. If you’re working for a lot of that window, then you don’t get to see them that much. So you sort of shift the work around, like you said, you tried it in the evening, that’s what most people do, but it didn’t work for you for the reasons you said. And so I love that you just didn’t give up on the strategy entirely. You just shifted the window. Now it is very challenging to get up before young children, at least most young children, but it sounds like it was working for you all. And I know actually from the podcast that Laura Vander cam co-hosts, which is called Best of both worlds, that her co-host is also a very, very early riser. So she loves that morning split shift as well. So yeah, and I totally agree with you. I changed my own sleep habits sort of early on the pandemic. I had never been one to consistently be waking up at the same time every day. And I was a bit of a night owl, but I started getting up at 6:00 AM every day. And you’re exactly right, it’s the, you have to stick with the schedule, you have to power through the initial like difficult early part, and then it becomes more easy as your body then regulates itself towards that schedule that you’ve set instead of like me just being haphazard all over the place when you go to sleep and when you wake up.
Ilana H (22:03): Yeah, that’s absolutely right. Being consistent with a sleep schedule is really important. So I wake up really early on the weekends also. Another thing that I did or things people often said to me in graduate school, like, I don’t understand how you do it. Like, how can you be a mom and a grad student? And actually I think I was more productive than most people because I knew that I had this very finite period of time, right? Like, I have eight to six and that’s it. And so I didn’t, I wasn’t on social media. I like dilly, didn’t dilly dally. Like I didn’t waste any time, every moment that I had, I was incredibly productive because I knew my time was limited as opposed to, I think people who are like, I have all day, like, so what if I watch a couple hours of TV now as a result? I was like, had no idea what was going on in the world. I had no, I have no pop culture knowledge at all whatsoever. I pretty much lived under a rock, but I was really efficient. And so there’s something to be said about knowing that you have a finite period of time and being really efficient during those hours.
Emily (23:01): I think I have to imagine not only the the parenthood aspect of this, but your past work experience played into this as well because I think it’s really difficult for people sort of like me, I almost did this who go pretty much directly from undergrad to grad school and carry that like student mindset, the student schedule, the student finances, the student identity and so forth into their graduate careers if they haven’t had the kind of interruption like you did by a working career. So probably a lot of the habits and strategies you learned in your twenties were you, you were then able to apply once you got to graduate school.
Ilana H (23:30): Yeah, I, by the time I got to graduate school, I knew myself really, really well and I knew what worked for me and what didn’t. I think early in my career I was always like waiting till the last minute to do things and was a total procrastinator and submitted things late. And really I, and one of the things I, the biggest lesson I learned in my mid twenties when I tried working for a couple of organizations is that I didn’t do well having a boss. I really needed to have autonomy and agency in my work. And being a PhD student and now a faculty member is exactly what is, that’s exactly what I have and that’s what I love so much about my job because I learned that I really needed to set my own schedule. I wanna be able to work what I want on what I want and how I want. And I didn’t do well telling me to, having people tell me sort of how to do my job and when to do it. But so my biggest, you know, general advice for people when they come to me about career advice is to take time off between being an undergrad and a grad student because you learn so much about yourself as well as about the real world. As opposed to when you go straight through. There’s so many ideal things that we think about theoretical things we learn about in the classroom that just don’t translate or are much more difficult in reality. And when you actually go to work in the real world, you see some of those some of those things play out.
Emily (24:52): I love it. I give the same advice whenever anyone seems receptive to it.
Emily (24:59): Emily here for a brief interlude. Would you like to learn directly from me on a personal finance topic, such as taxes, goal-setting, investing, frugality, increasing income, or student loans, each tailored specifically for graduate students and postdocs? I offer seminars and workshops on these topics and more in a variety of formats, and I’m now booking for the 2023-2024 academic year. If you would like to bring my content to your institution, would you please recommend me as a speaker or facilitator to your university, graduate school, graduate student association, or postdoc office? My seminars are usually slated as professional development or personal wellness. Ask the potential host to go to PFforPhDs.com/speaking/ or simply email me at emily@PFforPhDs.com to start the process. I really appreciate these recommendations, which are the best way for me to start a conversation with a potential host. The paid work I do with universities and institutions enables me to keep producing this podcast and all my other free resources. Thank you in advance if you decide to issue a recommendation! Now back to our interview.
Family Roles and Responsibilities During Graduate School
Emily (26:17): Now, we already got a hint of this earlier in the email when you were talking about not wanting to rely on someone else financially. So I wanna ask about in your household during this period, how were the roles working between you and your husband? Did you have defined areas of responsibility? Was that something you were constantly negotiating? I’m sure it changed with time, but can you tell us about that process?
Ilana H (26:39): Yeah, absolutely. When I started graduate school at the time my husband had a very long commute to his job. This is in the day when people actually commuted to work. And so I was in charge both of childcare pick up and drop off. But also because I was, you know, in grad school and I had the more flexible schedule it was assumed and we never had like an outright conversation about it, but it was assumed that I was gonna be the one to take the time off. And so when my kid first started daycare, she was sick all the time. She had ear infections, she had flus, she had colds, all the stuff. And I also, at the time, Stanford operates on a quarter schedule, which I had never been on a quarter schedule. And it’s very different than a semester schedule because things move very fast. And so you can never say to yourself on a quarter schedule like, oh, I’ll get to that later. Or like, I missed that concept, I’ll get to it later because there is no later, it’s only 10 weeks. And so I just remember my first quarter it was really hard. I took this very difficult economics class or it was difficult for me ’cause I was trying to learn things that the other undergrad students in the class it was very intuitive to them, like integrals and derivatives. And my kid was constantly sick. And so even missing like two or three or four classes, which is what ended up happening set me back a lot. And so I really struggled with how to like navigate both, like the idea that the grad student is the more flexible one means that we are always having to, to take that on. And also as the mother, there’s so much of the like kind of invisible childcare responsibility. So for example I was the one that managed all the clothes. Like I knew when they would outgrow the clothes and where the next size was. And sort of keeping all of that organized. I did all the co-oping at the, at the school. I was the one that had to do all the paperwork for the school and do take with them to all the doctor’s appointments and hired, you know, anyone that we, you know, brought in outside of childcare hours. So sort of navigating all that kind of what was I think called the invisible responsibility of childcare fell on me. And that was really hard. Another thing that was especially hard is when I was on the job market when I went on the, I went on the job market three times and I was very unsuccessful up until I finally got this job at Tulane. But at one point I had been offered a job at or at least a postdoc at Brandeis. And at the time my husband, this was pre Covid and my husband said like, you want us to move to Boston for two years for you to make $50,000? Like that doesn’t make any sense. You know, it’s not a permanent job and it would mean that I would have to give up my job, which, you know, in terms of our household hold finances would make no sense. But for me it was hard to sort of navi like feel like, oh, when am I ever gonna get my turn? If it’s always about money I’m never gonna get to have a turn. And so when I finally got a job offer at Tulane, I said to my husband and he didn’t wanna move to New Orleans, I said, you know, if, if you, if we don’t move for this job, like I’m gonna be very resentful. Um and then Covid hit and he was able to take his job remotely with him, but he had even agreed to move to New Orleans before that happened. So and now actually he works from home. And when my kids are sick, he’s the one that now stays home with them and I go and teach and we have a much more even sort of distribution of childcare and it’s, it’s great. But because the grad school time is when you, you know, you’re more flexible, I think that compounded by the gender dynamics of childcare responsibility made it hard for me.
Emily (30:24): Absolutely. You were, it was a double whammy on you. Right? And you mentioned earlier about some of your peers and housing having like a stay-at-home spouse. Now I imagine, were there any women who were graduate students among that who had the stay-at-home husband? Or did you only see the opposite model?
Ilana H (30:40): I think I only saw the opposite model.
Emily (30:45): And isn’t that telling right?
Ilana H (30:47): It is telling.
Gender and Income Dynamics with a Working Partner
Emily (30:48): Yes. absolutely. So you had this, these two seemingly really good reasons right, why you should be the one to be handling the childcare and as you said later on, the roles changed and, and things shifted. But is there any like advice that you would give to your past self or someone else who’s in a similar gendered plus income differential, like kind of situation that would’ve helped you I don’t know, get to graduation faster, feel more balanced, whatever would’ve been a greater degree of success for you at that time?
Ilana H (31:18): This one is kind of maybe sort of silly, but you know, when I was on the job market maybe the second time and I was applying pretty widely, my husband and I would have these like extensive conversations before I applied anywhere. Like could we imagine living there and we would, you know, get into this whole thing. Like I’d apply to a job at Notre Dame and he’d be like, do you really wanna live in South Bend, Indiana? No offense to anybody listening from South Bend, Indiana, but he’s like . That wasn’t his first choice of places to move. But we would have these extensive conversations and in retrospect like that was a waste of time and, and a waste of emotional energy because none of those jobs panned out. So I don’t know why we bothered like sort of investing so much of our conversation time and emotional energy even having those conversations. Um and when I did apply to the job at Tulane, he was like, I, I had sort of given up by then about asking him where I should apply or not apply. That was my third time on the market and I was like, I’m just gonna apply wherever ’cause none of it’s gonna work out anyways. And when I applied he, he just kind of remarked like, oh by the way, like I have no interest in living in New Orleans. And I was like, oh well I won’t get the job anyways. And I did and it worked out. But I just, I wish I hadn’t spent so much emotional energy sort of thinking about whether we could actually move somewhere.
Emily (32:34): I would imagine compounded with this situation is the fact that you were living in the Bay Area and I’m imagining the type of job that your husband has, it’s very difficult to leave that area of the country and the job opportunities that it affords unless you’re really looking to get out, you know, and then you can, you know, leverage your experience and your high salary and all that when you go somewhere else. But if you’re not already desiring that, I can see that that area has a pull. I’m never gonna make as much money elsewhere, by the way. You don’t need as much, but I’m never gonna make as much money elsewhere as I do here. So I I imagine that plays into it as well.
Ilana H (33:04): It does. And also my husband has a job that he is really passionate about. He works in clean energy and I you know, he’s super, he was super supportive of me going to graduate school. I’m very supportive of his career. But it made it hard to look outside of the Bay area ’cause there’s not a lot of clean tech jobs elsewhere. And there was a point at which I was you know, interviewing for a job at a highly teaching focused university. I did not really want to be in a, in a teaching intensive university, but it was in the Bay Area. I didn’t end up getting the job, but that would’ve been probably a sacrifice I would’ve had to make for us to stay in the Bay Area so that we could at least kind of have you know have both of us be happy. But then, you know, because of the pandemic, his job did become remote and it enabled us to move to New Orleans and for him to be able to stay working for his Bay Area company,
Emily (33:54): That is one of the, so to speak, positive things that’s come out of our pandemic experiences. Like you mentioned the remote work possibility. I mean, child sick days are not easy, but it’s certainly much less of a strain if you didn’t have to leave the house in the first place for your job. And you don’t have to scramble for the backup childcare or sacrifice your whole day of going to classes like you had to do to stay home with the sick kids. So in, in that respect and the working remotely, you can work for a company here and live over here, which is something that my husband does. That’s all been very interesting and, and in some ways positive, but we’re still kind of working it out, right, as a society . Yeah. Is there anything else that you would like to say about that dynamic between you and your husband or anything that you would, you know, offer to other people by the way of advice or things to think about?
Ilana H (34:38): Yeah, I would say that no one really talks about the gender dynamics and sort of being the doctoral student and being a mother and all of that. Like, I just think I wasn’t psychologically prepared. It wasn’t a conversation that people were having, you know, people were talking about like where we don’t have lactation rooms and you know, sort of more the logistical challenges. But I was, I think navigating the sort of role dynamic challenge and didn’t have a lot of people I think who were part of that conversation. And I just wanna normalize that experience more for people.
Emily (35:19): Have you read Fair Play by Eve Rodsky?
Ilana H (35:23): I have not.
Emily (35:24): This is a suggestion for you slash anyone who has I would say a lot of work to be done in your household and maybe, maybe there’s children involved, maybe there’s not, but is feeling like my partner, I’m doing so much more, they’re not pulling their weight. And something that the book helped me realize was just the degree of work that is going on in my house and actually, wow, my husband is doing a lot and we both feel like we’re doing more than the other person just ’cause there’s so much to do and we don’t always see the labor that the other person is putting in. And so what that book does, and there’s like a sort of a game associated with like a card, like a, the cards have like responsibilities and you say, okay, this is your card, this is gonna be your responsibility, but I’m gonna take this card, it’s gonna be my responsibility. And so it’s a way of really putting that work of the household out in the open and making it much more explicit and splitting it in a way that makes sense for people’s time availability and interest and talents and all that sort of thing. So it’s, it’s a way of negotiating and maybe maybe taking the the edge out of that conversation by using this this game or this like set of tactics. So something to put out there as well. Now you mentioned earlier, for instance, your husband had a long commute and that is a day killer. Absolutely. So like really the availability, his availability was a legitimate barrier in that situation, you know, so we have to acknowledge that as well.
Ilana H (36:42): Yeah, absolutely. And he wanted to be, you know, really helpful. So part of it was like my own issue that I didn’t sort of maybe advocate for myself, but part of it was that, you know, yeah, he wasn’t, he wasn’t there and he was so, so, so incredibly encouraging and supportive of me going to grad school. I didn’t even wanna go at first. I didn’t think I’d be able to sort of do do it well. So I definitely don’t wanna paint a picture of him not being a supportive husband. He, he absolutely was. And now everything in our house is like, feels fantastic. But you know, it also took a little bit of couples counseling to figure out that dynamic, which is something I encourage people to consider.
Emily (37:21): And your kids are a little older than mine, but I’ve noticed it has gotten a bit easier as they’ve gotten out of the baby and toddler stage the workload.
Ilana H (37:28): Absolutely.
Emily (37:29): You know, once they can do some things for themselves, wow, okay, that’s your responsibility now getting dressed or whatever it is. So the workload comes down a little bit in that respect, although as I understand the emotional workload increases as the children get older. And I just wanna say like, I’m so glad that you were willing to have this, this aspect of the conversation with me. It is a very difficult thing to talk about. And it is a financial issue really because these kinds of thoughts and the gender dynamics and everything that we’re talking about plays into women’s careers and how much financial success they’re able to have, how much they’re able to bring to their household. You know, if you’re constantly the one who’s on for childcare, then are you really going to be viewed well by your boss and be up for that next promotion and so forth. So like these are real sacrifices that can have effect on the household finances as well as the individual finances. So it’s important to talk about it.
Ilana H (38:15): Yeah, absolutely.
The Benefits of Having Children During Graduate School
Emily (38:17): Okay, awesome. So one thing that you told me in our prep for this interview is that you were really glad that you had your children prior to and during graduate school instead of waiting until you had your faculty position. So I want you to make the case for why people who are emotionally and otherwise ready for children should just go ahead and do it while they’re in graduate school.
Ilana H (38:34): I think think there’s never gonna be a time where you have as much autonomy and agency as you do during graduate school. Like people in graduate school think they’re so busy. faculty life is, is much harder. Because now I not only have to teach at set hours, I also have to hold, you know, office hours. I have to go to faculty meetings. I have like real responsibilities that would make it so much harder if I had to worry about you know, my kid being sick or just like generally being tired. Because when you’re a grad student, like if you’re tired and you need to take a day off or a couple hours off, no one cares. But now people are gonna notice, or at least I would feel really self-conscious about it. And also you know, the, the sort of feeling of the tenure o clock is real now and it wasn’t real. Like if I needed to stay in grad school an extra year I could. And the, the sort of pressures that I feel now are much more significant. And so I think doing it during the freedom of graduate school if you can manage it financially is the way to go. Well,
Emily (39:47): I wanna probe on that point just one second further, if you can manage it financially. Now you had your husband’s income, so that’s great. And you have your, a generous stipend from Stanford. Do you think it would’ve been easier to do this as a faculty member with your faculty salary versus the grad student salary? What kind of difference would that have made?
Ilana H (40:05): No I mean I, my faculty salary is, faculty salary is, you know, it’s a little higher, but I live in New Orleans and salaries here aren’t that high. And so I don’t actually think it would’ve made a big difference. I, I mean also realistically, I couldn’t have waited. I was already 30 when I started graduate school. And I didn’t start my faculty job until I was in my very late thirties, so I needed to have kids then. But I think the, I think I would’ve preferred to just take out loans and still do it during graduate school as opposed to doing it as a faculty member.
Emily (40:46): Yeah, it’s interesting because you have to think about, especially like you said, when you’re starting graduate school at an older age, if your vision for your life is I wanna be a faculty member and I wanna have children and all this has to come together somehow, then really what you’re doing when you take out student loans is you’re betting on yourself and you’re, you’re borrowing from your future self to pay for your current life. And if you’re confident in the track that you’re on and that you’re gonna make enough income to be able to justify those loans and pay them back, then I do think that makes sense. And plenty of people do take out childcare to take out student loans, pay for childcare, for example. It’s a very reasonable thing to do when what you’re doing is investing in your career and your future earning potential.
Ilana H (41:21): Yeah, and I wanna just be clear that it doesn’t mean that you think you’re gonna make it into a faculty position. It means you’re betting on yourself having a job. And I knew that with a PhD I would get a job and that it would be a decent paying job. I did not expect to necessarily become a faculty member. As we’ll talk about a year from now the odds of getting a faculty position are incredibly low, like in the single digits. And so you have to be confident that you will get a job which you know, requires a, a whole sort of different kind of mindset but not necessarily a faculty job. And maybe you could get a job that pays much more than a faculty job because this job doesn’t pay all that much.
Emily (42:04): Yeah, absolutely. And I do think as you get higher up in the, you know, people with this degree level, you know, high school, college, graduate school, the people who have the highest degrees like doctorates have the lowest unemployment rates. So it’s pretty likely you’re gonna have some kind of job, probably a pretty decent paying job, even if it’s not the faculty member one, like you said, the consolation might be you make more outside of academia.
Best Financial Advice for Another Early-Career PhD
Emily (42:23): So Ilana, this has been such a wonderful conversation. I’ve really enjoyed talking with you and I’m looking forward to having you back once your book comes out. I wanna leave us with the last question I ask of all my guests, which is, what is your best financial advice for another early career PhD? And that could be something that we’ve touched on already in the interview or it could be something completely new.
Ilana H (42:40): So because this is a podcast specifically talking about childcare and directed at parents, my advice is gonna be particularly about that topic and that is to think really creatively and outside the box about how you can garner resources in your community, in your social network to help you sort of accomplish things. And it’s not necessarily like a specific amount of money, but that, you know, if you have a talent, like maybe you can tutor somebody in statistics and in exchange they can watch your kids for a couple of hours, but think creatively about the sort of non-financial resources in your community and how those can be exchanged to create, to create help for everybody.
Emily (43:24): And something I’ve noticed when I’ve started doing this actually in recent years with my neighbors, my immediate neighbors also have young families like I do, is that the exchange of resources also creates and reinforces the community. So like, it feels good to help someone else and it feels good to be helped by someone else so you can actually get, you know, stronger relationships out of this exchange as well.
Ilana H (43:43): Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right and I think it contributed to our feeling like we have a really strong community during graduate school and that people are really counting on each other. We again like live in this very individualistic society where we don’t want to ask other people for help. We wanna think that we can do it on our own and we just need to get out of that mindset.
Emily (44:03): Absolutely. Ilana, thank you again so much for volunteering to be on the podcast and I can’t wait to talk with you again in less than a year.
Ilana H (44:09): Thanks Emily.
Emily (44:16): Listeners, thank you for joining me for this episode! I have a gift for you! You know that final question I ask of all my guests regarding their best financial advice? My team has collected short summaries of all the answers ever given on the podcast into a document that is updated with each new episode release. You can gain access to it by registering for my mailing list at PFforPhDs.com/advice/. Would you like to access transcripts or videos of each episode? I link the show notes for each episode from PFforPhDs.com/podcast/. See you in the next episode, and remember: You don’t have to have a PhD to succeed with personal finance… but it helps! Nothing you hear on this podcast should be taken as financial, tax, or legal advice for any individual. The music is “Stages of Awakening” by Podington Bear from the Free Music Archive and is shared under CC by NC. Podcast editing by Dr. Lourdes Bobbio and show notes creation by Dr. Jill Hoffman.