From Rockets to Rocking Chairs

Sitting in a rocking chair holding a baby wasn’t how I expected to kick off graduate school
Sept 2020
Anonymous
.
Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology

Lots of things have changed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Classes have moved online, schedules have shifted for fall breaks and holidays, and in general, everyone’s life has been altered. Personally, I had planned on moving to Cambridge in August to start pursuing my Ph.D. in MIT and Harvard’s Health Sciences and Technology (HST) Medical Engineering Medical Physics (MEMP) program, to study bioastronautics. I’ve spent the last four years sharing a dorm room with multiple roommates and no such thing as privacy. Coming to grad school, I had visions of living alone in a studio apartment, having my own space to do what I wanted with, and my own kitchen to cook what I wanted in. Most importantly, I wanted somewhere totally quiet to study. These dreams came to a grinding halt as updates went out on changes to the fall semester at MIT.

For myriad reasons, I chose to utilize the online option for classes in the fall and live at home instead of moving to Cambridge. Although it wasn’t at all how I had expected to start graduate school, I was excited for more time with my family. I had lived several states away from home for the last few years, so I was looking forward to family dinners and playing card games at night again.

One thing I hadn’t counted on, though, was raising an infant. My family is a foster family for infants, and we currently are taking care of a six-month-old little boy. He had grown quite attached to me over the summer and is now almost always by my side, including in HST introduction and orientation meetings. My parents have been trying to take care of him in another room during meetings so that my classmates won’t hear crying in the background. But given his attachment, we decided to put an ExerSaucer and a collection of toys in front of my desk, so the baby has a place to play that’s out of sight of my camera for Zoom meetings.

Initially, I had worried about my dream of a quiet place to study being so drastically changed. What would I do if the baby cried during class or while I was working on an assignment? Would his happy giggles or tired cries interrupt lab meetings? Over the summer, though, this worry changed. Now, the main difficulty is letting myself take care of him less often, which I hadn’t anticipated. My parents have kept reminding me that he is their responsibility, and while I know my parents are fully capable of taking good care of him, I’ve become used to our schedule and working around when he might need me.

This is so far from what I expected out of graduate school. I may not have a place to myself or my own kitchen to cook in, but after four years away, I have the ability to play card games after dinner with my family. And what better way to sort through the stress of graduate school than by playing with a baby? Instead of studying alone in a quiet studio, I’m learning satellite engineering while holding a baby, and thinking about neuroscience while rocking him to sleep. While this isn’t what I expected when I applied to the MEMP program, I can’t help feeling grateful for this time with my family, including the newest member.