Diapers and dissertations

Diapers and dissertations

PHHP student forms group to support graduate student moms

By Caitlin Hartley

Photo by Jesse J. Jones

Staying busy has never been a concern for Melody Schiaffino. As a third-year Ph.D. student in the College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of health services research, management and policy, her plate is constantly full. On top of that, she’s also a mom.

Schiaffino knows the struggle between being a good parent and being a good student, which is why she decided to create the organization Ph.D. Moms.

Ph.D. Moms is a program developed to support mothers working on their doctorates. Schiafinno formed the group to help other moms in situations like hers — striving to to find the perfect balance between raising her 5-year-old son, while staying up late to write her dissertation.

“I’m dedicated to both,” she said. I’m excited to do both, be a parent and be a student.”

Schiaffino chartered the goup last year, but Ph.D. Moms did not have its first meeting until September at Corry Village. Accustomed to the demands of being a parent, she started the meeting 15 minutes late to allow mothers time to pick up their children after work and find parking.

As the moms trickled in, some with babies on their hips or toddlers at their side, Schiaffino expressed her hope that all new members would work together to decide what they want to get out of these meetings.

“I want this to be something we all think will add value to our experience here at UF,” Schiaffino said. “I don’t want this to just be another meeting or another additional obligation that we all have because if we know anything about each other, it’s that we are all very busy. I mean I don’t think I know anyone who gets busier than this.”

Ph.D. Moms is open to all parents earning doctoral degrees, but the focus of the program will be on the needs of moms in graduate school. Schiaffino, who is a Ph.D. mom herself, didn’t want to pretend to be able to address the needs of every graduate student parent. She also believes student mothers are at the greatest risk of attrition.

Schiaffino’s goal is to provide support in all stages of the doctoral journey and to talk about balancing school and family. She adamantly expressed that nobody should have to deplete one to do the other.

“More than anything, I want to provide that social support that is vital as we go through this,” she said. “You’re going to have a group that understands what you’re going through. The support that we can give each other is probably going to be the most valuable.”

In the middle of the meeting, Schiaffino paused to check her iPhone, making sure her son had been safely picked up from kindergarten.

“This group is something to show that you can do both, and you’re not choosing one over the other. They are complementing each other,” she said. “That was the motivator that started all of this.”

Are you a Ph.D. mom?

Ph.D. Moms will hold its first general meeting at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 15. If you’re interested in joining or want more information, email Melody Schiaffino at mschiaff@ufl.edu.