Motherhood and a Masters degree, can you have both?

Absolutely, but it takes a lot of determination and hard work. Before the news of Matthew McConaughey becoming the newest professor at my alma mater UT Austin make you want to go back to school, perhaps hearing my experience of getting a Masters while raising kids can help you make a more informed decision! (For those without kids who are reading this, you will learn what it’s like to pursue higher education with children!)

I graduated from Rice University last May with my Masters in Teaching. I started the last semester before graduation by writing thesis in bed postpartum with my sweet newborn, dealing with painful mastitis while my preschooler and toddler banged on the bedroom door incessantly calling for mommy, oh and it was snowing in Houston for the first time in 10 years, bringing with it an awful flu season. It was the most chaotic time in my life, but I survived, and came out stronger and wiser because of it (thank you Kelly Clarkson for the song).

I can tell you how to teach using the 5E method, how to create student-centered and project-based instruction in my sleep. I learned in depth about different types of learning abilities, styles and accommodations to better help each student reach their potential. I dived into adolescent psychology and school politics, and wrote a 77 pages long thesis on The Stereotype of Model Minority and how it affects Asian American High School Students – spoiler alert, Asian kids are NOT born math whizzes or piano geniuses, that’s simply ridiculous!

It took a lot of work getting to this day wearing my cap and gown, a lot. But I’m glad I can now say I’m done with formal schooling forever, and hopefully I can use what I learned to help raise good kids, and to help other moms who are interested but unsure of the prospect of pursuing higher education while raising kids.

Why did I want a Masters Degree?

  1. I wanted the sense of accomplishment that came with reaching a goal I had always wanted to for myself.
  2. I felt having a Masters degree would give me much more respect and credibility when I look for jobs in the future, in fields of teaching and non-teaching alike. Having a higher degree usually shows a person’s character and dedication.
  3. With a Bachelor’s degree, I’d always be confined to teaching in high school or younger. With a Master’s I could potentially be a lecturer in college and have more flexible working hours.
  4. I wanted to learn more about what I was already passionate about and have experience with.
  5. It would please my Asian parents greatly – oh bragging rights in front of their friends whose kids all went to Harvard. It was an honest reason for going back to school, but was less important than the other reasons hence in last place.

How was my experience?

Where do I start?

I had my 1st baby in my mid-20s. Since I had a choice, I quit my teaching job and stayed home with her. While there was a big learning curve in becoming a new mom, having one kid really wasn’t that bad (oh gosh I’m probably offending someone greatly by saying this, but what I’m sharing is strictly MY personal experience and opinion. Also, when you have multiple kids and are thinking back to life with one, it really was comparably easier). She was an easy baby, and slept a LOT. So for the first time in my life, I felt I had quite a bit more free time, especially because I had my mother-in-law helping with the baby too. I had always wanted to get my Masters, and this seemed to be the perfect window to get it! I studied up on the GRE test, filled out applications, went through interviews, and thank God was accepted into my dream schools. I remember saying a lot of big GRE words like “laconic” and “esoteric” to my baby who wasn’t even mobile at the time, which was pretty funny. Sadly she doesn’t remember anything I said.

Before I forget, this is important…In order to go back to school with a child, YOU NEED A LOT OF SUPPORT FROM FAMILY! I had to have my husband completely on board before diving in. I also had to recruit help from my mom and mother-in-law to make sure they could babysit when I was gone.

I soon found out I was pregnant for the 2nd time in my 1st semester at Rice. The feeling of nausea while sitting in Dr. Radigan’s Inquiry-based learning class still feels vivid to date. I ate a lot of Saltines crackers and ginger candies in class…We sort of kind of planned for this baby, so we were happy and felt ok proceeding with school. I would study and get my work done after the baby slept, and tried to get more classes out of the way before the baby came.

After Ava came into our lives, I decided to only take 1 class at a time, including summer semester, so I could still devote my full attention to my kids, and finish all required classes by year 3. Motherhood became significantly more challenging with 2 kids, so 1 class at a time really was all I could and wanted to do. It balanced out my baby talks at home with sophisticated adult discussions at school, and I enjoyed that.

By the time I was almost done with the program and only had Research/Thesis left, I found out I was pregnant for the 3rd time, and this was a HUGE surprise for us. It didn’t help that I had some unfortunate friendship drama at this time, and I was depressed through almost the entire pregnancy. Thank God everything was ok in the end, and I had the affirmation I needed from all my friends, and differences were reconciled, but that didn’t come until after graduation, but I’m going off on a tangent now… So I was interviewing students and staff at school for my research data with a huge belly and attracted a lot of stares. But everyone was super nice and helpful to provide me with the data and information needed to get a solid research project completed. In order to get it all done, my amazing professor and mentor Dr. McNeil switched some orders in the research method around, so I didn’t have to go out into the field after I delivered the baby. I just needed to put everything together, read lots of research journals and write, which could all be done while “resting” in bed.

I chose classes at night when possible, and two of the classes offered were mostly online, which I took full advantage of. For the evening classes, I would feed or pump right before leaving, attend class for 3 hours, drive back and wake to feed the baby again. For the two online classes, there were plenty of Skype-like classes, and I had to ask family to babysit while I locked myself in the study.

How long did it take me to finish grad school?

Pregnancy announcement at Rice University Lovett Hall

Um, this was the slightly embarrassing part. The Rice MAT program was 2 years, but it took me 4 years to finish. I had two new babies during those 4 years, and I didn’t want to overwhelm myself to get this degree by having packed schedules. If I got physcially sick or mentally depressed, or missed time with my babies, it would have been meaningless and defeated all of my purpose for going back. FAMILY always came first for me, and I was ok to graduate a bit late.

Advice for moms who might want to go back to school?

  1. You need a lot of dedication, good time management and hard work to get through it, but it’s totally doable. I probably watched 4 movies in total in those 4 years, and barely kept up with any pop culture. Family, school and church took precedence, and keeping up with the Kardashians just weren’t important by any means.
  2. You need to always prioritize kids over schooling! I made sure to spend a lot of time with my kids when they were awake, and used more evening times to get work done.
  3. You need to have support from family! Enough said. I couldn’t have done this without my husband and our parents’ support. I also put the older one in daycare part time to get school work done, and for her to get some social interactions without me taking her to Gymboree and the Children’s Museum constantly.

Overall, I felt it was totally worth my while, and if you can get some help and can find a program that allows for some flexibility, it’s totally doable!

1,153 Replies to “Motherhood and a Masters degree, can you have both?”

  1. We were just talking about this the other day, and you’ve answered all of my questions! I agree with all of the reasons you listed on why you want to pursue a master degree. Maybe one day I will have embark on that journey as well. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

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