An NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center
By James Finlay | February 24, 2012

James FinlayI use my kids.

There. I said it. I use my kids every single day, and I am not ashamed of it. I hope you will understand why after reading this post.

Some people may argue that grad school is no place for a person who has kids. That may be true for some people, but I fundamentally disagree with that idea for myself. How about a little background on myself for perspective?

I got married the summer after my undergraduate sophomore year while attending Brigham Young University. After we both graduated, we moved to Michigan where I attended veterinary school at Michigan State University. While we struggled with my grueling curriculum, we had two kids (the first of whom arrived less than 12 hours after my last final exam one semester).

After graduation we moved to Southern California to start my combined veterinary residency and doctoral program at City of Hope’s Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences. Through all of this, my wife has been my biggest supporter while staying home to raise our two awesome kids.

So, getting back to using my kids, every graduate student needs a motivator. For some it may be the goal of landing a postdoctoral position with their scientific idol. Others may aspire to one day be the recipient of a Nobel Prize. It doesn’t matter what it is; every graduate student needs a motivator. (Take some time to find one if you don’t have one.)

My motivators happen to come in the form of a precocious 4-year-old girl and a mischievous 2-year-old boy. I use them as motivation constantly. They do a fantastic job of providing perspective for me. It is amazing how inconsequential a failed experiment seems when your excited son shows you the rock he found that day! That nagging feeling that you don’t know anything seems to vanish when your daughter waits all day for you to get home so she can ask you how many teeth a mouse has. I enjoy going home to my family every night, which forces me to work harder and smarter during each day in the lab. My kids serve as excellent motivators for me every single day.

Now, am I advocating that every graduate student run out and adopt or have a baby? Nope. The grad school + kids scenario doesn’t work for everyone. There are certainly times when I wish I could go home to a quiet house. I wish my wife and I could go out on a date without paying an arm and a leg for a babysitter. I always wish my kids would not leave their toys at my bedside for me to step on in the morning. However, the motivation that my family provides for me significantly outweighs the hindrances that come along with family life.

This motivation is how I “use” my kids.

I hope that makes a little more sense now.