We recognize that the decision to begin a family often coincides with the years during which students are engaged full-time in graduate school. By establishing general principles and minimum modifications for students who become parents during their graduate studies, this policy addresses the conflicts and issues that may arise as two important milestones—an advanced degree and parenthood—come into play simultaneously.
In addition to the academic options outlined below, the University supports a range of student parent initiatives, including the Family Resource Center, which hosts a drop-in play space and a wide variety of classes and publishes the UChicago Student Parent Resource Guide. The University of Chicago also offers need-based, annual child care stipends to eligible PhD student applicants. Students are reminded that in accordance with Illinois state law, mothers may breastfeed in any location, public or private, where they are otherwise authorized to be. The University maintains a list of spaces convenient for nursing mothers.
The graduate student parent policy includes three academic support options described below. As students plan for the birth or arrival of a child, they are encouraged to consider all three options with their area Dean of Students or their designee and in conversation with their advisors and program chairs or director of graduate studies, as appropriate, to discuss the student's path and timeline to graduation.
During parental relief academic modification, in which a normally full-time student will maintain their full-time status, students will continue to enjoy the University benefits associated with full-time student status, including access to University housing and UChicago Student Wellness, and, if they would otherwise be eligible, funding and health insurance premium coverage. Students will remain eligible for Title IV federal aid, including Federal Stafford or GradPLUS Loans, and there should be no impact on international students’ visa status.
Pregnant students, for whom it is medically necessary, may request academic modification for up to the equivalent of one quarter. In addition to taking academic modification during pregnancy, students may also choose academic modification for up to the equivalent of one quarter to care for a new child.
For students who matriculated prior to summer 2016, a quarter of academic modification does not extend a master's or professional student's eligibility for full-time status beyond the maximum allowed period of enrollment for their program nor a doctoral student's eligibility for full-time student status beyond the total of twelve calendar years from entry in the Ph.D. program (or ten years for students in the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice). For students who matriculated prior to summer 2016, a quarter of academic modification does not stop the clock on departmental, program, and University academic milestones and requirements. (For milestone extensions, see the last section of this policy.) Funding and health insurance premium support received during a quarter of academic modification count toward the total fellowship award for a student and do not extend the total number of quarters of support beyond a student’s original fellowship agreement.
The details of particular student's academic modifications will vary and should be arranged in consultation with an area Dean of Students' office and the student's graduate program. Some examples of academic modification are described below.
Students who are in the early stages of their programs may continue to take classes with academic modification that includes adjustments to course load and deadlines for course assignments, papers, examinations, and other course requirements. In consultation with their area Dean of Students' office, students in the early stages of their programs may also be permitted not to take classes during their quarter of parental relief and instead embark on an individualized study plan that will allow them to continue progress toward their degree. If students enroll in classes or seminars during their period of academic modification, class and seminar attendance and participation are expected to the extent permitted by the health of the parent and child.
Students with teaching duties are urged to initiate conversations with their department or program chairs and the area Dean of Students well in advance to arrange for appropriate teaching modifications or to teach in a quarter other than that of the birth or care of the new child.
Students whose research requires extensive travel incompatible with pregnancy and parenting duties are urged to initiate conversations with their research supervisor and the area Deans of Students' office well in advance to arrange for appropriate planning.
Students whose research involves exposure to hazardous materials or procedures (e.g., chemical or ionizing radiation exposure) are urged to initiate conversations with their program chairs, lab supervisors, and the area Dean of Students' office well in advance to adjust laboratory and research schedules. Pregnant and nursing students may be eligible for extensions of academic modification and alternate funding support. Advisors, area Deans of Students, and students should work together to provide a safe research environment.
Students in programs where support is primarily from sources external to the University must follow the rules specified by the granting agencies for absences and leaves. Early conversations with programs and area Deans of Students' offices are especially important so the University can coordinate as appropriate with granting institutions regarding certain research grant conditions.
In lieu of taking Parental Relief Academic Modification quarter(s) described above, pregnant graduate students in degree-granting programs of study may choose to take a one-quarter leave of absence if medically necessary. In addition to a leave of absence taken during pregnancy, students who become parents during their graduate studies may choose to take another one-quarter leave of absence to care for a new child. Students who are supported by fellowships external to the University must follow the rules specified by the granting agency for absences and leaves.
Students who take a Parental Relief Leave of Absence may choose to continue to enjoy the University benefits associated with full-time student status, including access to University housing and UChicago Student Wellness, and if they would otherwise be eligible for them, funding and health insurance premium coverage. Students who accept UChicago funding and health insurance premium support during a Parental Relief Leave of Absence are expected to devote themselves to the purpose of the leave, parenting, and as such may not undertake full-time employment or study elsewhere. Before deciding to request a leave of absence, students are encouraged to consult with their financial aid office because eligibility for Title IV federal aid, including Federal Stafford and GradPLUS loans may be affected. Taking a leave may also have implications for a student’s immigration status, and international students considering a leave should work with their area Dean of Students and with the Office of International Affairs to explore options and to make arrangements so that the leave can be as minimally disruptive as possible.
As with the quarters of academic modification, for students who matriculated prior to summer 2016, a Parental Relief Leave of Absence does not extend a doctoral student's eligibility for full-time student status beyond the total of twelve calendar years from entry in the Ph.D. program (or ten years for students in the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice). The leave of absence does, however, stop the clock on departmental, program, and University academic milestones and requirements for master’s, professional, and doctoral students; the clock resumes when the student returns to full-time status. Funding and health insurance premium support received during a leave of absence count toward the total fellowship award for a student and do not extend the total number of quarters of support beyond a student’s original fellowship agreement.
Whether or not students receive academic modification or take a Parental Relief Leave of Absence, students in degree-granting graduate programs may request a one-quarter extension for department, program, and university milestones and requirements due to pregnancy or the demands of parenting a new child. For example, if a doctoral student’s program requires petition to candidacy by the end of the fourth year, the student parent may request one additional quarter to prepare for the petition to candidacy.
As with academic modification and leave of absence, for students who matriculated prior to summer 2016, milestone extensions do not extend a student's eligibility for full-time status beyond the maximum number of years they are permitted to enroll. Program enrollment time limits vary, and students should consult with their deans of students to understand their individual situtation.
Faculty must be realistic about the rate of progress of students experiencing pregnancy and childbirth or taking care of a new child. Together, students and their advisors should arrange a timeline for meeting requirements and make appropriate accommodations for particular circumstances. The success of this graduate student parent policy depends upon full, open, and timely communication and cooperation among the student, the advisor, program chair, and the area Dean of Students' office.
The ultimate goal of this policy is to allow students the chance to adjust to the extra demands of pregnancy and parenting, while maintaining academic progress. Note that pregnant students choosing academic modification or leave of absence will need to provide verification from a medical provider regarding the need for the modification or leave.