The School of Graduate Studies (SGS) at the University of Toronto has established a Parental Grant program in an effort to assist doctoral students with new families.
The SGS Parental Grant program will offer financial support to research-stream doctoral students in the funded cohort by helping offset the interruption of funding as a result of taking an approved parental leave of absence.
For graduate students like Malinda Hapuarachchi, a third-year PhD student in exercise science, the new Parental Grant means being able to eliminate some of the guilt that might prevent students from taking time off within the first year of their child’s birth or adoption. Hapuarachchi recently returned to her studies after taking parental leave.
“I think it’s a wonderful initiative for grad students,” said Hapuarachchi. “It can be hard to make the decision to take that time to be with your family. This might help support the opportunity to do so without the additional financial worry.”
Created in consultation with graduate students, units, and faculty, the SGS Parental Grant offers up to $4,000 for primary caregivers of a newborn or newly adopted child during an approved leave of at least one academic session (four months). Birth mothers may be eligible for a second grant of up to $4,000 if the parental leave is at least two sessions (eight months) or more in duration.
“We understand that many of our graduate students are making important decisions about starting or expanding a family while they are completing their program,” said Professor Locke Rowe, dean of SGS and vice-provost of graduate research and education. “We hope this grant will help provide them with options.”
Elizabeth de Guzman, who is now in her sixth year working on a PhD in medical biophysics, received six months of funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) when she took her parental leave. Knowing the value of this financial support during this time, she was able to provide feedback during consultations for the Parental Grant held by Dean Rowe.
The meetings were open forums with graduate students who had taken parental leave, seeking to find better ways to support them.
“We wanted to really understand the experiences of our graduate students taking parental leave,” said Rowe. “It’s important that students helped shape the framework for this grant.”
Hapuarachchi said she appreciated the opportunity to share her thoughts.
“It was a very open and comfortable conversation,” she said. “I wanted to share what it would mean for graduate students to get financial assistance during parental leave and how it could change their experience for the better.”
Both Hapuarachchi and de Guzman said they were also grateful for the support they received from their faculty supervisors before going on parental leave.
“My supervisor was really supportive through helping me navigate the time off and connecting me with the right people at U of T to make the necessary arrangements,” said de Guzman.
De Guzman also took advantage of the resources available on campus, including a six-week seminar series on pregnancy and early child care. She learned about the series in U of T’s Student Family Housing, where she currently resides.
“It was really wonderful because it was free of charge and gave me helpful information like what to feed your baby and what to expect in the first few months.”
Graduate students can initiate an application from the SGS Parental Grants webpage starting this summer for leaves to be taken beginning in the 2017-18 academic year. De Guzman hopes it will help keep students on course to completing their degrees.
“It’s so easy to get delayed in your PhD,” said de Guzman. “I hope this grant will keep people on the track to finishing their studies.”