Graduate School + Twins = The Ultimate Challenge

maximilianoI recently visited Montana State University (MSU) with my summer internship cohort. With all of the travel I do, I often cannot bring both or even just one of my twins. Since this trip was closer to home though, I snatched the opportunity to include one of my little creations, namely my daughter. Our relationship is a close one, not that I choose favorites, but when dad and son have a choice….well, let’s just say they weren’t complaining. Also, in terms of long car rides, girls (in my unprofessional opinion) are just more focused at a younger age. My girl is a good example of a thinker not a doer, talkative and very content to sit and read. Brother is yin to her yang—my son is constantly in motion, he often helps sissy pour water from a pitcher into her cup without spilling.

I digress. While on this trip, as we were touring labs, I got the chance to meet another twin parent! His name is Maximiliano, and he is a 32 year-old Chilean Ph.D. candidate in the Environmental Microbiology Department. His story is very inspirational to me because unlike myself, he had his twins (now 18 months-old) while in graduate school and still decided to reach for his Ph.D. I have heard stories that just a master’s is demanding, but after interviewing Max, I have more confidence that my own goals are very attainable.

Here are some of the questions that I asked him and his answers, which hit home for me:

  • What brought you specifically to Montana from Chile?

I came to Montana because of MSU and its research—the research of my advisor, Dr. Eric Boyd, in Yellowstone National Park. I used to work with microorganisms that live in extreme environments, such as hot springs, when I was in Chile and then I decided to do a Ph.D. but I wanted [to] do my graduate work in something related to extreme environments. MSU has a really strong program in environmental microbiology and an excellent group of scientists that work in Yellowstone’s hot springs. It has been an honor to learn from world leaders in microbiology such as Dr. Boyd.

  • How do you cope with the demands of grad school and time at home with the twins?

It was demanding sometimes at the end of my Ph.D. when I was working really hard to finish my experiments and preparing my dissertation. My wife was key helping me during these years, making everything easier for me. I also tried to be as efficient as possible in the lab so I could have time at home to play with my babies. Despite [feeling] really tired sometimes, I have to [say] that just being with my babies makes my life much happier and this helped me to continue working on my Ph.D.

Max’s wife, unable to work because of his visa status, stays home with the twins and has adjusted (somewhat reluctantly) to life away from Chile. But as a family, the long-term plan is to return to South America. To me, this feels eerily similar to my family’s experience living away from the Pacific Northwest, so I asked Max more about this and his plans to return home. Here’s his reply:

More than growing [up] away from the Chilean culture I am sadder because my kids will grow up without our family and friends back in Chile. We will teach them everything about Chile and will do our best to teach them the American culture as well. I am going to finish [graduate school] in five years, which was what I [expected] from the beginning. I am not going to lie, it was really hard at some points and I did not sleep really well. However, it worth it at the end. I am planning to do a postdoc here in the U.S. in order to improve my skills and also because I would love if my kids learn to speak English as a native speaker. I am not sure about the future, but I think that we will [return] back to Chile at some point.

It was a great trip, and toting my daughter around was a major contributor to that. I have found that no matter where my educational goals take me, I can bring my family along on the journey. That is the advice I would give people if they are scared of having a family and being in or returning to college, even for graduate school! Fearing the unknown just is not productive, and I must agree with Max: coming home to my twin babies makes me happier and is a constant reminder of who I am making a difference in the world for.

Celina Gray (Blackfeet and Little Shell Chippewa) is a student at Salish Kootenai College studying wildlife and fisheries.

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