PhDs & Kittens

I am a PhD student, I also run an animal rescue, Crazy Cat Lady Animal Rescue. Before the animal rescue was formally off the ground several folks in academia suggested I wait until after my PhD program to start this rescue. Well, if you have read any of my previous blogs I don’t have blanket rule for taking advice and clearly their advice was not heeded.
Fostering kittens and running an organization has taught me many things that you can’t get from a typical PhD program experience. Here are a few of those things:

1. How to care for something while accomplishing your goals

Many of us have had pets, but not in this capacity. The rescue has had kittens come in with their umbilical cords still attached, eyes closed, and ears folded down. These babies were no more than a few hours old. When kittens are that small they need their mother; they can’t feed themselves or keep themselves warm. They can’t even use the bathroom on their own so if you don’t want them to smell like gross little hamsters you have to bathe and blow dry them too. They require a lot of time and attention. Coordination is key in these situations – luckily for me and my fiance (who is also a graduate student) one of the rescue’s other board members is a vet tech so these little guys get to go to the vet clinic and be cared for by all of the employees there. We all come together and team feed them in the evenings when we have them because one tiny kitten is a huge time suck – 6 tiny kittens needing to be fed every 4 hours is a recipe for disaster.


2. Your work is not the most important thing in your life

I will never forget to leave the office to feed my animals or let them go to the bathroom. Why? Because I now have many living, breathing things that depend on me to care for them. I must be their guardian and advocate. If I haven’t finished what I needed to do by 5 or 6 PM (depending on what time the last one leaves the house) I leave and take my work with me and I’ll finish it after my critters are cared for.

3. The importance of communication

Communication is essential in any relationship – but when you have two graduate students in a relationship it become so much more important. We have to discuss our schedules and plans – who is coming home to let the dog out. Who has class at what time, who is going to a research symposium when and so it. This is probably the most exhausting part. Keeping up with each other’s schedules. We haven’t had a miscommunication over scheduling with our animals in the last 2 years ::knock on wood:: hopefully we can continue this habit of good communication when we have kids because honestly I know our work lives will slow down but kids will make up for it with all the stuff they’re doing.

4. When to panic and when to ride it out

Having an animal that is suddenly symptomatic is really scary, especially because they can’t tell you what hurts. It’s a challenge sometimes to know when to rush an animal to the emergency vet and when to just stick them in the bathroom with the shower running to help them drain their little heads. In cases of dealing with animals and academia knowing when to panic and when not to panic comes from experience. It’s helpful to have someone knowledgeable that you can ask for advice about what you should do.

5. The importance of taking breaks

Typically they’re forced on you by cats at your peak moments of productivity, sometimes they’re there to remind you of the power of the cat nap. Regardless, breaks are essential to let your brain reset and we should probably all be taking more of them. I take breaks from my PhD work to do rescue paper work or just pace around the house/office. It’s important to give your brain a break once in a while. Otherwise it’ll turn to mush.

6. Dealing with change

Life as a foster parent is never static. We’ve lost animals due to pneumonia and genetic disorders. We’ve had over 100 animals adopted through our rescue and go to great homes. When one animal leaves your care your house feels really empty for a little while until another animal comes and takes it’s place. It keeps you looking forward to the next event ready for whatever life is going to throw at you.

Fostering is awesome and although it takes a whole lot of time management, I’m learning a lot and gaining a lot more.

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1 Response to PhDs & Kittens

  1. Cody K says:

    This is a great post! It hit home as I read much of this through the lens of a grad student dad. Being a husband and dad while working my PhD can be so much more stressful than my master’s experience as a single man, but most of the time, the requirement to drop my work in lieu of family time make me more productive, more ambitious and forces me to relax at times.

    Such a good perspective. Thanks for sharing!

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