With her due date approaching, Kimberlee Kinney, a doctoral student and graduate research assistant from Chattanooga, Tennessee, studying community nutrition in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise, knew she would need to take time off for childbirth and time with her twins.

Her husband, Jeff Kinney, an assistant men’s soccer coach at Virginia Tech, would be able to take paternity leave, and she wanted to know if the university had such a program for students. She also did not want to leave her advisor, Professor Elena Serrano, in the lurch while away with the babies.

“I thought, if he has paternity leave, surely there has to be something,” she said on a recent afternoon, cradling her son Finnley while Jeff Kinney rocked Bennett, who slowly drifted off to sleep.

Kim Kinney found what she was looking for in the the Graduate School’s work-life grant program, which was established by Vice President and Dean for Graduate Education Karen P. DePauw in 2003. DePauw said the program grew out of a desire to help graduate students balance the demands of their work as graduate assistants, graduate teaching assistants, or graduate research assistants, and their study and personal lives.

"One of our goals at the Graduate School is to help students develop and maintain harmony between their work and home and family life," said DePauw. "We want them to thrive, not just survive, during their graduate education experience."

Kinney gave birth in May 2016. The grant program was a godsend.

“It made me feel better. I would have had to take time off and take money from Elena’s project funding,” she said. “And as a first-time parent, there are so many stresses. This was a lifesaver.”

Ph.D. student Kim Kinney and her husband, Jeff, and their twins
Ph.D. student Kim Kinney and her husband, Jeff, with sons Finnley and Bennett at home.

The Graduate School works in collaboration with college deans and the provost to provide up to six weeks of temporary financial assistance to departments to enable them to continue support for graduate students during pregnancy and childbirth, or adoption. The grant is available to both male and female students so they can take parenting leave.

As Finnley and Bennett dozed, Kinney said Ph.D. students may spend four to six years at the university pursuing their degrees and research. But they may find themselves weighing whether or not to start families, especially if they are on an assistantship.

“It’s nice to know something is out there,” she said.

DePauw said the program recently has expanded to include major life events for which a student may have to take several weeks of leave.

Students can ask their advisors or department chairs about the program. Departments, in turn, can request financial assistance equivalent to six weeks of an assistantship. The Graduate School provides half of the stipend and the college provides the other half. Once the Graduate School receives a request, it acts immediately, said Graduate School Finance Director Will Walton.

For more information about the work-life grant, visit the webpage on the Graduate School website.

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