I’ve redacted my name from this page temporarily…my name will be back here in 6 months or so.

I’m a middle-aged mom of four who stayed home (more or less) for the fifteen years following my college graduation.  Now that my children are older, I’ve returned to grad school to study environmental geochemistry. I study how microbes affect the chemistry of natural water systems.

Why was I an unlikely grad student? You can read about the hurdles I faced as an applicant on my very first blog post.

Why am I still an unlikely grad student? Because I have so many experiences that most grad students don’t–like writing a book, being a featured speaker at (unfortunately, non-scientific) conferences nationwide, running a small business, and homeschooling my children. I like to think that the latter, in particular, has shaped who I am–I’ve turned myself into a completely independent learner, and also helped me understand to a large extent how students learn.

Everyone on this blog has a pseudonym. The people you’ll hear most about are UnlikelyDad, my (now-ex) husband from 1990 to 2011; our boys Al (1992), Nate (1994), Lew (1997), and Will (2001). Another main character is SL, my research advisor before I came to MyU–not just a boss, but a real mentor. We still keep in touch. My current advisor is Dr. Hand-Waver, frequently shortened to Dr. HW.

The picture in the header was taken as I left port for my very first research cruise near the tail end of 2011. This was a highly symbolic journey for me: I’ve felt like this whole grad school journey is a bit like leaving a safe port and heading off into the wild blue yonder. The seas on our cruise were fairly rough, but I got a lot of work done and loved every minute of it. Just like the last few years of my life.


  1. Hey, there! Welcome to the blogosphere! And good luck with the grad school apps!

  2. I’m also a thirty-something mom (of three) enrolled in grad school. It’s not easy but I’m so happy that I’m doing it. Best of luck!

  3. Hello,

    I stumbled across your blog while going through gradcafe, and I must thank you for all the wonderful insights that you have given. I will be applying in biological chemistry in fall 2010, and I am a bundle of nerves right now, as I have been rejected before. Since, you have been in my shoes, you would do me a great favour if you could give me some tips as I do not want to fail again. Please let me know if I can communicate with you at length.

  4. Wow!

    I’m so excited to learn about your blog.

    I’m also a thirty-something mom of 4, and currently applying to grad school. I was wondering if it was okay to write it in my resume that I am a homeschooling mom. Will homeschooling fall under the “skills” section of my resume? Also, I am a freelance writer for online and printed mags and newsletters. Most of them do not pay. Only one mag pays me. Is that considered a work experience? I am also an independent distributor for a UK-based magazine. Do all these count? How can I include all these in my resume and make my resume stand-out as the most unique one?

    Thanks for sharing your blog

    • I never put it on my resume, but my homeschooling featured prominently in my statement of purpose–which was a much more critical part of my application.

      And yes, it doesn’t matter whether paid or unpaid, if you worked it should go on your resume. A good half of my resume was volunteer work–community instructor, amazing stuff I’d done for church (I was in charge of some pretty big shindigs), etc.

      How you work your grad school application will depend completely on WHAT you’re applying for. Applications for PhD chemistry programs are pretty different from applications for a master’s in education.

      One thing you’re definitely going to need to worry about is letters of recommendation.

  5. Hey- Thanks for writing. Your advice, stories and observations are heartwarming and helpful.

    I’m only at the beginning of my journey, but it has already had a few bumps in the road. Good luck, and please continue to find time to write!

  6. I’m so happy I came across your blog! I’m applying to PhD programs for Fall 2011 and was looking for grad school parents to gain insight on what to expect. I’m a single mom with a 2.5 year old and I’m not sure what I’m getting myself into! I also want to homeschool my son but I’m not sure how I’ll be able to balance that. Anyway, I look forward to reading your blog! Stay strong mama!

  7. Hi! I found your blog through gradcafe. I’m also a thirty-something mom with two young kids and finalizing the divorce. Luckily, my family has been really supportive and helped watched the kids while I completed my Master’s degree these past two years. Now I’ll be applying to PhD programs in Education in the fall. Thank you so much for sharing your insights and thoughts. And, good luck! 🙂

  8. Hello! Yesterday morning I picked your blog and almost read your entire body of posts like a novel till I reached your latest post of Nov. 18, 2011 – more than two years of your journey in a day. You have done a marvelous effort there, documenting your journey to and through the Grad school. It is so much of a help to read the details from somenone who has experienced each thing before speaking. Although pseudonymously, whatever you shared meant to me a lot as an aspiring grad student. I am a “likely” follower of your posts. Also, putting a face to your pseudonymity from the details of your book helped relieve me from virtuality of blogosphere. Besides, I was toying with the idea of documenting my journey before I found yours. Your blog has convinced me more for that. I will be looking for a Chemistry program in Fall 2013 before attempting GRE (general and subject). I will also present an unusual case before the admissions’ committee. Two things, however, will differ from yours – I am a Dad, and already overqualified for grad school. Wishing you good luck for your experiments. Looking forward to hear your cruise experience whenever that happens.

  9. Yay you!
    I am also a mom of 4 who started grad school in the fall, and applied to the NSF GRFP.

  10. Robin, I’m a regular reader of your blog (from the early days) and someone who also married young and is in grad school with (albeit small) kids. It’s a little scary to see the (sudden?) change in tone from the blog about ’19 years together’ to the divorce. I’m fully aware you can’t go into details here, but for those of us in a similar situation, would you blog about (very) young marriages? It just feels like it is two different people blogging

    • I still believe what I said in that ’19 years’ post–namely, that it requires commitment to make a marriage work. But I should add two things: first, that it takes commitment by both parties. If one is not committed to making it work, the marriage falls apart no matter how committed the second is. Secondly, commitment does not just mean “we will stay together no matter what”–it means “we will love each other, care for each other, etc. no matter what.” It’s being committed to the relationship, not just the legal partnership created by a wedding.

      When someone takes advantage of his partner’s commitment by thinking, for example, “She’s not going to leave me, so I can do whatever I want to her to get my way”–that is not commitment. Threatening a partner, for example, that if she doesn’t do your bidding you will take away her access to the children–how is that showing commitment to the relationship? And if the children are being used as pawns, that’s not good for the children either.

      And that’s all I’m going to say…since, now that I’m “out”, my kids can Google this blog and read whatever I write.

    • OK, I lied. I will say one more thing. And that is that my ex ‘stalked’ me online, everywhere, when we were married. He read both my inbox and outbox on a regular basis and visited all of the sites I visited (Hello, browser history!) God forbid he should find out anything I said that he disagreed with. I was terrified about what he would do to me if I ever, EVER said anything even remotely negative about him.

      When I left, I was free to say what I really wanted. It was hard at first, due to the PTSD, but I have gotten more and more open about it. Now that a restraining order is in place (he continued stalking me post-divorce) I’m a lot less worried.

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