Single Parents to Do Graduate Studies Abroad

Studying abroad requires a lot of organizing and sound financial preparation. This is particularly true for single parents, since they have to account for the additional costs of child care. Germany is now looking for new ways to finance postdoc and graduate studies for young researchers in this challenging situation.

After studying biophysics and working as a consultant in an affiliate of Berlin's water treatment company, Simone Klawitter decided to start her graduate studies at the Technical University in Berlin. Klawitter's Ph.D. research concerns the development of water supply prices and focuses on the cities of Berlin, Barcelona, and Tel Aviv. A fascinating project, but there was no way she could carry it out without going abroad and doing field research.

"For Barcelona, a lot of data are available via the Internet, but for Tel Aviv the situation is different," Klawitter tells Next Wave. "It will be necessary to survey the information on the spot and to cooperate with local specialists." And living there with her 9-year-old daughter will be very expensive. Just the costs for an English-speaking school, which are private, lie between $5000 and $11,000 per year. And comparable costs are quite normal in many other countries. In Great Britain or in the U.S., a place in a private kindergarten can cost as much as £400 or $1000 a month, respectively.

In Germany, most scholarships for research projects abroad include a fixed maximum rate for child care (Kinderbetreuungszuschlag). Currently, Germany's main funding body for academic research, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), allocates a maximum rate of 300 DM for the first child and 100 DM for any further child up to a total of 500 DM. Additionally, parent-scientists receive a higher extra charge when they go abroad (Auslandszuschlag). Scholarships of the second major funding body for academic exchange, the Deutsche Akademische Austauschdienst (DAAD) are very similar to those of the DFG.

"The maximum rate for child care is calculated on the basis of the situation in Germany," explains Isolde Wienhard of DAAD. This leads to grants that may well meet the needs of young scientists within the country, but that hardly ever covers the actual costs for parents living abroad. "In countries where child care is privately organized, the extra rate for parents is only a drop in the ocean," allows Wienhard.

Obviously, single parents have it even harder. To assist these scholars, and to set a precedent for Germany's major funding agencies, the private Klaus Tschira Foundation initiated a new scholarship program for single-parent scientists in 1998. The Gerda Tschira Scholarship covers room and board, travel, tuition, and school fees for single-parent graduate students in computer sciences and economics. The exact amount depends on the financial need of the individuals. And women scientists with children take note: There is no age limit for applicants.

Klawitter was one of the first four parent-scientists to win the Gerda Tschira Scholarship. "The scholarship finally enables me to follow my research project. During my Ph.D. I will stay in Tel Aviv for 1 year," she said.

And there is hope that other funding bodies will soon follow the lead of the Tschira Foundation. "The rates for child care of our scholarships are currently under discussion," DFG's Heinrich Gammel tells Next Wave. "It is intended to increase them noticeably; we hope to realize that by the end of this year."

Visit the Next Wave Forum and talk back! Are you also a parent who decided to do research abroad? How did you prepare for your stay? Did you get any support? What was the most crucial point? Share your experiences with other Next Wave readers helping them to realize their research projects!

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