In 2012 Hayley Alloway was living on a small farm outside of Cleveland, Ohio, and homeschooling her children – aged six, four, two, and five months.
She’d been a stay-at-home mom for seven years following her graduation from the University of Washington with a master’s degree in animal behaviour, but decided it was time to go back to graduate school. She soon discovered that not all universities were welcoming to a mom with a young family.
“When I interviewed at schools in the U.S., I made the short list at UCLA and they were about to fly me out,” Ms. Alloway said.
“However, when they found out about the kids, I suddenly was “not applicable for the program based on my background.” I found that to be the case at other American universities, as well. Having a family in grad school was frowned upon.”
Recalling a paper she had read in 2000 by Dr. Anne Storey of Memorial’s Department of Psychology, Faculty of Science, she decided to apply to the faculty’s cognitive and behavioural ecology PhD program.
By the time she was accepted and made the move to St. John’s, she had become a single parent and the family’s sole financial supporter.
Dr. Storey’s research was the first to show hormone changes in men during the course of their partner’s pregnancy; Ms. Alloway began looking at men’s hormone patterns and genetics in parenting and relationships.
“It’s been interesting, but I don’t think I would want to work with men again,” she said. “I didn’t realize how hard they are to recruit for participation in research studies and how needle-phobic they are.
“Requiring blood samples for hormone and genetic analysis made it very difficult to get participants,” she continued. “They’ve also thrown up on my floor, passed out in my arms and literally fell out of their chair. But, it was really rewarding talking to the guys that came in for my study and hearing about their experiences as parents.”
Master of chaos
And while her academic career has sometimes been a challenge, and her PhD has taken longer than she would like to complete, she says it’s been a wonderful opportunity.
“I found a school, a program and an advisor who were supportive of all aspects of my life.”
She says her kids are happy, and she’s always “amazed” to find that her advisor is satisfied with her pace.
“I’d assume at this point she’d be frustrated at my slow progress, or think my performance isn’t up to par, but I seem to be faring okay. Trying to balance parenting and grad school has been hard, but it’s also rewarding and positive. I have a busy 14-hour day, but I go to bed happy and I wake up happy. Not everyone can say that.”
Along the way, Ms. Alloway says she’s become a master at managing chaos and getting things done. Her life has also been a lesson in not being too proud to ask for help.
“I’ve lived in a lot of places, and I find people are more welcoming in St. John’s,” she said. “I think the fact that there are a lot of come from aways who also don’t have family here has allowed me to build a strong network of people who are willing to help each other.”
She’s especially grateful for the support she’s received from the departments of psychology and biology. Her youngest child often attended classes with her when he was an infant, as she tried to fit his naps around her schedule.
“I found a school, a program and an advisor who were supportive of all aspects of my life,” said Ms. Alloway.
“I used to think I had to choose between being a parent and having a responsible lifestyle or being an academic and doing interesting things, such as travel. But I’ve been surprised to find that something always works out, the kids are doing well and I’m pursuing what I want to do professionally. It sounds impossible, but it hasn’t been.”