Balancing Parenthood and the Pursuit of a Ph.D.

Midori Wasielewski dreamed of earning her Ph.D. ever since she was a child. Friday, she’ll share that moment with her husband, family and young daughter.
Midori Wasielewski with her husband, Andrew, and their daughter following her dissertation defense. 

Midori Wasielewski with her husband, Andrew, and their daughter following her dissertation defense. 

Defending a 120-page dissertation on immunology and biomaterials may be a daunting task for most on its own, but in the final year of her biomedical engineering Ph.D. program, Midori Wasielewski’s mornings began when her daughter woke up and ended in the late hours of the evening, with a full day’s work at the lab in between. 

While the challenges of being a new mom and the interruption of a pandemic may have presented obstacles, Wasielewski never wavered on her path to graduation. Reflecting on a piece of advice that stuck with her throughout her time on campus, she chose actor and author Sean Patrick Flanery’s message to “do something today that your future self will thank you for.” 

When her daughter was born in 2021, Wasielewski knew that the hard work was not only for her future self but also for her growing family. “Even though it was extremely hard working around the clock and not getting a lot of sleep, I was very driven to complete the program at that point and also to set a good example for my baby,” she said. 

Unlike her research in engineering a DNA-based biomaterial to aid doctors and clinicians in identifying patients at high risk for autoimmune diseases, raising a child is not an exact science. Along with the support of her husband, Andrew, there is a place on campus that will forever hold a special place in Wasielewski’s heart — the Children’s Campus at Georgia Tech.

“None of this could have happened without the Children's Campus. I was very lucky that they opened their doors to me and my daughter. Without day care being a five-minute walk from my lab, this would not have happened. Georgia Tech was awesome in supporting me as a mom and as a Ph.D. student,” she said. 

Wasielewski arrived at Tech in 2017 alongside her advisor Shuichi Takayama, whose lab she joined after earning her master’s in macromolecular engineering at the University of Michigan. Having become a father while earning his Ph.D., Takayama — professor, GRA Eminent Scholar, and Price Gilbert Jr. Chair in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering — served as an inspiration to Wasielewski as she navigated the early days of parenthood. 

“When I was exhausted and delirious, I would just think to myself, ‘Tomorrow, I’ll be thankful if I just write for 30 minutes or if I just plan this experiment.’ When I did sit down and do that, it usually turned into one or two hours. All those small efforts built into this huge thing, and looking back, I can't believe I actually finished,” she said. 

The only thing that could keep Wasielewski away from her research was Covid-19. Out of the lab for two months, she dealt with the uncertainty by pouring all of her efforts into her dissertation, which has now been successfully defended after a full-on sprint to the finish line.  

“One of the affirmations you learn during pregnancy and as a mom is that you can do anything for five minutes or for a short amount of time, and I applied that to me,” she said. “It was a period of sacrifice — completely unsustainable — but we knew we could do this.”

Next, Wasielewski intends to pursue research and development opportunities in the biotech industry, but not before taking some well-earned time off to spend with her family. 

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