Family Comes First for Grad Student

Family Comes First for Grad Student

When engineering graduatestudent Chris Butler isn't wrestling with his studies or his duties as a research assistant at UC Merced, he is often wrestling -- quite literally -- with his two young sons, Jacob, 4, and Jackson, 2.

"They are true boys, who love to wrestle and play all day and night," said Butler, who has been married 6½ years. His wife, Emily, tutors math from basic skills to calculus and stays at home as much as possible.

"Having a family while in school is not necessarily easier," he said, "but it stretches you and provides the opportunity for growth in so many other ways."

His wife and children are a "great support team that cheers for me and provides a rest when times are stressful," he said.

He graduated from UC Merced with a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering, drawn to the university because of the small classes and intimacy between the professors and students

Many of his graduate classes contain only four to five students. The Sierra Nevada Research Institute was also an attraction.

He began working in research as an undergraduate under the direction of his mentor, Thomas Harmon, and hopes to be a water resources engineer after he earns his Ph.D.

However, as seriously as he takes his studies, his family still comes first.

"I spend every Monday evening with my family," he wrote in a recent e-mail. "I hang out with the boys working in the yard, riding bikes and wrestling. I reserve every Friday night for a date with my wife. The weekends are where I get to spend the bulk of my time with my family." Chris said that, as busy as he gets, he tries not to stress about life in general. He hasn't won any major awards or grants, but that's OK with him.

"I try not to stress about life in general but enjoy working on our home that we currently live in. It is a real fixer-upper."

He is also active in his church.

His time-management skills are no big secret, he said. He tries to work with others as much as possible.

"Teams often can work through problems faster than one person. I get all the work done at school that I can and go home every evening for dinner and to put down the boys."

He starts work again after 8 p.m., dividing his work into definite tasks that can be accomplished in a few hours.

"I try to leave minor tasks to be done at home," he said.

But there's no doubt he is a family man, first and foremost.

"While it is difficult to keep it this way," he said, "I try to keep my family my top priority."

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