Doctoral students who want to have or adopt children will now receive financial support from the University.

In a major change from existing policy, both male and female students can remain registered as students and continue to receive their financial aid packages during the semester during or following the birth or adoption, Provost Andrew Hamilton announced Friday. They will also have their academic burdens lightened for the semester. Graduate students with children said they are pleased with the policy, which they said could create a change in perceptions about having children during graduate school and positively affect the careers of women in academia.

Under the previous system, graduate students who wanted to take time off to have a child were forced to take a leave, which stopped their stipends and used up a semester of their academic “clock.” The new system will not be considered a leave, and students who choose to take advantage of it are entitled to an additional eight weeks of stipend at the end of their fifth years, when stipend support traditionally ends. In addition, their academic clocks will be stopped for a semester, though the extent to which their academic responsibilities are suspended after the birth or adoption is to be determined by the student and the adviser.

Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said this policy is significant for graduate students because of the impact childbearing or adoption has on the trajectory of a student’s career. For female students specifically, Butler said, numerous studies suggest that having children can affect whether or not a woman decides to remain on track to receive a doctorate.

“It’s important for graduate students generally because … either having a child or adopting a child alters one’s way of life, and it takes time to get accustomed to that,” Butler said. “[The policy is] an effort to recognize some of the realities of childbirth and adoption in the course of one’s Ph.D. career.”

Butler said the new procedure is one part of the University’s larger goal of supporting students who choose to have children, including the Graduate School’s decision last year to cover medical insurance for doctoral students’ children.

Rachel Novick GRD ’08, who is a mother, said the announcement will make a considerable difference in graduate student life at Yale, particularly for women. Currently, she said, there are far more men than women who successfully balance student life with parenting because their female partners tend to stay home with the child. She said the new policy is a major step forward for the University, which she believes will result in a greater number of women thriving in the academic world.

“The fact that there is a policy signals that it’s okay to be a graduate student and to have a baby,” Novick said. “A lot of graduate students think it’s not acceptable to their advisers or to the schools. What happens now is that women wait and then they end up having kids at exactly the time that they’re trying to get tenure and they don’t end up succeeding in academia.”

Graduate Student Assembly chair Ian Simon GRD ’08 said the announcement is the result of an ongoing discussion for the past year and a half between the GSA and the administration. He said the University researched the programs at other institutions before deciding how best to structure Yale’s parental relief policy.

Butler said the new policy is similar to those that have been implemented at many other graduate schools — including Stanford, Princeton, Cornell, and the University of Pennsylvania — although whether or not the stipulations apply to both female and male students tends to vary from school to school.

Princeton University released a relief plan early this month offering 12 weeks of paid maternity leave to female graduate students having children and Stanford also has a similar system of paid time off. But Harvard still suspends all financial support to graduate students while they go on maternity leave.

Mother and GSA representative Nicole Legnani GRD ’11 said that while the changes are “fantastic,” the problem of finding affordable child care after the leave ends will continue to be a problem at Yale.

The new policy does not apply to master’s degree students, who are encouraged to meet with an associate dean of the Graduate School to discuss suspending their academic responsibilities after they have a child. Master’s degree students do not receive stipends like those granted to doctoral candidates.