PhD parenting

I started writing this post last year as I was taking the MOOC “How to survive your PhD“. I quickly got engaged in online discussions about the struggles of getting your PhD and keeping your sanity. I worked on my thesis between 2003 and 2009 (I defended my thesis in February so it’s been just over 7 years now), and in retrospect I think that my PhD student time was among the best years of my life. I had so much fun, met so many amazing persons and got to travel the world for conferences. But of course it was difficult too. I guess you just tend to forget those things looking back… kind of like giving birth.

Speaking of which, one topic that almost immediately came up during the MOOC was – being a parent and a PhD student. So, I promised I would share some of my experiences in a blog post (tweets are simply not long enough). It took me roughly 9 months to complete the post, but hopefully it’s worth the wait…

When I started my PhD I was 28 and extremely single. I spent more or less all my time at work, and I was quite happy to do so! One of my very best friends (the amazing @isadurraon twitter) got accepted as a PhD student at the same time and we worked on parallel topics – so I was never isolated in my work as I hear many others experience.

Anyway, about halfway through my PhD I fell head over heals in love and it wasn’t long until we moved in together and less than a year later we realized we were going to become a family. Not really planned, but very welcomed. There was never any question of quitting the PhD – we have excellent parental leave in Sweden and daycare is great. But I was nervous about telling my supervisor. I could tell she worried (as probably any supervisor would) but being the excellent person she is we quickly had a plan made and I could continue to focus on work.

I took about 4 months off work completely when my daughter was born, but if my memory doesn’t fail me, I think I managed to resubmit a paper for publication while she was sleeping. When she was 4 months, I started working about 20% – taking a course as part of my PhD education. Most of it I did from home, but during lectures and meetings I would either take her with me or my husband would stay with her (as he did quite a lot). All in all, I took about 12 months off, delaying the PhD somewhat. All worth it though.

Since then, I’ve continued to work full time with research and higher education, and in 2010 my son was born. This time I took 6 months off – and then started working full time again while my husband stayed at home a whole year. This worked very well too.

If I was to give any advice about combining PhD and parenting it would probably be:

  1. Make sure you have a good partner – someone who’s willing and able to share the responsibility and who will understand and be patient when you stress out over research (as you are bound to do from time to time). But remember to not take this person for granted.
  2. Make sure you have good daycare – I know I’m spoiled living in Sweden with excellent parental leave and daycare in place. I can only recommend it.
  3. Cut yourself some slack – you don’t have to be the perfect parent (or partner) everyday. Or the perfect PhD student. And you definitely don’t need a perfect home. This is especially important for all PhD mothers – there are so many unspoken requirements that we put on ourselves. Try to let them go. The world won’t end because the windows are still not washed and someone should have cleaned the bathroom last week. Drop the guilt.
MedInfo2010 måndag 2010-09-13 008

Quick visit from the family at the conference centre MedInfo 2010, Cape Town

And remember, there are many benefits of combining research with parenthood too! The work hours are often flexible, which means you can probably leave work earlier sometimes, or even work from home one or two days/week which really helps with all the practicalities. There can be quite a lot of travelling when presenting your research at international conferences – which has always been a great bonus to me. And I try to bring the family as often as I can (at bit more difficult now that the kids are bigger and need to be in school). When my daughter was 10 months we went to 2 conferences in Australia – had a great time! And when she was 4 and my son 10 months we went to a conference in Cape Town – which was also excellent. Not only do you get to share some amazing experiences with your family, it’s also some compensation for your partner who has to put up with all those late nights working against paper submission deadlines.

[post 13 in #blogg100 challenge]

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One Response to PhD parenting

  1. Pingback: Do new mothers doing a PhD get enough support? | Participatory eHealth

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