Friday, 25 May 2012

Should I do a PhD mum?

I’m about to have a grandchild and am so unbelievably excited about it! My daughter is thinking that she might like to do some postgraduate studies after her baby is born and is starting to worry about how she will manage to be able to do this and have a child. This made me think about what advice I should give her.

I began my PhD in 1997 (not that long ago!) when my youngest was four and the eldest (the now pregnant daughter) was eight. My husband and I made a decision from day one to treat my PhD as a job. I also learnt that the only thing that was going to get me through it all was good, changeable, project management.

At least once a week, the diary would be put on the kitchen table and decisions made about who would do the drop offs (mainly me), who would do the pick ups (mainly me) and who would look after the girls at weekends so I could do some work (mainly him).

Dot's girls. Some time ago.
We didn’t have family locally so negotiations would happen in the school yard about me looking after friends' kids after school one day if they could look after mine another. School holidays were negotiated with friends the same way: I would have their kids for a couple of days (or from 3pm onwards) and they would have mine opposite times. These summer holiday days were fab: I would have three or four kids, we would go off for the day early and be back by about 3pm, then I would go up to the university for a few hours work.

I also wrote five papers during my PhD and attended a few conferences. I can honestly say, that from day one I worked at least 8 hours a day on my PhD - mostly in the office, sometimes at home. In the last year, of course this wasn’t enough and I did have to work at nights and every weekend.

Of course there were sacrifices: I didn’t spend nearly enough time with the kids when they were young. But this was a decision I made and if I hadn’t done a PhD, I would have needed to work anyhow. The money was terrible and there were at least three conversations in the three years about whether I should continue because of money worries. In the end I got a pub job for a few months at nights.

So my advice to my lovely daughter who is contemplating this? Pick a subject and topic that you really believe in, that you are going to be interested in for the time needed. Make a commitment to it and treat it like a job. Remember that your child (my precious grandchild) is a fact and not an excuse for working. You have support on your doorstep from family that a lot of people (including me) didn’t have. Go for it....

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