Pulling it Off — Motherhood & Academia


Can you really do a Phd and be a Mum?” was a good post at my recent favourite reads- Phd Mum by Nicola. And if you have stumbled onto this, you are either elbows deep in Motherhood/Academia or considering going down this path.

Going back to Nicola’s post above, she shares her worries in 3 domains: work/life balance, money, value. Fortunately, I’m on a research scholarship so I get a small stipend (yes, this is less than what I used to make working full-time but the financial trade-offs are what I can deal with) monthly. So Money-wise, checked. And to be able to teach beyond first years at University, and to further my passion in research, I definitely think that the time-investment-returns ratio is worth it–so value checkbox for doing a Phd, checked.

So lastly, what remains is to address what I think is the biggest elephant in the room study, is the work-life balance and for me, that is about trying to pull it off.

I addressed this in part, previously when I talked about “Graduate School and Deciding as a Family” and how we are trying to pre-empt the work/life balance in my household. Having gone through some storms through the last stage of my Master’s programme, and now having some time to reflect on it, I would list the following as crucial to pulling it off and seeing it to the finishing line.

Inner driving force. 
Everyone has their reason and passion for wanting to get into higher education/ graduate study. And this has to be strong enough to see you through. In my Master’s programme, there were so many occasions where I could throw in the towel but I wanted so much to complete a piece of research that I had set my heart out to do. And having seen it through, it was such an immense sense of achievement and empowerment. I imagine the same to be for a Phd. When the going gets tough, I think this will keep you in check towards the finishing line.

Strong Support Network. 
For the lucky ones, this is your family- immediate and extended. They are your cheerleaders when you are down and about, and oh, not to mention babysitting offers when needed.  Some of you lucky girls have husbands whose work is flexible enough so that the kids get taken care of and that’s one less thing to manage schedule-wise when you are ‘dissertating’.  🙂 Whereas I am not so fortunate in this aspect, I try to build one around me. Call it what you will- your Phd posse. And mine consists of  1) extra reliable nanny/nannies for urgent and crunch-time babysitting 2) friends/ including fellow graduate students/ mums for moral support. 3) supervisors — oh I can’t stress enough how important this is. This deserves a post on its own but an understanding and engaged supervisor really helps.

Time and Schedule Management, Expert-level. 
Okay, I’m not quite there yet. But I’ve read that many graduate students/ mums in academia manage their time and schedules like a fiend. Planning for the week is by the hour– listing exactly where they need to be (for instance, for the kids’ pick-up time to classes and paper deadlines) and knowing exactly what needs to be done. I’ve got a schedule where I can plot my hours for the week at a glance and spot gaps where I can squeeze in gym time or otherwise. Another important thing to note and this is where I am quite weak is to minimise or sacrifice having a packed schedule– for me, this means quit being an overachiever. I realise that I cannot just have a day where I meet a friend to catch up, keep the house tidy, see my mum at the care home, do research and come back, cook dinner and do some homeschooling with my daughter. This is just too much to accomplish for me so I need to cut back on activities. If I’m out visiting my mum for the morning, then I need to focus on my research for the afternoon before my daughter comes back. There is little time for otherwise.

Physical and Mental health.  Being in good health- eating well (lots of plant-based, balanced foods), being active and being able to relax is crucial for many mums taking on extra roles in full-time work, caring for an aged parent and completing graduate school. I find that when I was actively going to the gym, I had a lot more energy for that second shift (staying up after my daughter had slept for research) or waking up early. When I eat well, (more plant-based, less processed foods), I also felt better and less fatigued.

So there, I have listed what I thought would be crucial for me to pull off this phd + academia mama thing. I would love to hear from you, your own insights on this.

image source: Baim Haniff




5 thoughts on “Pulling it Off — Motherhood & Academia

      1. Hi, thank you! Actually, I am still trying to improve my blog, step by step …. Of course I would love to do a blog exchange-sharing post. Let me see and I will do it after Monday :*


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