I’ve occasionally written about parenting through a PhD and some of the perils of PhD parenting. Since the average age of those studying for a PhD is 37 most of you will have some kind of family commitment, and yes – pets count. I find it mystifying that so many of the ‘how to get a PhD’ books offer precious little advice on how to cope.
I have come to the conclusion that many book writers assume we are all full time students with no other commitments. I long for a book which acknowledges the messy reality of many of our lives, which is why I was happy when Tamara Cummings, PhD student, wife and mother of two under 3 sent me this post. Tamara is doing her PhD student at the School of Teacher Education, and the Research Institute for Professional Practice, Learning and Education, Charles Sturt University. Tamara’s research is concerned with the sustainability of the early childhood workforce. She is an ardent Foucauldian, Deleuzist and Twilighter, and does a bit of parenting and partnering on the side.
Tamara writes in this post about the perils of trying to be too flexible – it certainly resonated with my own experiences. I hope you enjoy it.
So I’m now in my second year of PhD-hood (not actually quite half-way through…) and it’s taken me this long to figure something out – flexibility has its foibles.
Trying to manage the kind of on-demand deep thinking that PhD study requires, whilst sleep-deprived from nocturnal visits of 3 year old and nocturnal demands of 1 year old, has been tough. I was managing it last year by working at home a lot and having the odd afternoon nap so it was safe to drive the car.
To make up the time I lost by afternoon-napping and the odd pick-me-up trip to the shops so I felt my world did not entirely revolve around napping, driving and on-demand deep thinking, I tried to squeeze in ‘work’ time of an evening – as well as have some down time in front of the tv with long-suffering partner. I also tried to squeeze some work time into weekends, and even the odd morning, by not returning to sleep when 1 year old had been placated at 5am.
As a consequence of all this flexibility I began to be very grouchy, very stressed and really, quite unpleasant to live with. Part-timing it was not an option as I’m on a full-time dependent scholarship, and really didn’t want to make my PhD longer anyway.
So, I said to myself, what can I do to make this work?
I recognised that it was the choices I was making, rather than aforementioned 3 and 1 year old, or long-suffering partner, that were perhaps ‘to blame’. Rather than allowing me to successfully manage my work interests and home life, it was all becoming so flexible that there was no structure and regularity. It wasn’t good for my mental health, my family or my PhD.
Hence my number one new year’s resolution was to structure my week a bit more, and to quarantine my ‘work’ hours as work, and hold off on the tantalising supermarket shopping and afternoon naps as ‘rewards’.
I’m lucky in that I have a very inviting office space to work in (even if the drive there can be a bit busy and stressful), colleagues whom I enjoy seeing, and a fab coffee place an ‘appropriate’ distance away (ie, far enough that you get some actual as well as metaphoric ‘distance’ from ‘work’, but not so far you get that yucky feeling like you’ve skived).
So, Monday to Wednesday finds me at the office, Friday I do a bit flexibly from home, and often have supervisor meetings in the afternoon. Thursdays I do part of the day at a very nice, recently and funkily refurbished public library (with free internet access and they allow drinks and snacks, woo hoo!)
I report this works well for me! I am very focused and productive on my ‘work’ days, and if I want to do some extra of an evening I do, but as I’m not under pressure to make up time, if I don’t have to, I don’t, and it’s ok. I can ‘be’ with my kids and partner rather than feeling anxious about the work I haven’t done and will need to do,
I even have times when I think ‘hmmmm, nothing much to do tonight’ and then I read a book. Usually about vampires and romance, yep, pushing 40, who knew??
How do you cope with multiple demands of children, partner and PhD? Do you find flexibility a trap and love a routine, or is it best to play it fast and loose? What study routine would you recommend to someone starting a PhD who has a full plate of life already?