By Grace Gallacher

There are numerous blogs about your PhD journey, hints and tips, experiences and how to guides. Providing a sense of solidarity and reassurance that you are not alone, but above all offer an unending supply of suggestions that focus on your thesis. This is unsurprising as the piece of work, 1100 days in the making is your creation. Your baby.

Your PhD as a baby

Now when I first heard this metaphor I was not a happy camper, I had gone through absolute hell in my pregnancies. I had co-created these darling mini humans, nurtured them, fed them, sang to them and ultimately gave birth to them. How dare anyone compare study to this experience? Oh my, how wrong I was.

There are many similarities between a PhD baby and an actual baby. It’s expensive, time-consuming and won’t let you sleep! More seriously, it does need nurturing, feeding, love and time. It is delicate and intricate like a child, you will even sing to it (or at least I do – headphones on escaping the world of chaos that surrounds me).  It is as demanding as a child on your time, if not more so, because you’re always trying to catch up what you think you should have achieved during the day.

What even is balance?!

My advice is do not underestimate the dedication needed to be a good parent to both!

I am a doctoral student, an associate lecturer, ethnographer and a parent. I teach over 100 hours, I have 2 children- 8 years and 17 months and a PhD baby who has just turned one! I try to strike a balance in my life, as parenting real children alongside a PhD baby is often overlooked by those who do not have children. As a parenting PhD student, you need to consider all the practical advice that your non-parenting colleagues receive and be prepared for some added extras:

  • Teaching – It is great if you can get it and, of course a necessity for financial and career development reasons. Request school hours only and check wrap-around care finishing times
  • Flexible childcare is a must. Find a good nursery and never let them go!
  • Half term dates at university do not coincide with schools. Definitely do not book a trip home because you didn’t realise this!
  • Peer Envy – when they are sat in the office all day tending to their PhD baby and you are surrounded by an actual child who is screaming at you because you absolutely will not let her put her hands in her own faeces
  • Mammy guilt – kicks in when you realise you are envious of your non- parenting peers, and you always think you should be spending more time with them.
  • Budgeting – a PhD (funded or not) is not cheap, but when you have actual children as well, you often have to use your teaching money to pay for childcare.
  • Weight gain (or is that just me?) Because you’re so mentally wiped out you mess the budget up or you realise that healthy cooking is a waste of working time, which is so precious.

However countless times you are told to strike a balance. What is a balance? What does this elusive thing look like? Is it living in Neverland next to the unicorns? No-one can tell you what it is. From experience I can say it is like you are taking part in the latest rounds of Takeshi’s Castle – minus the film crews, thankfully!

How do I strike a balance with my ethnographic research and my children? I combine them. Yes, I take my children to my research site.

Caution: Children on site

Doing ethnography at football matches, this was my epiphany, the best idea I had ever conceived. Reality does not agree. I have two girls, the oldest is in her make up phase; she loves dresses and dolls, but I take, no coerce, her to matches at weekends. Now, I am not totally insane, it is a local children’s league, however, that does mean no comforts.

She complains, she needs the toilet arriving on to a pitch surrounded by greenery, she hates football, I am clearly horrid for making her experience such atrocities in life.  At the same time, I must deal with my husband, who seems to morph into a mixture coach of the year and the incredible hulk upon seeing a game of football. While this would be enough to content with, my small one is trying to eat daisies or grass whatever she can get hold of really and I am sat there trying to be a good ethnographer and not miss any themes in my research.

Taking your children to meet your (PhD) baby requires careful consideration and planning. For example, an Ipad with internet access is a must (and ear phones), chairs, and food, in copious amounts to stop the grass being grazed.  And of course, just like any other children, they get jealous and compete for your attention. My oldest has not grasped that as much as I would love to watch YouTube and the unwrapping of giant eggs with her, I really need to watch this football match. I dread to think of how many perfect examples of observational data have gone unnoticed as my attention is directed elsewhere.

Tough Times Never Last but Tough PhD Parents Do!

As a result, I am sat here, over-weight, tired and reminiscing over 1990s televisions shows, while small child fights with me over her nappy bags, hoping to spread a little cheer to my fellow PhD parents. You are not alone, you are doing a fantastic job, don’t be so harsh on yourself, it’s called a journey for a reason. There isn’t a uniformed balance if something is working for you keep at it! Be proud! And Share your experiences with fellow survivors. #Phdparentsurvivor.

Grace studies children’s’ leisure at the University of Plymouth and is a mother of two.  You can find her on twitter. 


Image 1: Pixabay, Image 2 and 3: Wikimedia Commons.