By Richard Parfitt and Claire Skilton |


Rather than just writing my own blog for this week’s post, I thought I would bring in somebody else’s knowledge and experience of my PhD experience, i.e. that of my fiancé, Claire, who like the army of PhD-partners out there has had to put up with a difficult researcher. I asked her for her top five tips for partners of PhD students on how to make the experience work for both of you. She’s dealt with one of the most difficult among us and survived, so she should know!


  1. Be calm, and be encouraging.


All PhD students will go through moments or periods when they question themselves and their abilities, where the workload becomes stressful, or where they’re not sure what they’re doing. Keep them motivated by reminding them that you believe in them, and that whatever problem they face it isn’t the end of the world. Not being able to make the PowerPoint for tomorrow’s conference paper work might seem like a big deal in the cut-off world of the PhD, but as an occupier of reality you can remind them that it probably isn’t!


  1. Help where you can.


More than anyone else, your partner will often ask you to listen to their presentations and proof their drafts. Make sure your partner has a realistic expectation of what you can do (you’re not their supervisor, and your work matters too!) but any help you can give will go a long way. An outsider’s perspective can often give insights that they won’t have thought about too.


  1. Treat them now and then

The likelihood is that the PhD student isn’t the primary earner. If you do have a bit more disposable income, remember that they will be operating on a tight budget. You both need to get out of the bubble of work, and it’s easy for a PhD life to become a lonely pursuit. An evening out or a bottle of wine every now and again does a lot to help you both relax.


  1. Communicate

You have problems too! Your job has its stresses and you’ll have your own days when you’re in a foul mood. You’re allowed, and you can’t be a martyr to their thesis any more than they can. Communicate when you need support, discuss career plans and goals for both of you, and don’t feel that just because they’re under pressure that they won’t want to support you.


  1. Find time for each other

Neither you nor they must work 24 hours a day, and you should make sure you make time for each other. This works best when planned and coordinated, so that you can both relax. Watch a film, go out for a meal, or squeeze in a holiday if you can. Life doesn’t stop for the sake of a doctorate.


Are you the partner of a PhD, or are you a PhD student with a partner who has a particularly good method for dealing with you without wanting to strangle you? Let us know your top tips!


Richard Parfitt is a historian of modern British and Irish music and politics, and a committee member for Pubs and Publications.  You can find him on Twitter and on

Claire Skilton is a communications professional specialising in digital media. You can find her on LinkedIn.