Skip to Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map

Mama PhD

PhD Mama

Since it is Mother’s Day tomorrow (don’t forget to give your dear old Mum a call) we thought it would be interesting to ask one of our PhD Candidates (Penelope Harriet Doris Candy-D’Ate*) what life is like for someone who is raising both small children and a PhD. Penelope could have just answered “busy” but instead she took time out of her hectic schedule to share some insight into the lives of those of us juggling thesis writing with carer responsibilities.

*Yep, you guessed it; not her real name.

Many people look horrified when I tell them I’m mothering two pre-schoolers and doing a PhD. My GP even seemed to think it was equivalent to concussion. When I went to see him after a car accident he wrote in my notes: “Hit glass with her head. Has felt dazed and tired, but also has 2 little children and is doing a PhD.”

While the decision to start a PhD with an 18 month old in tow and another bun in the oven, may look like the symptom of a head injury to some, to me it seemed like a great time to undertake a task I’d long hoped to do. The benefits of unlimited sick leave, elastic deadlines and the opportunity to work in pyjamas, should not be underestimated. There is also the fact that I was awake for about 20 hours every day during the first two years of my candidature, so I had plenty of time to contemplate my research. Admittedly somewhat deranged contemplation at times, but plenty of middle of the night thinking time. It is also cute watching the kids try and figure out what I do. My four year is drawing her own thesis (publication forthcoming), and has concluded from her survey of two grown-ups that boys go to work and girls go to noon-a-versity.

Fieldwork and attending conferences is complicated with a family’s needs to think of and that has presented some challenges but none of them insurmountable. The biggest challenge has been adjusting from my previous style of working non-stop when deadlines approach. I find it tough having to stop work when the childcare hours run out, when in my previous life I would have just kept going until I was finished. That may of course have resulted in total insanity given, as everyone says, the PhD is a marathon, not a race, so it is quite possible this is actually a plus. It just doesn’t feel like that sometimes. With the help of Brian Johnston, Otago’s coach extraordinaire, I’ve adjusted to this new way of working and learned much healthier work habits. (I’d still love to be able to hunker down in the library for hours on end though – old habits die-hard).

What has been key for me is that when I started my PhD my mother was in need of a job, and with my scholarship funding, I was in a position to give her a job looking after my babies. This has been a win-win-win and has enabled me to get through the PhD at a pace that would not have been possible without her. I’m very, very lucky to have that support and I know a lot of mothers who have it much tougher doing daycare runs, and having no childcare when the kids are sick. So happy Mother’s day to all the mum’s out there doing the Mama PhD juggle, and a special thank you this mother’s day to my mother for making it a lot easier for me.

P. H. D. Candy-D’Ate

Leave a comment