PhD and Motherhood

Pakhee Kumar

When I tell people that I had my daughter in my first year of PhD and still finished my PhD without requiring an extension, it seems like I did something extraordinary. PhD and motherhood are full-time jobs and if you have to do both together- it can be very difficult. However, it is not impossible!

I started joined my PhD programme in December 2015. I had my daughter in June 2017 and defended my PhD in December 2019. In between, I was on five-month maternity leave. Overall, it was an exciting journey. I must thank a lot of people who helped and supported me in this process (please read acknowledgements of my PhD thesis).   

I am writing this post for moms and moms-to-be who might be in a similar position. I am sharing my experience highlighting things that helped me in this process, hoping that someone in need might benefit from it.

Identifying  support system

You will need a good support system to help you manage your time. My daughter started daycare when she was 1-year-old. Although she didn’t settle in quickly, it gave me a few hours that I could focus only on my PhD.

I also had help from my parents and in-laws who’d keep her few extra hours after school when I was finishing writing. I was also very lucky to have interacted with other moms (PhD or not) to understand how they managed their time.          

PhD nothing more than a full-time job

I worked on my PhD as if it were a full-time job, i.e. I spent 7-7.5 hours per weekday. It may seem too little to some but it worked very well for me. When I knew that I had a limited amount to get things done, I did not waste much time.  Also, I did not work during the weekends especially after having my daughter. It helped me rejuvenate.     

Switch off

When I was writing, I’d switch off my Internet. Some people I know signed off from Facebook. The point is, find out what distracts you the most. Make sure that you “switch it off”! Switch it off for at least 7-8 hours that you are working during the day.

When I had a deadline and I had to put in some extra work, my daughter needed extra attention. She’d sense my anxiety and refused to sleep. If that happened, I switched off my work because it couldn’t be productive.

Find your de-stressing activities

Destressing activities will help you rejuvenate. I started gardening during my PhD. I thought that if not a published thesis, at least I’d have some fruits and vegetables to eat lol. I did manage to grow some vegetables and finish my thesis as well 🙂 

Work smart

Working smart is not the same as working hard. I did work hard but mostly I worked smart. I defined my focus, created a structure and a timeline to ensure that I delivered on time. You could define and create your ways of working smart.

A mind-map of the thesis on a whiteboard

Let your standards down for somethings

You can’t do everything perfectly. Some things will not be as good as you wanted them to be. Accept that!

Eyes on the prize

One of the wonderful moms that I had interacted with during my PhD, sent this inspirational quote to me. I wrote this on a post-it and saw it every day. It kept me motivated.

The pain and sacrifice of your work on your thesis are only TEMPORARY but the fruits and joy of having a PhD will last a LIFETIME (Olson 2019).

TV can be your best friend

I know that this can be controversial. I did not believe this when my supervisor advised me. However, it did help me in desperate times.

Sometimes I did work like this 🙂

Don’t forget to have fun

In a rush to do finish up, don’t forget to have fun!

With friends in Copenhagen. Everyone in this pic has a PhD 😉