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Any more PhD candidate moms out there?

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 

Hi All,


Happy to find this thread but not sure if anyone who initially posted is still around. Hoping to attract other moms getting their PhD and and raising small children. I live in Germany and the doctoral programs here are all independent research, i.e. no course work or lab time. Most of my work (reading, writing) can be done from home, save any empirical data collection, but it can all be doen on my own schedule. Cool, right? Even still, I have a one month old and wonder how I could ANYTHING done! I won't be starting the program until he's around 14 months and we will likely send him to a wonderful Waldorf school in our neighborhood a few days a week for half days (the daycare/kindergarten system is great here and designed for young children.) But I also want to have another baby (waiting isn't really an option since I just turned 39.) Ugh! I'm trying to take it one day at a time, but get worried that maybe I'm taking on too much, esp. with wanting to have another baby in the next two years. Any thoughts on how you all did it would be super! 



post #2 of 25

Hi! I just got my phd a month or so ago, so I have just gotten through it. I had DS1 in my first year, when there was coursework, and DS2 in my fourth (and last), when there was just writing. I really didn't want to go back after the first, but it has all worked out. You really, really need care in order to get any work done -- forget about working while caring for them, it is just impossible! I think with number 2, I was very determined and did manage to get work done while he napped in the carrier for the first 3-4 months, but by the time he turned 4 months, I had to get real help to get anything done. So, you might either think about a sitter or longer hours in a care situation. I did manage to do it all on 30 hours a week instead of 40, and supplementing sometimes nights and weekends.


My problem now is that I don't know if I want to continue on the academic track! Getting a tenure track job seems a little incompatible with having two young children! I really wish there was more part-time work available.


Good luck to you!

post #3 of 25

I'm not a Ph.D. candidate anymore, but I once was.  I had my ds1 while I was in the writing stage of my dissertation.  Even so, I think he probably added at least a year on to my degree.  I'll echo what porcelina said - you will need child care to give you time to focus.  And you are also right - you can't get much done with a 1-month-old!  Don't judge your future abilities based on your experience right now.  It changes quickly. 


My ds2 was born while I was in a series of part-time academic positions, and then I started my position as a professor when he was 6 months old.  Is it doable to be a professor with small children?  Of course!  But it's crazy busy sometimes.  There is a thread somewhere on here from professor moms that may give some insight into academic life with small children.  I think it helps to know that women with small kids do manage in academia.  I'm glad I didn't stop.  I like what I do.  And I think there are ways to make it work. 

Good luck to both of you!

post #4 of 25

I started my PhD when DS was 9 months old and finished when he was 5 almost 6. I did my PhD in the Netherlands which sounds a lot like your situation in Germany -- no classes to take, a few classes to teach over the years but pretty light compared to an American TA's load, mostly just researching and writing.


What helped me: treating it as a job. It sounds self-evident, but it's not. DS went to a great daycare 3, sometimes 4 days a week. I worked 7-8 hours on those days that he went to daycare. I went into my office at the university, even if I didn't need to be there (do you have an office, or even a study carrel? If so, use it!). I was very clear with DH (who worked FT) when I needed to work evenings and weekend, which I sometimes did.


You *may* be able to do some work, as PPs have said, when your DC naps, but don't count on it. The single most important thing to getting a dissertation done is getting in outside help. We often have the idea that we can write and research while our child(ren) play nicely around our desk. Nope! You have to treat it like a job.


Don't let the (wonderful) flexibility fool you. Yes, it's good because you can be with a sick child, take him/her to appointments, etc., *but* it becomes a trap. View it like a job (and, for me, it was. I got a salary [low, but still .. . ], health insurance, pension rights, etc. Don't know how it is in Germany) and you'll finish.


The other important thing is the know that the only good dissertation is a finished dissertation. Don't let professors and whatever academic culture that surrounds you try to convince you otherwise. You're already balancing more than most of your cohort. You don't need to get your PhD with honors (if they do that in Germany?). 10 years down the line, it really won't matter, but it will matter if you never finish because you're constantly trying to perfect the !@#$%^.


You can do it! I did and lots of other women did, too. In fact, I finished on time and have been able to keep myself going in a difficult academic job market (post-docs but not tenured job in sight, alas . . . ) when many of my cohort without children haven't. Why? I was more efficient with the time I did have, viewed it as a career and a job that I needed to work out, even when I wasn't feeling passionate about the topic anymore, and dealt with things professionally instead of personally. Keep your eyes on the prize!

post #5 of 25
I'm in the middle of it now with two kids. It's hard, but I'm forging ahead. You can do it!
post #6 of 25
Thread Starter 

Wow! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences! I am not afraid of it being hard or of being busy, just worried about it being possible! Nice to hear that it is, especially with two children, which is hard to wrap my head around currently! 


I was working on a funding application a week ago while DS slept in my lap. Awkward to type but I was very focussed knowing I had just an hour or so to work. So...maybe this could work! :)

post #7 of 25

I had my first during my second year (US phD program, so on the finishing side of coursework).  I'll have my second in March at which point I hope to have data collected.  That hopefully puts me  me a year out for graduating from second's birth.


I'm lucky to have an adviser who personally did something similar and is super supportive.  She summed it up well when I first told her I was pregnant with a 'every woman should be able to have a career, partner, and children... it just isn't possible to be 100% to everyone all of the time.'   I've found that to be pretty much true.  I've chosen to relish my little one's early years... doing so has probably taken me from a 5 year to 7 year completion.   And I'm ok with that.


My personal experience is that 0-6 months is sleep deprived but holds potential for reading/writing about 5 hours a day IF you are super disciplined to do it during naps.  For me, that was enough to get by and was actually a fairly productive time for me.  6-18 months was tough because I needed care to get anything done but struggled to find something that was part time AND a good fit for our family and parenting styles.  18-3yrs was reasonable with a 20 hr/wk nanny situation - I could get in about 30 hrs of work that way by doing 2 hrs a night in addition to mornings with the nanny share; that got me through my dissertation proposal year.  At 3 yrs we transitioned to go to a formal nursery school and now at almost 4 he is in 'full time' 6 hrs a day care (but not without problems... see my post on naps).  The 6 hours every day feels luxurious at this point.


The other thing I've found difficult is feeling disconnected to the department.  I can't attend a lot of functions because after 6 months old (I strapped him in a took him to everything in a carrier until that age), it is just difficult to fit it in to a child's schedule AND keep writing time sacred. 

post #8 of 25

I'm mom to a five-month-old little boy and also ABD! I'm in the US so qualifying exams and coursework completed for a while now.


I entered candidacy last December after defending my proposal. I had all good intentions of completing my data collection (interviews) before our son was born, but only got to 6 of the 20 or so. I have done 2 more since he was born.


My biggest struggle is time and motivation. When I have the motivation I don't have the time and the same in reverse. I'm breastfeeding exclusively and he has never taken a bottle, and I feel that drains me a ton (but I am so happy to have this time, too, and he is growing and thriving so well - I wouldn't give it up for anything). He also will almost only nap in my lap after nursing. If I move him he wakes up. I've been leaving him in my lap but its hard to do any work over him. I have gotten good at one handed typing, but its not time I can really write. By the end of the day when I could squeeze an hour or two of time to write I am just too tired.


Any secrets for finding time during the day? We've discussed some part time help a few hours a week, but I am not so sure its doable and not sure how that'd go. It'd be great to have a group here for support and motivation - thanks for the original post and the responses so far.

post #9 of 25

It must be hard with a tiny nursling. Can you wear the baby in a sling and type around him that way instead of balancing him on your lap?  Does he wake up early? Can you sneak out of bed for an hour or so before he wakes up? As he gets older, it will be easier to imagine that someone else could keep him happy while you are working in the other room.  I agree with whoever said that you have to treat it like a job, otherwise it drifts to the back burner.  Are you someone who could dictate or do you need to see it on the page?


My kids are 4 and 7, so they need me, but they also go to school for a few hours a day.  I'm also working two part-time jobs (the life of an academic, huh?) so fitting in time is tricky.  What I have tried to do is to work as much as I can when they are at school and I have taken on poorly paid University grunt work (supervising study hall, staffing Sunday night study/tutoring sessions) that allow me (usually) to get some of my own work done in between helping students with their work.  Then, at least, I am in a quiet room and getting paid for an hour or two of working on my own stuff. 


I also have to say that one of the gifts of my second child was the grace to realize that my husband is an able caregiver.  With my first, I mediated their interactions and felt as if I couldn't leave them alone (even if my son had just nursed and was full and happy) lest he need me. With my daughter, I started much earlier letting her daddy care for her.  Our nursing relationship was just as strong and long as that with her brother. Letting my husband develop his own relationship with her much earlier that was not dependent on nursing was fabulous for us (including for our marriage).    I worrry less about how "well it will go" when I leave the kids with my husband to take time to go to work or to write than I think I would have if we hadn't changed the dynamic the second time around. 



post #10 of 25



I'm still years away from even starting my PhD, but I'll be lurking! It's nice to get a real idea of what the process is like :)

post #11 of 25
I am getting a PsyD, so more clinical rather than research based, but comp exams, classes, and a dissertation. I took a year off when dd was born, but now am back on track to finish in the spring. Everyone in my program with children seems to send them off for vacations in order to finally finish and that's what I am doing as well. Dw and dd will be going to AZ for a couple of days starting tomorrow and I intend to write for four days straight. I'll still have approval and defense and whatnot throughout the winter, but concentration requires huge blocks of time for me. I am on internship working full time (with kids no less), and dd is only 14 months. Finding little bits here and there just wasn't working for me as a style, so that's where this new plan came in. All the way along it would have been fine, but for this last push I needed more and am blessed to have my DW to help.
post #12 of 25

I'm in my final year of a PhD in a social science and I have a 20 week old. I've been enrolled at school since he was 12 weeks and I'm trying to finish on schedule. I worked like a fiend while I was pregnant so that I could accomplish this and hopefully it will pay off, but if it doesn't I know I've given it a fair shot and being a year behind will not hurt me too much as there aren't any jobs right now anyway (I'm in Canada, the recession has meant a near complete hiring freeze). 


Please don't try to imagine yourself working when your LO is so young, I kept thinking about how I was going to be able to focus and work when I was newly postpartum and it caused needless worry. By the time my DS was closer to 10 weeks I was finding that I was able to focus again and accomplish things during naps. I agree with the other posters about treating your studies like a job and about getting outside help. In my case my mother and my DH's family is in the same city as us so they split the childcare and I am able to go to school to work 4-5 days a week (I take as much time to be with my DS as possible so it varies depending on the week). I try to keep on track by thinking of my DS when I'm away from him, i.e. I try not to procrastinate as I want my time away from him to be worthwhile, otherwise I would prefer to be with him. That said it's important to have time to yourself too so it's hard to find that balance. 


I could not imagine having two LO's, but I know of another student who did that (had two children within 3 years of one another during doctoral studies). Her DH was also a graduate student and they split their shifts so that one was always on childcare duty while the other was at school. I could not imagine how exhausting that would be as I have so much family support but am still tired all the time. However, if you are going to take a decent parental leave after the birth of your second it could be fine, depending on the temperament of your babies. Some babies don't nap consistently or for very long in which case you definitely need a lot of outside help (I believe all mothers need lots of help though!). My baby is fairly easy but I am still tired all the time because when he's napping I'm usually working or cleaning or taking some 'me' time, and he nurses through the night so my sleep is not that great. I was not prepared for how much the sleep loss and my love/enthralment with my DS would sap my academic ambitions. I remind myself that in a few years he will be in school during the day and will be sleeping through the night and I may feel up to a tenure-track position or other full-time work so I am hanging in there even though it is exhausting, and I wish there was a part-time option so that I wouldn't feel so much pressure but there are plenty of students in my department who take longer to complete who don't have children so no one will judge me if I take longer to finish. 


Anyway, I think if you want to have two children then it is possible, but I cannot stress enough how much help you will need. If you want to do most of the childcare then you need help with your household (i.e. cooking, laundry, cleaning, shopping, errands), heck you need help with those things anyway! Simplify your life as much as possible and focus on what you value the most and let go of everything else. I struggle with balancing my perfectionist tendencies with being "good enough". 

post #13 of 25

I'm pregnant with my first and in my second year. I'm due smack in the middle of next semester, and right before comps would normally be scheduled. I'm the only one in my year, however, so it seems they're going to let me do comps a semester late. Each of my profs for next year said s/he'll work with me afterbirth so I can satisfy their requirements but on my time, into the Summer. I'm crossing my fingers that it doesn't become impossible. Fortunately my mom has offered to be full time support to get me through the semester and I can video con into two of my three courses.


The third on is a hardcore econometrics course. I have no idea how I'm gonna handle that. 


Right now I'm banging my head against a wall for not opening a new syllabus (profs switched halfway through the semester) before today. Prof only SENT the syllabus Saturday morning, and I literally spent all day Sat and Sun studying for an exam. So now I have six RAND and Econ theory papers to read and summarize before tomorrow early afternoon (instead of the normal four). Coming off the heels of an econometrics exam this morning. And I'm not an economist or an econ student! Sigh. 


I came here looking for a place to vent to other possibly other understanding grad students. I'll be coming back for less-venty-posts in the future! (Subbing)


post #14 of 25

I'm a PhD candidate. I had my first daughter during my first year of coursework. Then, we had a little accident and our second daughter was born during my 3rd year, right when I finished my coursework. I have delayed my comprehensive exams 3 times. I'm supposed to take them this February (I think it will happen). My children will be 4 and 2 when I comp. I think that you have to see grad school as a job that doesn't pay: seriously. I have made the mistake of taking on more teaching duties because they bring in money, but it's been at the expense of making progress with my degree. I am now realizing that I need to have my kids in daycare or childcare just to do my own work. For that reason, it's hard, because daycare is $$$!! I am hoping I can finish in the next 3 years. 

post #15 of 25

Thought I'd chime in too. :) I'm in Northern Ireland, and my DS was born right at the end of my fieldwork period (I'm in anthropology) and at the beginning of write up. I remember trying to write when he was about four weeks old, and I only got about a sentence or two down on the page. He was the fussiest newborn, and I ended up deferring. It relieved some of the stress I felt about having to split my time. When he was 9 months I was back to working on the PhD but also had a part-time job. Last year, I quit my job in order to concentrate on writing up, but as we have no childcare and no family support nearby, it's been really tough. When DH is home, that's my cue to go work, so we don't see each other very much, but we keep telling ourselves it will be worth it when it's finished. I'm hoping to have a finished draft in a couple of weeks, and I'm also expecting DC2 in May. The deadline is a bit tight: if I sit my defense in March (when I expect it will be scheduled), that will give me two months to make any corrections I may receive. In order to graduate in July, I need to have the thesis in on May 1. Baby is due May 12. I'm hoping to just about pull it off. ;-)


It's definitely possible to have kids and do a PhD, but it is hard and it is isolating. I think the isolation and my university's complete lack of support for student parents threw me the most. 

post #16 of 25

Hi mamas. Happy New Year to you all! I haven't done too much on my dissertation since last writing, but I am feeling much more determined with the new year. I have seen a few "accountability" threads happening on MDC - specifically not spending money and decluttering - and I was wondering if anyone here was interested in doing something similar. We could do a thread with weekly updates on our progress.


I would also be very open to partnering with someone for a once a week accountability check in and encouragement?


Feel free to respond here or PM me if you are interested.


Hope we can get something going!

post #17 of 25
Thread Starter 

Regarding accountability...I think this is a great idea!! I suppose that is what I was looking for in the first place here. I won't start my PhD properly until Fall, but I have some prep work to do, including brushing up/increasing my German language skills. And as my PhD is all independent research anyway (no course work) I really could start (and should!) any time now. So...yes. Post weekly about progress/no progress/struggles/triumphs/ideas/questions? I like!

post #18 of 25

Turned in a full draft of my thesis right before Christmas, and have just started getting comments back from my two advisors. They both want to see different changes made to the thesis, and while I think their suggestions are useful and valid, I feel swamped. I'll need to have made the corrections they suggest, add more literature and reorganise the whole thing in less than a month if I want to sit my viva (defense) in March. The problem is that the external examiner wants to confirm the viva date *now*, and I have no childcare, no help and no money to enroll DS in daycare. And he doesn't nap anymore, nor does he get to sleep before 11pm at night (he's up at 8am and two or three times in the night). So a month isn't that long. This current pregnancy has been tough and I'm feeling really overwhelmed with the amount of work they want me to do in order to make the thesis better. And I know I have to put the work in because I want the best shot at it passing. Not to mention that one of my advisors wants to pull the thesis in a different direction. And I have no way of gauging at this point whether it's the *right* direction or not. 

post #19 of 25

Onedayatatime - Congratulations on your success! Don't forget - celebrate early and often! (My advisor tells me that a lot). You have gotten so far and you are super close!


Does one of your two advisors have more "sway" over the committee - that you can talk to for guidance on future direction?


In terms of childcare - do you have another mom you can swap time with? I am looking for other moms locally that would be interested in watching my son in exchange for watching their child - maybe once a week.


I'll start a new 2012 Student Mama Accountability thread to get us going and I will come back and put a link up here.

post #20 of 25
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