PhD Mummy: The Best of Worlds, The Worst of Worlds

There is a lot of stuff on the “inter-webs” about being a working mum, a stay at home mum, or a studying mum. If you take the time to read all the comments on these articles and forums it is clear that we mothers should all be at each others throats. Because, apparently, all three choices ARE DAMAGING OUR KIDS, GUYS. Working mums abandon their children. Stay at home mums are lazy, and aren’t good role models. Studying mums are selfish for taking time away from their kids to better themselves. One, two, three, four. I declare a mum war.

I think its all a bunch of codswallop. Aside from the fact that your family choices are actually none of my freaking business, I think we should be celebrating ALL mothers. The mums who somehow manage to maintain their sanity even after days inside due to the rain, cranky kids, and a husband on a business trip . The mothers who arrive at a 9am meeting unflustered after spending all night up with a colicky baby, and still manage to make after school soccer practice. The studying mums who mange to juggle exam study with school runs. The single mothers who do it alone and don’t have back up. I commend you. I bow down to you. Seriously – you rock! We’ve fought for years for gender equality (and we’re not quite there yet), we should be banding together. Not ripping each other to shreds.

But anyway, while trawling the net trying to find info for women who parent as well as PhD,  in addition to learning that pretty much every parenting choice I have ever made is wrong, I found that there really isn’t a lot of information out there on being a PhD mummy. Apparently we are a rare breed.

This might be because there aren’t many of us. Most people tend to get their qualifications under their belt before having a family. Or perhaps the ones there are are so run ragged that they don’t have the time nor energy to be writing blog posts. (Ooops.) Maybe it’s because you have to be a special kind of crazy to do a PhD, and an even specialer kind to do the doctorate with kids, and we’re dying out due to natural selection. Who is to know.

The truth is, I find being a PhD mummy has a set of its own unique challenges. It is simultaneously the best of worlds and the worst of worlds.


The best of worlds.

1) I can wear whatever I damn well please. No uncomfortable business attire for me. As long as I’m not on my way to a meeting, conference or presentation I could rock up in tracksuit bottoms with unwashed hair. Or Gucci. Or an ABBA outfit. No one cares. Academics seem to care as much about fashion as Concreters do about Paleo diets.

2) I make my own hours. I do have a contract which specifies how many hours I SHOULD be doing a week, and I tend to keep to it. But I don’t need to clock in and out, and as long as I meet my deadlines – again – no one cares. This means my work is flexible, I can arrange it around childcare, I can catch up on weekends or evenings if needs be, and this flexibility is bloody awesome for parents.

3) People think I am really smart. I’m actually not. I’m just really good at torturing myself with study. But hey, I’ll take your compliment.

4) I get paid to read and write about things I am passionate and excited about. I design my study. I don’t have to research something because that is what my boss is interested in, or that is what the grant is for. It’s all about me. Somedays I walk out of the office and think “I have the best job in the world.”

The worst of words
1) Pay. I mean…what pay? Yeah, we get a stipend which would probably just about cover the monthly Nespresso pod expenditure of the average candidate. But it’s not something you could easily survive on – especially if you have kids and were the single/main breadwinner. Working the equivalent of a full time job, often taking on part time work in addition, and not getting the financial reward – difficult. When you have a family to think of you need that extra slice of commitment and determination to continue.

2) You gotta do it. Or not do it. Quit a job two years in and you have a reference and work experience. Quit a PhD two years in and you have nothing except a bruised ego. It’s big. It’s long term. And you need to commit.

3) Some people don’t really get it.”Still at uni hey…” (Yes. And if all goes to plan, I may NEVER escape. It’s a trap!) “It’s not a real job” (Well no. I just signed a 38 hour week contract with four weeks of annual leave, and a pay that may not rival the average McDonalds employee as a hobby really.) “You must like torturing yourself.” (Ok, I actually agree with that.)

4) 95% of the PhD candidates I have met are not parents. We are at different stages of our lives, and often don’t understand each others needs. Doing a PhD is an isolating experience to begin with, and being unable to find common ground only entrenches this.

5) Missed opportunities. Sometimes I can’t go to courses or classes because I can’t get childcare on that day. Most PhDers teach to supplement their income. I can’t. I don’t have the time, energy or childcare. I can’t justify self funding conference travel when there are nappies to buy and bills to pay.

6) I know I put this as a benefit, but it can also be a negative. Working on weekends. I feel like Hubster and I tag team it and rarely see each other or spend time together as a family.

So here it is – the pro’s and con’s of being a PhD mummy. My advice for Mummy’s – do what is best for you, what is best for your children, and what is best for your family. Haters are always going to hate (hate, hate). Shake it off. Then go do your thing, whatever that may be.


6 thoughts on “PhD Mummy: The Best of Worlds, The Worst of Worlds

  1. Can I ask? How do you handle it all on a low? Working on the Ph.D. is difficult when I am depressed. I almost quit three years and and I am still thinking about it. I don’t have kids yet. I find the thought scary because I can’t fathom how to make it all work. I’m sorry for being so negative, but I really would like to know. It looks like my Ph.D. might go on forever and I don’t want to wait forever to have kids.


    • Hi Somberscribbler…well I didn’t handle it very well on a low last year that is for sure! I had to take a year off then forgot most of what I had done due to the ECT…argh! Now I am back I am just trying to take each day at a time. I also try not to work from home so I have distinct boundaries for PhD time and Mum time. It is easier for me though…I am at the beginning of my PhD.

      Totally understand your dilemma. A PhD is a lot of stress…and parenthood brings stress as well. Good luck with your doctorate and I hope you find a way to achieve all that you want to do.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My wife does not work (she is on disability) but is far from lazy. She is one hell of a mom and wife.

    I worked full time, wife and two kids and went back to school for my MBA. I went about bat-shit crazy for years, trying to keep up with everything. So I can only imagine what you had to go through.

    Haters are always gonna hate, to hell with them!


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