I did it! And I didn’t CoC it up.

I’ve been distinctly absent from the ‘blogosphere’ over the last few months. It has been an interesting ride.

So I went back to the PhD and within the first six months you have to complete what they call your “Confirmation of Candidature” (or CoC as we PhD’s call it. Hubster, being the mature adult he is thought our term CoC was hilarious. It all started when I accidentally sent him an email meant for my supervisor where the first sentence was: “I’m concerned that my CoC is too long. Can you please give it a look and see what you think”.)

Anyway. I didn’t realise  the CoC it was such a big thing (heh.) until I would tell people in the office what I was doing and they would be all “Eeeee” with a strangled look on their faces, before regailing me with some kind of horror story from their own CoC. Then they would try and save it by saying “Oh, I’m sure you’ll be fine though.” Kind of like the last weeks of your pregnancy where everyone around you seems to have had a near death experience during labour.

So what is a CoC?. This is basically where you complete a long literature review and research proposal on your topic. Mine is a few thousand words off my Honours thesis. And it is pure blood, sweat and tears. Literally. I gave myself a paper cut on the damn thing.

So after writing the document you then to do a big presentation to the research board, all the faculty and grad students within the school attend as well. You yabber on about your topic and then everyone asks questions. There are three outcomes of this. You get through and are now officially a PhD Candidate. You get kicked out of the PhD program. Or you are asked to make some changes and once they are done you get through.

So basically I have been working full pelt on this stuff. Hubster and I were basically a tag team. I worked weekends for extra time. It was hard not spending time with my family, especially after I was away so much last year in hospital. I felt I was being pulled apart in different directions (the way, I’m sure many parents feel). It has not been easy.

One of my more relaxing Sundays…:)

One of my more relaxing Sundays…:)

Firstly, I had six months to complete this milestone. Problem is I completed three months. Got sick. Ended up in hospital forever. Had ECT. Returned in January to realise that because of my short term memory problems associated with the ETC…I HAD FORGOTTEN IT ALL!

The horror.

So I basically had to start again. Reread all these notes and diagrams I had made and try to make sense of it all. I now, basically, had 3 months to complete this task.

But of course, I have a three year old. I have very limited childcare. I was trying to achieve in three days a week, what other people achieve in five. Which is why I gave up and started working weekends, grabbing any extra time I could.

Then of course, I have two chronic illnesses that like to make themselves known occasionally. I have had flare ups. I am under the care of four different hospitals and have appointments with each. More time down the drain.

All in all it was a bit of disaster, and at times I felt like everything that could possibly prevent me from doing this PhD was happening. Maybe it was a sign? Maybe I should just give it up.

But one of my greatest assets and sometimes biggest downfalls, is that I am incredibly stubborn. I persist until the bitter end. I ignore people who tell me that is ok to give up. This can be a good thing, or a very bad thing.

So I continued. I worked my arse off. I took on board every ounce of feedback from my supervisors. I wrote a document I was damn proud of. I spent ages designing my presentation and then practicing it over and over again (alarming fellow grads who walked into the office to find me talking to myself). Then the day before my presentation, I stopped myself. I had done enough. There is nothing more I can do.

On the morning of the presentation Hubster very kindly made me breakfast and took Master D to daycare. On the way out he waved and called out “Don’t CoC it up!” Then I went….and I did it.

I stood up in front of all these academics that I greatly respect. The entire school. The research board. And I told them why I think we need to address mental illness stigma in the community. I talked about the complicated theoretical backing behind my design.  I told them how I wanted to achieve change. And, it really surprised me, but I loved doing it.

And I got some awesome feedback. My study design was “fascinating”, and “well thought out”. There were a few questions, but nothing major, and certainly nothing intimidating.

After I returned to my desk and found email upon email from people congratulating me which was so sweet. After the presentation the board have a big meeting to determine whether I am able to continue with my PhD (until you have achieved this milestone you are probationary). This process can take up to a week. I have heard it taking up to a month.

Within ten minutes I got a phone call saying that I was through (informally). A few minor budget adjustments and then I’m set to go.

I don’t often say this, but I am really proud of myself. After everything that has happened…I went back. I achieved what I wanted to do. I stuck with it. And from what everyone has been telling me…I did damn well.

My supervisor told me that a lot of people would have given up in my circumstances. And no one would have blamed them.

But I didn’t give up.

I did it!

This whole thing has been a confidence booster. And not just on the academic side.
I have proved to myself that I can fall down hard… and pick myself up again.

A year ago I was hooked up to a urinary catheter, in a psych ward, under involuntary status, pushing around an IV pole. I was completely dependant, psychologically and physically. I couldn’t even pee on my own.

A year on and I have learned to manage both of my illnesses. I get up every morning. I sleep every night. I earn an income. I achieved a major body of work. Hell, I can even pee by myself.

I did it. I came back. I have rebuilt my life.

And I didn’t CoC it up 🙂

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.

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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.

Going Back to What I Started

Well, I’m pleased to announce that we emerged from Christmas relatively unscathed.

Of course, Hubster received a Nerf gun from his Secret Santa, then promptly shot my sister in the eye which resulted in a Christmas Eve trip to the doctor. Although this was vaguely traditional. Christmas isn’t Christmas in our household if someone doesn’t end up in the Emergency Room. Master D announced to the table in a rather stern manner that “we don’t eat poo’s, only dinners” (not particularly complimentary of my food, I felt). Mum decided to back her computer up which somehow resulted the kind of chaos only my family can achieve; deep and meaningful discussions on the best method of backing up, accusations of “nephelious” content, and despair when the back up was predicted to take 67 days. And no one seemed to appreciate my helpful renditions of “Back that Thang Up” by Juvenile.

But all in all, it was a good Christmas. I didn’t poison myself. For that matter, I didn’t poison anyone else. No one poisoned me. To get to the point, no vomiting or morphine based drugs were required. And I only had one panic attack. Unscathed.

Now I have to face the fact that in under two weeks I am going back to university. My emotional response to this is variable, but almost always resides sonewhere on a five point scale ranging from “Slightly Dubious” to “Holy Crap”

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE what I do. I love writing. I love researching. I’m passionate about reducing mental illness stigma. I sure as hell want to earn my title of “doctor”. I’ve worked damn hard to get to the point I am at.

But I’m scared.

You see, I started my PhD last year. I was given a scholarship that only nine others were offered. I was told my by supervisors and other academic staff that I was talented and could go far in the industry. I was invited to present at the national conference in my first six months which is HUGE.

And then I got sick, spent five months in hospital, and had to take the rest of the year off. I had to bow out of the conference (although my talk was still presented by my supervisor). While I was having ECT I couldn’t even remember what my thesis was on. Now I have to go back into the office. Say “hi” to all the people I haven’t seen for a year. And somehow pick up where I left of. It is incredibly daunting.

And on top of undertaking a full-time PhD, which is, I’m assuming, challenging at the best of times. I have to do it in half the time due to difficulties in childcare arrangements. I currently have three days a week to achieve what my colleagues do in five or six. This is not even including research assistant work and/or teaching. I also have to factor in, not one, but two chronic illnesses. I also have a three year old. Just to save time here: “yes”I have thought about going part time, “no” it is not possible without forfeiting my scholarship and putting my family into a inferior financial position.

The thing is, I keep worrying. I had terrible side effects from ECT. What if my mind won’t work the way it used to? What if I get sick again? What if I let everyone down? And here is the big one: What if I am unable to achieve what I have wanted to do since I was about 12 years old?

I did, in a particularly rebellious moment, decide to pack in the PhD and become a Fudge Master instead. I like making fudge. People like eating it. And It may or may not be an uncracked industry. I decided my business would be called “MotherFudger” and I would sell my stash at the local markets. Unfortunately my dream was cut short when I realised there was already a “MotherFudger” out there (well, many actually. But we won’t go into that). I also worked out that even if I ripped off the buying community with overpriced product, my fudge profit margin would probably still put me under the poverty line. So that idea, in short, was “fudged” from the get go.

So with Plan B knocked off the list, it is back to Plan A. I’ve thought about and how I will handle it, and all that does is make me incredibly stressed. So I’ve come up with three basic PhD rules:

1) Take each day at a time and don’t put too much pressure on yourself
2) No degree is more important than your physical and mental health
3) No degree is more important than your son and family

I also came up with a reminder:

Do your best, but if it doesn’t work out you are not a failure. You can always go back to the degree in the future.

So I’m getting my laptop in order. Rereading my notes. Boxing up data to take into the office. And after all this time I’m going to go back to what I started.
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