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How to juggle a PhD with family life by Doctoral Academy champion, Diana Waldron

Diana Waldron, PhD student, and Doctoral Academy champion, discusses how to juggle a PhD with family life.

"My partner and I had started to get ourselves and our lives ready to plan a family after I had finished my PhD. We’d heard that getting pregnant could take a long time, so we didn’t worry too much. Since I was ready to start the second year of my PhD soon, we thought we could take it easy for two more years and then work hard towards having our family. However it seems the universe was only too keen to grant our wish, and I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl right in the middle of the second year of my PhD. This was a little sooner than we expected and I knew it was going to be a big challenge. However, in the process of trying to see the positive side of everything, I thought that it might be better to have the baby during my PhD rather than afterwards, due to the flexibility of time that this could offer.

Soon after returning from my maternity leave (I couldn’t afford to get more than six months leave due to time and financial pressures) I realised that such flexibility was both a blessing and a curse. Too much flexibility allows time to fly away and a PhD requires a lot of commitment and effort. A new baby brings a lot of happiness to your life, but she also brings the opposite of what you need for your PhD: she takes up a lot of your time and your mind is now more occupied with the wellbeing of your little one, rather than on the wellbeing of your research!

Besides the above, I can say without a doubt that the biggest challenge is finding childcare. My partner works full-time, without any flexibility, and unfortunately our families can’t help much. Being a PhD student, I don’t have a lot of money and neither does my partner. Paying for childcare in this country is prohibitively expensive. Luckily we have a small network of PhD colleagues who also have children –  they helped me to find alternative part-time childcare options. I therefore managed to find the available time to carry on with my PhD work, but it has certainly been a rollercoaster.

The biggest reward is coming home to a beautiful family every day – we have been blessed with this beautiful little baby and she is growing healthy and happy. I always try to spend as much time as I can with her and, although it’s always painful to be away from her, it’s also good to know that she’s interacting with other adults and children. She learns a lot from them, too. I want to be a good role model for her, I want her to grow up knowing that we can achieve anything we want in life, but only if we work hard for it. I hope with our example, one day she will understand it. This motivation for me is priceless!

I am not sure that I am the best person to provide advice on how to handle a situation like this, since most of the time I feel I am just running on survival-mode autopilot. However, my best advice is to take one day at a time, deal with the most important issues at hand, have a relatively flexible plan, but set some unmovable milestones to help you reach your important PhD deadlines. I am not entirely sure I will succeed yet – my baby is now 16 months old and I still have about 1.5 years to finish my PhD, so this story is to be continued. But I am certainly doing the best I can to juggle everything, and I am determined that I will go to my graduation ceremony proudly holding my baby’s and my partner’s hand."

Get in touch with Diana at (@Waldron_Diana)