PhD, Child, Work... what to do


======= Date Modified 15 Aug 2012 20:00:15 =======
Hi all,
I am new on this forum, but am desperately looking for some advice and opinions...
I started my PhD (in North America) in 2006, in a social science. I passed all my coursework, comps and prospectus defense in a breeze by 2008, and then was offered a research fellowship with a major thinktank on the topic of my thesis. With the support of my school I took a leave of absence, and worked two years with the think tank. During this time I also got married (I met my now husband in my first year of the PhD, though he is not a PhD himself). After the two years as a research fellow we had a child, and I was on mat leave for a year. I am back at my PhD full time since January, and admittedly, am totally miserable in it. I feel totally out of place in the PhD program and school where I am the odd one out with a child, I have had to change supervisors because my original supervisor has left, and I feel I am making little to no progress on my thesis. We cannot afford daycare (my husband works but that's not enough, and my funding is not exactly great, it pays some bills and the tuition fees, but that's it), so I have been working on my thesis while my son naps, before he wakes up and in the evenings. This is completely wearing me out. I have also become very disillusioned about the academic world, and have a real hard time motivating myself to 'write for writing's sake'. On top of this I feel like a bad mother, because I feel that I am not giving enough attention to my son. I have just this week been offered a part time job on my topic of expertise, which hopefully will make things a little easier, since it will allow us part-time daycare for my son so hopefully there will be some more time to dedicate to my PhD.
However, over the summer I have had some major discussions with the university over some administrative issues (not my school, but the administration). Although that did get sorted out in the end, the whole situation did force me to rethink my options, and has made me doubt whether I want to continue the PhD. I started it because I wanted to work for thinktanks in my field, and even without having the PhD I am already finding jobs (on the day I accepted the part time position, I also received another unsollicited offer), so is it really worth it? On the other hand, something in me doesn't want to quit and wants to finish what I started, and I am just not really able to take the decision to give up. It feels a bit like I was totally in a different place when I started the PhD (no partner, no work experience, no child), and then life started happening, and now I don't know whether it is worth it anymore.
Does anyone have any advice? Anyone been in the situation of changing life circumstances while doing a PhD? How have you dealt with it?
Sorry for the long story, I hope it makes some sense...thank you for bearing with me!


I had two teenage children whilst doing my PhD, got married, then fell pregnant in my last year, had my viva whilst heavily pregnant then submitted my minor corrections on a Friday and the following Monday went into labour! Happily they were accepted. I am now working part-time in a post-doc position (I'm actually working at the moment whilst my baby is asleep on my bed next to me). I know that I didn't have a baby during my PhD and I would have found that MUCH harder to pick up the pieces again BUT I do understand some of the child issues you are having.

What I wanted to point out (and this is coming from a mother who has worked in both academia and industry for 18 years) is it won't make any difference to your guilt whether you are doing a PhD or working. It will be there whilst you are not concentrating on your child regardless of your status.

You will be faced with many challenges during a PhD. Many many many times I wanted to throw the towel in. EVERYONE has it. It is entirely up to you how you decide to handle those challenges.

Hope this helps. :-)



I'm a PhD mom just like you, and am now 20 months plus in my programme. I have a boy who's about 14 months and at the moment we are struggling with childcare. It's expensive here in the UK. I haven't been able to send my kid to the nursery full-time due to the high costs. So I'm doing exactly the same as you are which is trying to study when the baby is sleeping. This means waking up at 4 am and writing for 2 hours after which I try to get a nap for an hour or so. Then the madness in the house begins around 8 am when everyone's getting ready for work/ school. Then I try to write some more when the baby goes to sleep. I have even done some studying on weekends when my hubby is off work so he can mind the kids for a while. I must say that my studies have suffered a bit due to this spotty childcare arrangement. I still have some funding left until end of 2013 so I'm trying to persevere and hold on while I get something that looks like a first draft done :p If i had to rely on my own money, I don't know if I have the will and the (financial) motivation to carry on with the work.

Hope this helps to at least show you that you are not alone in this journey.


Hi Charliebrown and Cplusplusgirl!
Thank you for the kind replies :). It does help to know I am not alone in this, that the juggling act is not something that is 'strange' ;)

Charliebrown: wow, I am impressed, working from 4 to 6 in the morning! I tend to work from 6-8, I couldn't imagine getting up at 4. Though I also tend to work from 7pm (when my little one goes to bed again) til 10-10.30pm, but then I do find eventually my brain gives out though, so that's really about the best I can do ;) (oh and working the 2 hours or so he naps in the afternoon).

Cplusplus: you're right about the guilt always being there when working; thank you for pointing that out. Although I found that when I worked for the research institute, I was better able to 'leave work at work', than now with the PhD: it is just always there. And you're also right that we all go through the 'why am I doing this to myself' phases. I didn't mean to whine, sorry if it came across that way.