As a part-time PhD student in the Department of Education, I often get asked how I manage to find the time to fit everything in. In addition to studying for my PhD, I also work two days a week supporting young people who are at risk of exclusion from school. To top it all off, I have a two-year-old who loves to have my attention as often as possible. Balancing PhD study with everything else takes a bit of practice!
How I balance PhD study and home life
I think the answer to being able to manage part-time postgraduate study will probably be unique to each person. In my case, it’s a matter of having to be extremely well-organised. I set aside blocks of time to concentrate on my research without distractions. This is often easier said than done! I’m fortunate to have a supportive family who help me to stay on track with my studies.
Sometimes, I will plan to set aside time for certain things. It might be writing a draft of my latest chapter, or reading an interesting article for my literature review. But life gets in the way and I end up playing superheroes with my son, or taking an urgent phone call from work. I have had to learn to accept that there will always be competing demands on my time. Rather than getting frustrated with this situation, I have learnt that it is better to be flexible with plans. This ensures that I give myself plenty of leeway with deadlines.
Taking leave of abscence
When I was pregnant with my son, I decided that I wanted to take a leave of absence from my studies for several months after he was born. My supervisor and Department were very supportive. They helped me to navigate the administrative requirements of applying for a leave of absence.
In the end, I took around nine months away from my studies. I was worried that taking this amount of time away from my research would put me at a disadvantage. However, I have been back working on my research for over a year now, and I feel that I have fitted back into my Department with no issues. I really benefitted from having the time and space to concentrate on my new arrival.
Balancing PhD study and family life is always going to be a juggling act. Accepting that sometimes you just can’t do it all is essential for maintaining this lifestyle for any period of time. However, I am now around a year away from submitting my PhD thesis. It feels like my research has been an important part of my life for a very long time, but I’m looking forward to finally having some spare time once again.
Reap the rewards
Postgraduate study on a part-time basis with a family and a part-time job can be hard at times. Anyone who tells you different is either incredibly lucky, somewhat naïve, or just outright fibbing. But it is definitely possible and is a very rewarding experience. I think that once you see one of your articles published in an academic journal and can think, ‘I wrote that whilst nursing my baby’; you can justifiably feel a real sense of achievement!