Parenthood and the PhD
To kick start the week we hear the perspective of PhD student, James McDonald, on PhD life and fatherhood.
“Oh, I could never have done my PhD if I had children” is a sentiment I have heard expressed in various ways throughout my PhD. I married my wife, Shuxin, a few months into the first year of my PhD. Fourteen months later, Shuxin and I had Theodore, our first child.
I can understand why people tell me they could never juggle a PhD with family. A PhD is something that completely consumes your life - you can never really “turn off” . There’s always something to think about, whether it’show you’re going to finish a chapter on time, writing publications, blogs or abstracts for conference papers, or wondering why you ever thought this was a good idea in the first place. Being in my final year of the PhD, the whole process has turned from an exciting adventure, into an unknown world full of potential and opportunity to see out the last leg of a marathon. It’s an endurance race at this point, and I often wonder if my legs will carry me over the finish line. But that’s where family comes in.
PhDs more often than not completely envelope a researcher’s life, it becomes the centre of their universe for 3-5 years of their life; and that’s okay up to a point. But it can be both mentally and physically draining, if you don’t find an outlet for all the stresses that come with writing a thesis. Family, of course, has its own stresses too. Money, housing, raising your child well, and looking after your spouse are all things I’ll be concerned with for the rest of my life. But when I’ve had a long day at the office, or when I am feeling disheartened because of writer’s block, it is nice to go home to a son that wants nothing more than to have all your attention and affection. Nothing brings me more joy than to hear Theodore laugh, to see him grow and develop, to listen to him say new words (he said Borg the other day! – yes, I like Star Trek). It also gives me an excuse to watch Thomas the Tank Engine again.
Ultimately, the reason why I started this PhD was to have these moments with my wife and son. The funding I received from the AHRC allowed me to meet the financial requirements to get a spousal visa to bring my Chinese wife (then fiancée) back to the UK. That’s obviously a reason quite personal to me, but anyone who does a PhD embarks on this journey for reasons other than the PhD itself. It’s important to keep these in mind when the going gets tough. For a PhD is not just about your intelligence, but also about your ability to persevere. For some that means studying whilst having a family, for other it means doing the research whilst juggling work commitments, or caring for someone, or dealing with your own health issues. Whether you’re a PhD student with family or not, life happens; and as much as we would like to put things on hold so we can let the thesis consume us, life just doesn’t work that way. Care about your research, but don’t let it consume you - and make sure to care for yourself and your loved ones too.
“I don’t know how I could’ve done my PhD if I had kids” someone once told me “but I suppose it puts things in perspective”. Yes, it does.
Post written by James McDonald.