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PhD Mommy - A Rant

Our PhD Mommy charts the trials, tribulations and triumphs she has experienced during her time as a PGR and a parent.

A stressed out woman sitting on a bed surrounded by flying books.
Courtesy of Lacie Slezak (Unsplash)

I started my PhD hoping for a life-changing miracle in my levels of intelligence and personality. Unfortunately, there has been no discernible impact on either.

So here is my story and if you are hoping for some inspiration or tricks or tips to help, scroll away right now…….

You still here …..

So I start again. I was happily flourishing and working away doing my bit for the neoliberal world. Being an excellent economic asset and deep in debt to service my needs like home, car, and multiple vacations worldwide. And suddenly, in the middle of the night, after a highly insulting email from a boss, I had an epiphany. It said, get out of this, do something more with your life….. What are you doing …..You need to be doing more for yourself and your future…. Of course, it could also be the Jupiter in my star sign at the right time that pushed me (Yes, I am Indian, and we find many reasons and people or Modi, or planets to pass the blame for our decisions….what could I do… the planets wanted it. )

The epiphany bought me to Glasgow to complete a Masters because, for some reason, I was one of the few people who graduated in a trade which at that time gave diplomas, and that would not have been acceptable. I told myself, well, a bit of practice and understanding the education system here would always be of help.

Then I started shopping for a PhD guide. Do you sometimes feel like it's exactly like shopping for jeans? None of the standard sizes really fit all of you perfectly, so some go loose on the waist, some make your back look weird and omg, the dreaded muffin top…. But one perseveres until you find the one that makes you look good (or wear long tops as I do). So if there is some advice, finding a guide is almost as elusive as finding the perfect jeans. At the end of my search, I had 5 offers, and being the perfectionist, I chose the one I felt was right for me. This involved talking about the project and determining the interest and the views of my guide. It also meant asking how they saw the research area and direction of the project. The best part of this search is there are no wrong ways to research, but there are always some ways that make it seem intuitively more your style and your area of understanding.

Lo and behold, it was the starting day. Amid the pandemic and the boom of ZOOM, I started the induction in my fancy pyjamas and semi formal-looking top. I wish I could tell you that all my doubts were cleared up, and suddenly I could see the light. It was actually very much the opposite. My research questions started swimming for survival.

Would they be the right questions?

Would I be able to do justice to this quest?

Oh my freaking god, I absolutely don't think I am capable of doing this …..

Leave…. Abort….. Run……

Save the money for my sons' dowry …. Or for my old age home …..

If anyone tells you their PhD was easy, they just knew how to go about it from the beginning, don't believe them. Don't buy whatever they are selling and run away before you have an identity crisis and find yourself in a monastery. In my last 7-8 months, I have sailed on so many journeys, often changing my GPS in the midst of one to take multiple detours before coming back and finding myself completely lost. And that is absolutely fine, so don't stress about it, don't binge on chocolates or ice cream, get used to people asking you:

“So what exactly do you do the whole day?”

“Why don't you take a break, your studies are not going anywhere?”

“So PhD in what ….? Oh, I did not know you could do a PhD in that.”

“Mom, you are the most boring person in the world who stares at the laptop the whole day but still can't answer how to clear the level in Among Us Airship Map.”

So what have I lost in the last few months - my beliefs about my own assumptions, my confidence in knowing the "TRUTH', my ability to state my point across, my hair, my neoliberal status of economic producer and consumer (PhD is a full-time effort).

And what have I gained - an ability to download super loads of files that I may or may not ever be able to read, a newfound respect for files and folders system of organisation, the skill of skimming introductions and conclusions of papers, loads of grey hair (but that is also because of salons being closed), debt because I am investing in my future and hoping that soon I will be able to blitz through it once I get a job…..(fingers crossed)

To conclude, this is not an easy journey, but somehow it's been the most intellectually satisfying piece of my life. I have actually delved into my own words and decipher meanings that can be evidenced. I have met amazing people on their own journey and provide so much nourishment to my soul.

A group of university friends walking and talking
A support network is key (image courtesy of Wix)

If there is one bit of advice I can offer (apart from a hair colour subscription, a large RAM capacity in the laptop, having a data management system), it will only be, get a support group of people because the only people who slightly understand what you are going through is people going through it themselves. This band of support will keep you off the edge, will calm you down and get your focus renewed to trudge ahead.

And don't get angry with your son calling you a nerd, it's a compliment.

Author retains copyright to text. Images courtesy of Unsplash and Wix.

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I love your post btw. It's really funny from one PHD Mom to another. ve your style of writing and wit too.

Thanks for sharing your very funny and honest rant.

Marsaili Mainz

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