Parenthood and PhDs

Originally appeared in South West Doctoral Training Partnership (SWDTP) Newsletter:
Thinking of starting a family or having another child during your PhD? Not sure how compatible parenthood might be with your studies or where to turn for advice on suspending studies? I am a second year SWDTP student at the University of Bath and suspended studies mid-January to have a baby (I am writing this whilst my eight week old is napping!). I am a second-time mum and started my MRes when my first child was 18 months, suspending studies just before his fourth birthday for the birth of my second. So, I have also experienced juggling parenting, childcare and studying. I know I am not alone as I was surprised and encouraged at the SWDTP induction to find so many parents amongst our cohort. I’m sure they have lots of different experiences of parenting and studying but I hope these comments help anyone considering how it might affect them.
I know how difficult it can be sometimes to dig out the maternity and paternity guidance, not least if you are not ready to make public your news or intentions. So, in terms of the practicalities of maternity leave, in principle, assuming you are funded by an ESRC studentship, your entitlement is not dissimilar to that of most workplaces. That is 52 weeks of maternity or shared parental leave with the first 26 weeks paid at full stipend rate and the following 13 weeks be paid at a rate roughly equivalent to statutory maternity pay. If you are looking for more specific detail then I’d advise checking out the RCUK and ESRC guidance (there will also be some university specific guidance also) (page 26). Suspending studies is procedural and can be done directly through your institution, fairly late on in the pregnancy.I thought it might be handy to share one perspective of combining pregnancy and parenting with studying. For me, pregnancy had a limited impact on my studies. Being pregnant towards the end of my first year, I was fortunate in being able to read and type with my feet up on the sofa when feeling rough and exhausted. I was about five months pregnant at confirmation and following this imagined I would get as many interviews done as I could before suspending studies. I rapidly realised that I was slightly less inclined towards long days of travelling in the latter stages and consequently shifted my plan to writing in the interim. Since suspending studies, I have certainly found it a different experience compared with going on maternity leave from my previous job given the consuming nature of a PhD. However, as with the latter stages of my last maternity leave when I was applying for the MRes and PhD, I found having the PhD on the backburner to pick up and think about in the long periods of patting little ones off to sleep or lengthy walks with the pram, to be a much needed source of perspective.

I can’t speak for what it is going to be like having two little ones but prior to the recent arrival, other students have often asked me how I can combine parenting and studying and, sometimes to their surprise, I often find myself saying that I think it has helped. I find looking after my son so all consuming that you have no choice but to switch off from your studies – dashing off to toddler swimming lessons or playing games in the garden is the perfect antidote to hours of reading. And during his time at nursery I am forced to be efficient and get down to work as I know I only ever have about a four hour window until I need to collect him. It will certainly be a new challenge come January to return to studying with two little ones but I hope studying and parenting continue to bring as much to each other as they have so far (and I welcome any tips from any of you who have already been through this!).

Good luck to all those student parents out there and I hope this has been a useful insight for anyone in a similar position. If I can answer any questions then do please get in touch and I will do my best to help.

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