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To PhD or not to PhD?

(17 Posts)
OldBooks Wed 08-Mar-17 08:53:40

B/g so as not to drip feed:

I have always wanted to do a PhD, was accepted onto one straight off BA but didn't get funding, withdrew and never quite got back to it. Settled into a career I love, married, had DD1. Started discussing more DC but DH hesitant. It had taken several years to get pregnant with DD1 so when the opportunity came up at work to do a part time fully funded PhD I took it. DH might have said no more DC and if he said yes it might take years again to get pregnant and I didn't want to waste time.

Started September. DH decided yes to more DC in October. I got pregnant in November.

With a difficult, physically demanding pregnancy, toddler with (at this point un-diagnosed) health problems, house move, 4 days a week at very busy work with increasing responsibility I didn't manage to get ANY work done on the PhD that first year. I took an interruption of study while on mat leave with vague intentions of doing some reading while off - hmm - you can imagine that hasn't worked out!

Which brings us to today. DD2 is 7.5 months and I am phasing back to work 1 day a week, going back properly from April. Due to childcare costs and changes to DH job while I have been on mat leave we cannot afford for me to do 4 days, but we cannot afford for me to do 3 days either, so I am condensing my hours and doing 10 hour days. Several exciting but demanding projects have started at work and my line manager has put in paperwork to make my role full time (the increased pay would help with childcare in this case). I already feel like I can't cope - can't stay on top of the house, can't take care of myself (overweight and unfit), don't make enough time for DDs and DH, feel guilty all the time etc. Usual working mum juggling everything guilt. Oh and I have anxiety with depressive episodes and struggle a lot with mental health.

It would be absolutely crazy to start doing my PhD again from April, wouldn't it? I feel like a failure for considering withdrawing, it is something I have always wanted to do, but how will I cope? How can I give it the time and mental energy it will need? I feel like there are lots of mums who juggle study with all their other commitments and I am somehow being weak or letting the side down confused

Either talk sense into me or tell me to get on with it!

Foureyesarebetterthantwo Wed 08-Mar-17 09:27:10

I didn't quite get the set-up, but are you saying you are doing an almost full-time job and have two small children and the PhD is part-time on the top of that? If that's the case, no I don't think it would be realistic. Three 10 hour days (so four f/t) is going to be quite relentless enough. Sorry to sound negative, I can hear you want to make it work, but if you suffer from depression/mental health episodes, then having a workable doable work/life is the most important thing and that will be hard enough with just the job/small children.

If you were farther in and had collected a lot of data and were struggling with writing up, it might be a different story, because much of the work would have been done. It sounds like you are almost starting from scratch, is that the case?

VeryPunny Wed 08-Mar-17 09:31:54

Hang on, if this is a work funded part time PhD then they should be making this work, as in, stopping demanding projects piling up and managing the other "half" of your time to ensure that you can dedicate sufficient hours to your PhD. Otherwise everyone loses out.

That said, your situation sounds quite full-on. I'd be having a conversation with work about how they are prepared to make it work, and also with DH because you are going to need time in the evenings and weekends, and that would probably mean putting things like exercise/other hobbies on the back burner until you are finished your PhD.

To be honest I'd rather do a PhD with young children in nursery than when they are at school.....

Foureyesarebetterthantwo Wed 08-Mar-17 09:44:54

The other thing you need to think about is why do you need a PhD? If it is because you can't have a research career without it, then this is a very good reason and can be considered 'training' for your future career. If it's a 'nice to have' personal challenge, that's very different and a less compelling reason to put your family through the challenge of one person doing a PhD (which is hard work).

As VeryPunny says, though what part of your job is the PhD? When is your dedicated time to do it? If it is paid, then this time needs to be allocated and used for it.

OldBooks Wed 08-Mar-17 13:02:55

To clarify, yes, I will be working 4 days crammed into 3 days (7.30-5), I already bring work home with me to do in evenings/weekends, I have two small children (3 yo and 8 mo) who I will be looking after the other 2 days of the week, and the PhD will be on top of that. There is also the strong possibility that I will be asked to go full time from September if budget requests come through.

Work are paying for the PhD as part of their commitment to staff CPD, but I do not get any work time in which to study. I am pretty much starting from scratch, yes. It is in a history subject so I would need to find time for archival research and then of course writing up etc. The research will benefit my day to day work but is not essential to have in PhD form iyswim and it will not really help my career. In fact focusing on the projects that have come up would be better career wise.

Foureyes if you suffer from depression/mental health episodes, then having a workable doable work/life is the most important thing and that will be hard enough with just the job/small children and If it's a 'nice to have' personal challenge, that's very different and a less compelling reason to put your family through the challenge of one person doing a PhD

these are the things that are really worrying me. DM studied when I was in tweens/early teens and I remember her shutting herself away and us being an annoyance to her unless I was transcribing interviews, proofreading, doing bibliography for her. I would hate to make my girls feel that way. And of course I fear pushing myself into more serious anxiety. Having a rest now and then is vital and I can't see that happening if I am studying as well, even though I do enjoy the research and the writing I am realistic enough to know that a PhD is a huge slog no matter how much you love the subject.

To be honest I'd rather do a PhD with young children in nursery than when they are at school..... VeryPunny could you explain why?

I think objectively I do know that I realistically cannot do this but the depression tells me it is just another example of me not trying hard enough and being a failure hmm I talked myself out of going back to study when I was younger, single and had so much time (if only I appreciated then how much free time I had!) because I told myself that I wasn't good enough to do it. Now I am older and more confident I know I can do it, I just don't have the time and energy. Life, eh?

dorothymichaels Wed 08-Mar-17 13:17:44

I'm just finishing mine and no way would I have done it in that scenario. I was salary level funded part-time, I worked as well but picked up teaching and clinical work to fit in with the research. My primary goal was to become an academic/researcher. My kids were 2 and 6 when I started. I'm with FourEyes - think about your reasoning for doing it. If it is for your career and they support that, yes they should be giving you more time. In my experience EVERYTHING to do with research takes longer than you think it it will! If it is the personal challenge, would that be to the detriment of your mental health.
A PhD is a slog, and more about stamina than changing the world or being brain of Britain. There is a Facebook group called PhD and Early Career Researcher parents. They may be useful... You'd need to prove you are genuine (e.g. linkdin profile) for them to accept you. I can't introduce as I've come off Facebook to get my damn thesis written!

dorothymichaels Wed 08-Mar-17 13:19:34

Also, one aspect of a PhD is that it can be very isolating. I've also suffered from depression and anxiety and this was the aspect I found the hardest. The reason I also did other work was to keep me sane. So in that respect having another focus is good. It's important to mark out your time. I down tools at school pick up time and work early morning rather than evenings, so the kids don't see me always at my desk.

VeryPunny Wed 08-Mar-17 13:26:55

Okay, in that situation I wouldn't touch a PhD with a barge pole. I think your work might not quite understand the level of committment that a PhD invovles; very generous of them to pay for it but I just don't see how you could do a PhD in your evenings and weekends in a reasonable timeframe (ie, a few years; increasingly universities will not let graduate students stay registered ad infinitum, and it's either graduate or bust after 5 years), and do anything outside of work and your PhD. It's an entirely different kettle of fish to a Masters program, or even an Open University degree. I did my PhD straight after uni complete with salary level grant (in science field) and have no idea how I could have done it part time. It's all consuming.

WRT to PhD when children in nursery - a good nursery is 51 weeks a year, 8am-6pm, Monday to Friday, so you could take a week's leave and then really make some progress as your children would be looked after. Schools are term time only, kick out at 3pm, and I personally find my children much more fun from the age of about 2.5, so would rather spend time with them when they are older (disclaimer: I went back to work when DS was 3 months old for two days a week)

It sounds like your work is in a really positive place - you're in demand, they want you to do interesting work and there's potentially more money available. I'd ditch the PhD. Dropping the PhD is not failing, it's actively helping you succeed by not massively over committing yourself.

MaybeDoctor Wed 08-Mar-17 13:31:49

I have thought long and hard about this, hence my username. In all honesty, it just sounds too much in your present situation. For my own part, I had a big sense of wanting to be fully 'present' as a parent while my child is young - doing my MA had been difficult enough. Another issue I noticed at the end of my MA was that the pressure of doing my dissertation was triggering all sorts of childhood-related anxieties around academic success, being 'good enough' etc. I felt quite unwell for a little while after submission and would only want to go back to further study if the circumstances were right.

I have gradually come back to the idea, but might begin in a year or two as my child becomes more independent. Due to my subject area I have also considered alternative routes such as a professional doctorate or PhD by publication (although this is rare, I know).

allegretto Wed 08-Mar-17 13:42:13

I have just finished my PhD. I had some time off work but ended up using it as maternity leave as I had twins a year in! When I went back to work, I worked three days a week and studied 2 days. It took me a long time to finish this way but I did finish. I also suffered from depression on and off and had some periods when I literally did nothing. To be honest, I didn't think I would ever finish!

In your scenario, I can't see when you would study, however. If you could put your children into daycare on the two days you have off work then it might just be doable but as things stand I think you are heading for a burn out pretty quickly.

One thing to bear in mind is how much it would cost you to pay for your own PhD fees a few years down the line - your work is paying now but I don't actually think that is such a good deal unless they also give you the time to do it which is worth a lot more to you. Also how would you stand if you didn't finish? Would you have to pay it back? Part-time fees are not too horrendous in my experience so you might be better off cutting your losses and reconsidering when your children are at school.

Foureyesarebetterthantwo Wed 08-Mar-17 17:20:52

I have never heard of anyone doing a PhD in their 'spare time' with two tiny children and a demanding job. I have part-time students and they work 2/3 days a week on their PhDs and still it takes them 6 years. I don't think your work understand what a PhD is or what would be required if they think you can fit it around your work! PhDs are funded as paid work by research councils as they are work! You are effectively taking on another job.

I think you just have to find a way to make this ok in your head. Better do that now, than let the sense of failure linger on for years and years as you feel guilty all the time for not moving forward with it.

If you were being paid to do a PhD or had time in your schedule or needed it to pursue an academic career, then it just might be worth jeopardizing your mental health and energy levels to aim for it- given that none of these are true, I really wouldn't.

I think you'll feel a lot better when you move on from this idea. I am actually quite cross your work suggested this, it's not like a part-time Masters and even then I wouldn't take that on in your current position.

OldBooks Wed 08-Mar-17 18:47:36

Foureyes dare I tell you that I am Professional Services staff at a University...!

Thanks so much for all the considered opinions, I think I will have to shelve this at the moment for all the eminently sensible reasons you have outlined. My frustrated inner academic will have to wait!

Foureyesarebetterthantwo Wed 08-Mar-17 19:10:47

That is even weirder! How would you have time to do this if not in an allocated portion of work time? I guess they have offered this as it costs them nothing (fee waiver) but I wouldn't be happy with anyone doing a PhD in their after work hours as its hard enough to finish when you have dedicated time for it.

herewecomeawassailing Thu 09-Mar-17 20:43:26

It does sound impossible and unwise as it stands. I thinks there're two sensible ways forward. 1 - don't do it (now), if you don't love it and it doesn't lead anywhere you particularly want to go. 2 - get alternative funding. If you are doing mostly desk-based research, which is flexible time-wise, and currently paying for childcare for two kids, research council funding will pay you a maintenance stipend which together with less paid out for childcare could mean you are better off in various ways. Possibly combine this with career break from existing job to keep options open.

herewecomeawassailing Thu 09-Mar-17 20:46:31

even though I do enjoy the research and the writing I am realistic enough to know that a PhD is a huge slog no matter how much you love the subject.

Honestly, I don't think this has to be the case. With young kids, it can be a much much better deal than a job, if you are strategic in what you do / your funding, plus (learn to) love it.

impostersyndrome Fri 10-Mar-17 19:48:46

I agree with everyone that it's not practical at this stage. I'd also add that the leap from BA to PhD is vast. You'd be much better off in my opinion to take an MA modular over 5 years: get the training you need and then if you feel ready, a PhD. Look into interrupting your studies so that the clock is stopped for now. In addition (or indeed alternatively), can you get an academic mentor to help you in writing up the work you're doing at present for publication? That way you'll get the self-worth from academic success without having to commit to a vast project of a PhD.

Nb in my many years experience as a supervisor, part-time PhDs are very hard to do, not only for the reasons of work pressure, but also keeping up many momentum of studies over a long period. If you do proceed, I'd recommend doing so on a topic related to your work, so you have synergy between your two activities. But really, I don't see how you can manage at the moment.

EnormousTiger Fri 10-Mar-17 20:25:40

I think you should wait unless it's essential for your career, to be honest. it will just frustrate you particularly as you're probably getting funding to go back to full time work and have two very small children. Do you have to repay any money already paid to you for the PhD though?

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