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Advice needed about doing a PhD

(23 Posts)
MrsMerryHenry Wed 30-Sep-09 13:07:59

At the mo I'm just dabbling with the idea of doing a PhD at some point in the next few years. What I'd like to know is firstly:

How do you find out whether your chosen subject has already been done by someone else?

Secondly, has anyone here done their PhD with young kids in tow? How do you make it work? Did you work on the side for money as well? Did you remain sane through till the end?

nevergoogledragonbutter Wed 30-Sep-09 13:11:14

but you won't have time to be on mumsnet.

it's a terrible idea wink

VulpusinaWilfsuit Wed 30-Sep-09 13:12:47

I have flounced. [No really... grin]

But you need this thread - ask there...

nevergoogledragonbutter Wed 30-Sep-09 13:15:17

Have you considered a PhD in tree identification?

Habbibu Wed 30-Sep-09 13:15:36

Google Scholar is not a bad place to start - will give you an idea whether stuff has been published. ProQuest has changed since my day, but may also be of use. Prospective supervisors may also be able to advise.

I didn't have children when I did mine, but I know it can be done. It's hard work, and I do admire people who do it with families. You need to really want to know the answers to your questions, and for the subject to really matter to you to stick at it and do a good job.

Fennel Wed 30-Sep-09 13:21:19

Lots of people do them with children. Frankly, I think doing one with small children and having to work as well is a bit grim. but certainly possible if you're motivated, and get a good experienced sympathetic supervisor, that makes a HUGE difference.

most research questions in my field (woffly old social sciences) can be tweaked so if someone's done something similar you can build on it or do something a bit different, developing it as you go. It's different in laser physics, say (Dp has a phd in that and there it's crucial to not have someone else doing the same thing, but I'm assuming for the moment you're not a physicist, cos it's rare to start a physics phd as a mature student.

remaining sane. hahaha. I was distinctly unsane by the end of my phd, even without children, but sanity did return eventually.

Fennel Wed 30-Sep-09 13:22:15

Wilf, have you really flounced?

Kathyis12feethighandbites Wed 30-Sep-09 13:28:03

The subject overlap thing is funny - the approach taken varies between subjects and places. I remember someone in Cambridge Classics saying that at Oxford if you wanted to do a PhD on a particular Classical author if it was a well-known one they would say 'He's already been done, find someone more obscure' but at Cambridge it would be 'What's your new angle on him?'

So you may be able to find a new spin on an old area.
Or in other areas (eg some historical subjects) it's a matter of finding a resource, eg a set of papers, that haven't been looked at and basing it around that.

Sending emails to people in the field who might be possible supervisors and discussing your ideas is always a good idea.

TheMightyToosh Wed 30-Sep-09 13:29:01

You can do it part time if the institution/supervisor agrees. Best to look in the press associated with your area for PhDs that are already being advertised, or look at

You might be able to find a paid position that produces a PhD at the end of it, depending on your subject.

I took 6 yrs to finish mine as started working before I had finished writing up. It is hard to do both. And hard to write up when you only have short bursts of time, as it takes a long time each tme to get back into it, IYKWIM.

I think you would have to be very open about your family situation from the outset, as you would need an understanding supervisor who would accomodate family emergencies, time off, etc. A friend of mine did it with one small DC and had another during - her dept was very child/family friendly, but not all of them are, so you would need to establish this at the start.

But, the experience of being a mum first is priceless, as you will be so much more confident and organised than a student fresh from their first degree, so that will be a plus point for you.

I say go for it - apply for some, be open about your need for flexibility etc and see what is out there. You might just find the perfect position is waiting for you!

Blackduck Wed 30-Sep-09 13:30:41

Okay I did mine BC, but did it whilst working and its hard work!! To be honest if you are just dabbling with the idea that isn't good enough! It is an intellectual, and often emotional, journey and you HAVE to want to do it. I don't know the exact stats but unfinished PhDs (or PhDs changed to MPhil) is pretty high when being done p-t. Carving out your time, keeping the motivation going and all that is hard work!. Like Fennel I was nuts by the end, indeed I wasn't even aware I was approaching the end! My supervisor (who was amazing) said 'can't you see the light at the end of the tunnel?' and I truely couldn't (I think I made the old crack about on-coming trains!).
Like Fennel said supervisors are crucial and I'd actually argue finding a really good p-t supervisor is even harder....

Kathyis12feethighandbites Wed 30-Sep-09 13:35:22

What is your subject?
It makes a difference in a lot of ways (eg will it be library-based or lab work?).

Fennel Wed 30-Sep-09 13:38:44

not wanting to be negative, but I've had 6 phd supervisees so far, and out of them, the 2 who gave up were women with young children doing them at a distance, part time. (and another, a a father with a small child, finished the phd but his wife chucked him out). it is hard making time over a lot of years if you don;t have the childcare sorted, and if you're not being paid to do it that does cause problems with childcare and actually getting the time free to do the research. and even a good supervisor can't really solve that.

so you do need to be very realistic about what time you have, when and where and how will you fit it in? one of my friends worked full time while doing a phd (no kids) and jsut carved out 12 hours every week, without fail, for 4 years, and didn't let anything eat into that time. and she did fine. Most people aren't that organised though.

But on the plus side you can be more focused and know what you want better, as a mature student, I do know someone who's doing a phd with several small chilren and treating it as a day job, with a grant, and it's working for her.

thehairybabysmum Wed 30-Sep-09 13:44:27

Same as Blackduck, mine was BC and i worked also. Was v. hard work, literally blood sweat and tears. Both me and my mate who finshed a year after me went slightly bonkers in writing up year.

Are you thinking science or arts??'ve grown!!!

ABetaDad Wed 30-Sep-09 13:48:55

MrsMerryHenry - I finshed my PhD just before DS1 was born. My DW finished hers last year with DS1 and DS2 age about 8 and 6.

It is incredibly hard to do a PhD with small children around. You need to be utterly selfish with your time to do a PhD. It will be the centre of your life for 4 years. It is not something you can do part time. I know this as I just finished supervising a PhD student (a man) who had 2 children. His PhD took 6 years instead of 4 just because of the chaos of having children. Holding dwn a full time (or even part time job) is near imposisble while dong a PhD. It is nothing like doing a part time degree where you go to lectures and essays every week.

As for how do you find out if someone else has done your PhD, the best way is to go and find a person in the academic field who you might like to be your supervisor and ask him/her if the PhD is feasible and one they would be interested in supervising. Your supervisor is absolutley essential to you. They will be your best friend and mentor for many years.

I have never really used my PhD and neither has my wife and we hardly ever use our Dr titles and never bothered going through the graduation ceremony or worn our gowns but glad we did our PhDs all the same. We are world experts (as you would be) in our very specific fields.

All said, I think it is one of those things that everyne who has the intellect should try to do before they die. Good luck and happy to answer any further questions you may have.

Lexilicious Wed 30-Sep-09 13:57:43

you'll also need this which is american but presses oh so many of the UK buttons.

Mine took 7 years. Full-time to start with on an EPSRC grant paying me £7500/year to live on, and all lab resources etc covered. Then it started going wrong, and I left to take up a paying job and write thesis in my spare time, 100 miles away from the university and my supervisor had written me off completely so didn't really bother to read my drafts. I submitted three theses in years 5, 6 and 7 before eventually graduating.

Bonkers I agree with. How you would do it with children is beyond me but you know yourself better than anyone. I would say that a data-driven research project would be less forgiving of childcare needs/emergencies, while an 'ideas-based' study would be more malleable. The very best of luck to you, and huge respect.

Habbibu Wed 30-Sep-09 14:44:53

"It is not something you can do part time. " That's not strictly true, but it is hard. My neighbour was a FT history teacher, and did his PT while working - children were teenagers, though, and his wife did type it up for him! Took him 6 years, but he was manic about the subject, and very disciplined.

MrsMerryHenry Wed 30-Sep-09 15:03:30

DB, you are priceless. I loved your 'tree' OP (nearly spat tea all over my keyboard at that one!)

Blackduck - when I say I'm dabbling, what I mean is no way in hell am I going to start one right now (preg with no 2) but I would really like to do one in the future, preferably before my kids fly the nest.

Thanks so much for all your input, you've all given me lots of food for thought. This time next year I'll have a 6 month-old and a 4 yo so I don't expect to start anything before 2011, which is why I'm trying to find out as much as I can well in advance.

My subject is I think going to be partially artsy but also require lab work - it's about a specific way the media impacts our brains. I think I would have to do it within the context of a psychology dept so perhaps that's a good place to start my investigations. Also I simply could not afford to do it without a grant of some sort. As long as my current self-emp career takes off (first paid job next week, huzzah!) I can top up my income by doing odd bits of work here and there as it's well-paid for few hours. Also my subject is directly relevant to the area I'm trying to break into at the mo, so I already have a long-held interest, which is self-motivating. It's just occurred to me that one of my old lecturers is now a Prof in a related area of psychology, so I may track him down.

I think the p/t option would work best for me, which is clearly going to limit my options. Certainly if my bro is anything to go by, his PhD funding institution is being far stricter about the duration of his research, so thanks to those of you who talked about supervisors and laying out the terms with regard to family commitments, etc.

Thanks also for mention of PhD in US - funnily enough someone recently mentioned to me that the Yanks have a far better attitude in academia - they actually want you to succeed. Can't quite imagine upping sticks to the US, though - nor listening to my DC's calling me 'mwarrrrrrmeeeeeeee! <<bleurgh>> grin

By the way, ABD, as an aside, I didn't want to post anything further on that thread as it had turned so unpleasant and sapped my will to live, but I did think you were being attacked by the person who dug up one of your old posts. What a horrible convo that turned out to be. I think from now on I shall avoid those sort of threads as the usual suspects always turn up and churn out their usual polemics, which makes thoughtful conversation impossible.

MrsMerryHenry Wed 30-Sep-09 15:08:11

Kathy - huge sympathy for your research stresses! Also interesting that Oxf and Camb take such different approaches to the same subjects - it makes Cambs look extremely uncreative. I always assumed that the Oxf approach was the way all PhDs were handled.

ABetaDad Wed 30-Sep-09 16:15:14

MrsMerryHenry - topping of with a bit of temp work is actually good despite what I said earlier. I did a bit of lecturing and consultancy work. Helped me refresh my brain sometimes and get away from my PhD but a regular 3 - 5 day a week PT/FT job is not really feasible. It would also be very tough indeed with an 18 mnth old around the house unless your DH/DP is really prepared to sacrifice himself or you can afford out of home nursery care. Getting the full support of your DH/DP is absolutely crucial.

Your old prof is the right way to go initially. He/she can at least direct you to others who may be interested in supervising you even if he/she is not able to.

However, don't let all these 'ifs and buts' put you off. Everyone on the thread is just being really honest and realistic. A PhD is a wonderful journey but a PhD never competed is a real shame. Best to start enthusiastic (as you sound) but well prepared.

[Thanks for saying what you said on that thread. I am very glad to be talking to you now about something a lot more positive. Never going there again as you say.]

MrsMerryHenry Wed 30-Sep-09 16:31:34

smile Thanks for that, ABD. I have always craved the chance to get back to academia, and if I can get some pay for it, all the better.

Good point about getting DH on board. He's also self-emp and hopefully by the time I'm ready to get back in the lab his biz will be functioning even more efficiently. However, when DC2 is 18 mos I'd like him/her to be with a CM, and DS will be starting school, so with the combi of childcare and DH's work flexibility we might just make it for seeing each other from time to time? Ridiculous notion!

Anyway, money-wise, we've just decided to spend a year playing the lottery every week - we reckon £52 isn't a bad investment, so you never know...! grin

It is good to chat with you about positive things, and I'm really glad that despite the vitriol sometimes seen on these pages you're still sticking around. I've now hidden that thread...

Kathyis12feethighandbites Thu 01-Oct-09 15:32:09

Thanks MrsMerryHenry.

Please don't be put off by my trials or the CAWK thread! Research is, in fact, brilliant. If you do go for a PhD you will always be pleased you did.

BTW is your dh competent with children? One of the students who didn't make it in my dept told me it was because though her dh was perfectly willing, she found that letting him look after the dcs for a morning while she worked just ended up with her having to spend the entire afternoon sorting out the mess he made. Obviously most men are not like that, but for her it was a real barrier.

Libra Thu 01-Oct-09 15:52:19

Can I agree with whoever it was that said you have to be focused to do a PhD with children.

I did mine when DS1 was 5-8 and DS2 was born during the writing-up phase. I remember being determined to finish the damn thing and actually typing away at the computer while rocking him to sleep with one foot. All the time crying hysterically because I was writing a chapter about infant mortality. It wasn't a fun time.

What helped me was the fact that my research was archive based and therefore I had to book into the archives and HAD to go there every week because a space had been held for me and documents were being brought up from the bowels of the earth for me. It MADE me go there even when I didn't feel like it or when work wanted me to do something else (I was part-time while lecturing full-time - not a combination I would recommend).

A sympathetic DH who takes over a good deal of the house and child care is essential I am afraid. I was lucky because DH had completed his PhD a few years previously and therefore I could emotionally blackmail him about how helpful I had been for him.

Wilf had better NOT have flounced.

MrsMerryHenry Sat 03-Oct-09 00:04:51

Kathy, he's great on the fathering side, but as far as the house is concerned I think we'd definitely need a cleaner for Daddy days.

Thanks both for your input. Lots of food for thought here.

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