Why, again, am I doing a PhD?

Sometimes doing a PhD can feel like a form of madness when you are working and mothering small needy people full time, not to mention trying to be happily married the the small people’s father.  Why on earth would you take on such a huge time and soul and brain consuming project when you already have quite a few demands on your time, soul and brain already?

Well, in my case two major reasons: the first is that I need one so that I can progress in my academic career and be taken seriously by colleagues, and not just seen as ‘that young woman who thinks she knows what she’s talking about’ (a colleague told me a while back that someone did actually say this about me, and not in any kind of nice way).  I need to prove myself to be capable and worthy, and while it grates me that I should have to get another degree to do that when the years of work and time I have put in already and experience I have gained could speak for me, I accept that this is the way it is in academia, and that this is the field I have chosen to work in. The second is personal. I want one. I want to prove to myself that I am capable of a project of this magnitude, and I want to push myself to grow as a researcher in my field. I have questions I want the answers to, and I want to know how to find them. I want to take myself more seriously.

So this is why I am doing this huge project now, when my job is getting bigger and more demanding every year, and when my children are still young enough to need me to be very present a lot of the time. They were 3 and 7 when I started, and they are 7 and 11 now so it is tough a lot of the time. Now, when I am nearing the end and have been writing almost every day and am very obsessed (there is no more accurate word) with my work, I feel I am not present enough mentally and emotionally for anyone. I am short on time and temper and sleep, and I don’t feel like I am being a very good mom or colleague. I am not really very present at work, because my mind is almost always on my PhD and what I have written and need to write and also on what comes next – papers and conferences and publication. But if I ignore my work and focus all of myself on being very present at home and at work, my PhD will slide, and I won’t get finished on time. And I need to finish now. The normal working mom juggling act is hard enough for me without all the added pressure of this PhD.

I have to say, though, that it is not all tough, and not all the time. Bits of it I like a lot – I like the way my mind is being stretched. I am becoming a better writer, a more critical thinker, a more capable reader. I am learning about the PhD process in ways that will help me, hopefully, to be a good supervisor myself one day. I have found new colleagues and made some wonderful new friends through the PhD programme I am part of. I am becoming more connected to other researchers in my field and I am really enjoying finding a place within this research community.  I am making a contribution to knowledge and that feels good, worthwhile, exciting. But when I am busy, and my kids are sick and work deadlines are looming and there are just not enough hours in the day I do wonder why I am doing this PhD, and whether there is a way for me to just pause it all so that I can catch up. I feel often that I have bitten off more than I can chew and have no choice but to swallow and finish this meal as politely and graciously as I can. I know I am not alone in feeling like this. But I also know that the struggles and the tough times are making me stronger in all sorts of ways. This journey, for all its ups and downs, is one I chose, for good reasons, and I just need to remind myself of these and keep going. As politely and graciously as I can.

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