A bit about me

Sherran at gradHi. My name is Sherran and I graduated with my PhD in 2014. I was encouraged during my PhD by a couple of friends and my lovely, clever husband to write something about researching, writing and thinking obsessively about a PhD. Academic writing is my business, as it were; when I was not working on my PhD or hanging out with my two sons and my husband I ran a university writing centre in Cape Town. There I mentored tutors to work with students on their writing, and I helped other academics with writing for publication. Now I am working on publishing my research, supervising doctoral students, and working as a doctoral educator in the UK.

I kept a research journal as a chronicle of my own PhD journey as a full-time working mom and academic and some of these musings and scribbles will appear here. I found that many ‘how to write your PhD’ books didn’t speak to me, because they seemed to be written for students who are not like me: full time students, or single people, or people with lots of research leave and funding. This blog is my small contribution to the field of writing about writing a PhD that fills some of these gaps. Although most of these posts, especially since the beginning of 2015, are written with PhD scholars and post-doctoral researchers in mind, there are also posts here that apply to Masters-level studies as well.

The title of this blog is slightly cheeky – it’s a play on a ‘how to do XYZ in 5 easy steps’ type theme – and it hopefully captures the spirit of the blog, which is lighthearted, funny, helpful and fun to write and read. I hope you enjoy reading and find yourself in some of these posts if these gaps are there for you too.

All of my posts are licensed with a Creative Commons BY-SA licence, which means you are welcome to share them for free, with attribution.


  1. Hi Sherran,
    I came across your blog accidentally, but I have a feeling that it was not accidental at all. I am related to you more as a mum who aspires to do a phd than a professional. I was an HR professional in training for 7 years but before that I was working as translator and part time tutor in English ( I hold an MA degree in translation). Two years ago I decided to quit my job to do what I ve always wanted. I got a BA in English Language and Literature with a major in Linguistics and for the last two years I can t get the idea of a phd out of my mind. I am 40 years old, married with two young children ages 6 and 9 and I am currently not working. Do you think that it’s better to have a relevant work experience before doing a phd or one should follow his heart no matter what and with the hope that it will lead to a job? Thank u

    • Hi Anna,
      Thanks for writing. Your question is not an easy one to answer, I must say. I think it’s wonderful that you have found the courage, and have the support from your family, to follow your passion and study what you have always wanted to study. I think, if your PhD is for you, and your own personal and professional (eventually) growth, then it can’t be a bad idea. However, if what you aspire to, post-PhD is an academic teaching/research post, you should think about approaching your department to tutor, or perhaps try and get some part-time, small scale research assistant work – that way you can work and earn (a small) income, and also build your CV towards an academic job eventually, during or after the PhD. My romantic side wants to just say: ‘follow your heart and the rest will come’, but the practical side says it’s a good idea to follow your heart and plonk your feet firmly on the ground too. I will say, if you go for it and follow your passion with this PhD and what will come after, you will be setting a wonderful example for your kids of where following your passion with determination and hard work can take you :-). All the best.

  2. Hi Sherran

    Great blog. Im a mother of 4 kids – 2 of whom are diagnosed as special needs children. Have been in academia but decided to take a break as it was a bit crazy being mum, therapist, lecturer etc and having the pressure of PhD. So I’m a mum who works part time and does PhD.

    I think your blog is exactly what mothers who are working towards PhD need. Its certainly not an easy journey and despite taking time off from work life is still quite hectic and often near impossible. This PhD has in someway kept me level headed and sane, sort of my life line believe it or not!
    Looking forward to more handy tips and advice!

    • Hi Sue,

      Thanks so much for your feedback. I really applaud you for taking on the PhD with everything else you have going on – but as you say, having a space that’s just for you (and a PhD can be exactly that) can actually make you feel cared for and sane in a particular way working mums often really battle with :). I hope that the blog, and others by working mums tackling their own research/PhDs, will help you along the way. All the very best!

  3. Hi Sherran
    I’m a newly minted Phd student and mum of a 2.5 year old. I am glad I found your blog as I look forward to insights and solidarity with other women in academia (double hatting as mums).

    • Hi E, Thanks for following. I hope that this blog and the community around it will be helpful. All the best for your PhD, and parenting and everything else! As my supervisor said to me: you can do it all, but you might have to sacrifice some of your sanity :). S

  4. Hello Sherran
    I have taken the liberty of using the image of the lady with a pen on beestonweek.blogspot, which I hope you will allow in return for a link to your blog.

    • Hi there – ask away, but in the meantime, I have blogged a bit about predatory journals here and there are some good videos on this topic here.

  5. Hi Sherran,

    I’m a first-year PhD student in the UK. I stumbled upon your blog when I was trying to find help regarding answering the so-what? question. I read some of your articles and your blog is very useful to me.

    I always wanted to journal and have a blog in general. I wanted to do so even more when I started my PhD because I think it is a unique experience I need to document for myself and share with others.

    Thank you for sharing your experience and expertise here. Please keep up the good work.


    • Thanks so much, Saleh. I hope you do share your thoughts and experiences with others, as it can be really useful for PhD students to have others going through the same things as they are.

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