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5 Lessons I've Learned About Doing a PhD as a Mom: Mom, PhD's Year 1 Report

I've officially completed the first year of my PhD program at UC Berkeley. I made it! After two years of anticipation, one year of being in the thick of it, and a couple of weeks to process, I can finally reflect on the year. Finishing the first year of a PhD program is an accomplishment for anyone, but as a student who is also an involved mom and a freelance writer and editor, I feel especially proud of myself for everything I've achieved this year.

As I meet incoming student parents, I recognize the familiar uncertainty and anticipation they're experiencing. I wanted to share 5 things I wish I had known going into my first year of the PhD as a mom and a working writer. Here are some lessons I've learned along the way:

1. Achieving balance is a persistent process: There are so many things that parents have to balance when they're raising their kids, from nutrition to sleep to education. Add in a PhD and running a business and things become very busy. You need to accept that you will have to make sacrifices. I definitely haven't figured out the perfect equation because my goals, my family's needs, and pandemic developments are constantly evolving. I've accepted and committed to being hands-on in a constant process of adjusting my priorities. Balance is elusive, but I'll always chase it. It's the only way that I can make all the magic happen.

2. You'll compare yourself to others...but don't: PhD students are competitive people, and so are parents. But being in competition with other student parents isn't productive. For me, it leads to regret and anxiety about making the right choices. Whether it's in terms of parenting milestones, finances, or accolades and achievements, you do you. Everyone's goals, needs, strengths, and weaknesses are different. Sure, you can swap best practices and ask for advice, but keep in mind that this isn't a competition. Only you know what will work for you and set you up for success.

3. Expect the unexpected: Even when you think you've struck that elusive balance and you have a good flow going with your routine, unexpected things can happen. For instance, I fell and dislocated my shoulder this summer in the midst of working a 50% GSR and caring for my son 40+ hours a week. My recovery will take 8 to 12 weeks and I've had to ask for accommodations from my editors and my partner. It's been hard to not be frustrated because of my decreased productivity, but I have to be gentle and flexible with myself. A PhD, and life itself, is a marathon. Obstacles happen. Slow progress is progress.

4. Organize, organize, organize: Besides the actual work of motherhood, a PhD, and a business, organizing to make it all happen is another job that you need to do in order to make the mechanics work. You need to figure out an organizational system and stay on top of it. Whether that means using a paper planner, sticky notes, a digital calendar, or the reminders app, make it a point to establish an organization system and both maintain and revise it as you go along.

5. It will all be worth it: I had some dark moments throughout the year when I wanted to drop out of the program. Ask any continuing student and they'll tell you they've had the same thoughts at some point (or points) along their academic journey. Even when I was losing political battles and felt behind in class, I kept on showing up, doing whatever work I could, and trusting my advisors. I stuck with it this year and I made it through: I published articles, learned difficult theory, and raised a thriving 2-year-old to show for it.

One thing I've told myself throughout the year is to just keep going. Put one foot in front of the other in this PhD journey and hit those milestones. The path to reach your goals might be messy and imperfect, but once you get there, you'll be so proud of yourself, and your family will be too. I've come to the end of year one and I have many more to go. But, if I pulled off the first year, I can do it again.

Thank you to everyone who has followed my journey throughout the first year. I've posted the articles I've finished, the lessons I've learned, and family firsts, and I couldn't have asked for a more supportive audience. Let me know how your year went and what you were proud to accomplish at @momphdblog.


Mom, PhD


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