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  • Mom, PhD

What I Learned in My First Semester as Mom, PhD

On Wednesday at 2 pm, I pushed send on my final paper of the semester. It was the first semester of my first year of my PhD at UC Berkeley. Just like that, I was done. There was no fanfare or fireworks. I just exhaled.

I did some overdue relaxation. By myself, I went to eat some pho in the neighborhood and then watched an episode of So You Think You Can Dance with the volume turned up high since Max was at nursery school. Oh, the small luxuries.

Tired but victorious!

It's been a ride. I finally know what doing a PhD with a baby is like (at least for the first semester). It's hard, but it's doable. And all of us parents going back to school can support each other. So, I wanted to share some things I learned during the first semester:

1. Banish the guilt. Saying bye to stay-at-home mom life and putting my son in nursery school was hard. I wondered at many points if I were a bad mom for going back to school. But I reminded myself that I'm on my own path too. I'm not here to fulfill some antiquated notions of motherhood with which I don't identify. I have my own voice, strengths, and interests; I want to pursue my own goals outside of what I do as a mother. I want to model to my family that it's important to follow your passion and embrace your individuality.

2. Don’t compare yourself to other students (especially ones who aren’t parents). The comparison game will leave you rattled almost every time. Each person is doing their own thing. But, I know, it's hard to resist the siren song of competition when you've been a student for so long. Remember that as a student parent, the only person you should be competing with is yourself. You do you.

3. Find balance. Most of the time, I felt like I was torn between two worlds: mom life and PhD life. Each has their rigorous demands, set of competencies, and social commitments. I had to manage both spheres on a daily basis and work to maintain the balance. It's not easy but you can do it. Planning and organization really help with this one.

4. Make time for self-care. Admittedly, I wasn’t very good at it this semester. I was just surviving and simply didn't have time to prioritize self-care. I’m working to change that for next semester. I'm trying to schedule in time to exercise, meal prep, and see friends who I haven't made much time for these last months. I'm also trying to do a monthly spa day for myself! See my post about my Korean spa day in San Francisco and look out for my new one about another spa experience.

5. Carve out quality time. I often found myself daydreaming about school when I was with my family. When I have unfinished work or too much to do, I can't stop thinking about it. This was exacerbated by not having enough daycare time. I'm working on this for the next semester. Instead of thinking about the PhD when I'm with my husband and son, I'll be more present. It's important to take care of your clan and for them to take care of you. Hold on to the love and never let it go.

I hope you all had a great few months. Let me know what your semesters or fall seasons have been like! Send me a comment or suggestions at


Mom, PhD


Mom with Stroller
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