Three well-timed reassurances, an ongoing aside and dinner parties

I’m currently sitting at a table in my local Sainsbury’s café typing this blog post, while eating soup and keeping an eye on my son who is asleep next to me in his pram. This is pretty representative of how this particular mummy has been managing to maintain her own career around a baby-toddler since the start of term. I think he is a toddler now, if we go by the terms laid out in this guide.

[In one of my other lives, I’ve been trying to convey to employability course students that using examples of competencies in your personal life makes it easier to find examples in work/academic reflective practice so I am trying it out in this blog post myself >>> Teaching by example]

PhD year 1 semester 1 ends on Friday and unlike many PhD researchers, I’m about to spend a month working as much as I can, rather than resting up over the festive season and reading interesting books. I suppose the perk is that I get to eat mince pies as I go. My husband is about to start four weeks off work, using a mix of parental and annual leave which means I will be able to settle myself in front of my desk rather than try to keep my research brain ticking over by reading, note-taking and typing up ideas and trains of thought to later follow up whilst simultaneously building towers out of wooden blocks and making the most mundane of household tasks interesting to a small person. Multitasking: I’m the expert. Turns out you can paint a wall, entertain a baby and work out your ontological viewpoint all at once, if you can block out the headspace.

[Son has woken woke up so I am typing whilst feeding him lunch>>> Multitasking]

I’m a big fan of thinking time. I was at a conference last month and attended a presentation on resilience, where I learnt that resilient, high achieving people block out time for thinking. Let’s call this Reassuring Moment Number 1. When I write stories, I don’t just sit down with a blank piece of paper. When I write, I write quickly after months of thinking around my characters, plots and themes. If it isn’t straight in my head first then I cannot sit and draft and draft and draft. I think this is where I have struggled previously on academic courses. I’ve started too soon, before I really understood what I was doing. No danger of that this time round as thinking time has been enforced on me, on afternoon walks and during night-feeds. It has been a very hard first semester, mainly because of how difficult it has been managing all of our family commitments. In September I was “about to start a PhD” and given my only previous experience of doctoral study was two aborted attempts to do a PhD in creative writing, I didn’t really know what a PhD in Management would entail. I needed a good bit of time to work out the structures, timelines and approaches. I needed to do some thinking before typing.

[Son is now staring at two people having lunch next to us and is demonstrating that what other people are eating is always more interesting than what you are eating yourself. Son occupied (aka nosey-poking at others) means a window for writing >>> Time management]

Onto Reassuring Moment Number 2. Prof. Gillian Hogg visited our research workshop last week, and she mentioned how her PhD was in a different discipline to her undergraduate degree (I knew this was possible but I’d just not met anyone with an English to Management discipline switch) and how despite her rapid career ascent from researcher to professor, her children “still knew who she was.” Actually, let’s combine this moment with a selection of blogs and blog posts I’ve found in the last week (including the new Academic Motherhood and Tenure, She Wrote) . There are other academic mothers with young children out there! I have finally found some! What I have learned is that it is a damn sight more difficult in America; we definitely aren’t emigrating across the Atlantic. Poor maternity leave options, unpaid at that, just being the start of it. In short: it is possible to be a mummy and do a PhD. I knew this from the start, but I didn’t really have any evidence of it or any examples of people saying exactly how they manage the challenge. We all need role models. It is also much harder to do things in life compared to in theory (must remember this in research interviews).

[Son has just grabbed notebook off the table as bored of rice cakes, but I had already typed up the notes therein>>> Planning and organisational skills]

Prof. Hogg also said we should have a “dinner party sentence” for when we are asked about our PhDs. This couldn’t have been better timed with Christmas on the way. Although, despite me now living in a house with a downstairs toilet and an upstairs bathroom (I really am middle class now,aren't I?), we don’t have a table that could host more than two people (luckily the little one is still in his high chair and has his own tray) so it won’t be our own dinner party it’ll be getting said at. This sentence is useful as when asking about your PhD, people can either immediately change the conversation because they have no interest whatsoever in your research (fair enough, I’m the same on science) or ask us more and quite possibly start up a fruitful conversation.  Quite a few people have asked about what I am doing and I’ve waffled a bit. However, since it did come highly commended in the Heriot Watt School of Management and Languages poster competition last Friday (Reassuring Moment Number 3) and therefore demonstrates that what I’m doing does actually make sense outside of my head, I can now direct those with further enquiries to my Year 1 PhD poster. Several people have already remarked that “now they know what I am doing” which is good because more than anything my PhD needs to make sense inside and outside of academia/outside of my academic circle and discipline.

[Son now fully awake, full of food and throwing his already-leaky beaker around. Let’s go buy something for our tea tonight before the next wave of the storm hits>>> Basic survival skills, useful in all careers]

Oh and my dinner party sentence is… I’m researching why women, especially young women, choose to do apprenticeships and which apprenticeships they do/don't do...  I might tweak it after I find a festive party or two to go to.


  1. I love the 'dinner party sentence' idea. When I was doing a Masters in Gender (way before it was fashionable) I used to tell people that I cleaned the toilets in the hospital. It had the same effect, i.e. shut them up. That was easier than dealing with horribleness about gender. At least cleaning toilets is 'women's work'. OMG - how little has changed!


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