I had a surprise Skype call from my sister yesterday. It was a surprise one because it was the 3rd of the day where she asked me whether there was anyone she could speak to in my network about doing a degree in psychology.
My sister went to drama school, and is one of the smartest people I know. She chose not to go down the classic education route, and our family have never pushed her post her A ‘Levels. What is interesting about her timing is I know she wants kids. We are the same age (twins), and as soon as I gave birth she was ready to also be a Mum emotionally, but there were some financial barriers.
I of course wanted to understand what she wanted to do, why and have connected her with the right people so she can really formulate if it is the right step for her. In this process she said that I had inspired her with my doctorate. So this blog is to give some helpful advice for those people considering embarking on studying with motherhood. Indeed there may even be some fathers out there too.
Before I go any further – Yes it’s hard work!
1. Assess if it’s right for you and your family?
• Ask yourself what you want to do and why you want to do it? In that process challenge yourself really why, and are there other ways to get there? An academic qualification may not be the only way to achieve your goal. Then if it is what you want, are you willing to give up your time when the children go to bed? Are you willing to give up some of your time with your partner? Is it worth it? Dependent on your answer it may be that it is not the right time.
• Are you passionate about it? If you are not - do not do it. Life is too short to waste time on eh things that we are not passionate about.
• Do you have a routine that would enable you to study?
• Do you have structured sleep times that you can guarantee regularly time to study?
• Do you know on the whole your kids sleep well? So that you have energy to focus.
• Do you have regular travel times on public transport that facilitate regular reading and or study time? Or do you have any other time that is not being utilised?
If the answer is yes to the first two points, then you can organise the time resources necessary. The final bullet is a bonus. It may not be how other students might work, but 2-3 hours a night adds up to 14 – 21 hours a week.
• Investigate what possible courses are available that provide different options: location near home, online, opportunity to defer, mixture of assignments and exam, the languages you can take it in, past students outcomes/ successes (call the course supervisor or dean), resources and cost. Analyse and prioritise the option/s to discuss with your support framework.
• Ask the same questions about sacrifice to your family: partner and kids, and are they willing to support you? It has to be a joint decision because if not the times when you need to have your head down to get an assignment finished and are unavailable could lead to resentment.
• Is there anything that you can add to support you? Can grandparents help? Can you afford outside help: a babysitter, au pair or nanny? Think these things through because there is a lot of time involved.
• It may not be cheap! There can be scholarships available but be realistic because parenthood is also not cheap. Research funds and make a budget plan accordingly.
If you that you are willing to make the sacrifice, identified that there is a routine that would facilitate study and support. Then move on to the next stage ‘Design’
2. Design in a way of working that will make you successful?
• Pick the physical or virtual location to study that makes sense to you. I choose to study in the city that I now reside. I sometimes travel with my job, so as a family it would be an extra burden to go away to university weekends. There are 11 compact weekends in total, but each one I am home for breakfast, and to spend time with my family in the evening. A work colleague suggested going to Copenhagen to study, but what was more important to me was limiting the impact on my family. Secondly, a doctorate is not marked as traditional exams or coursework. Essentially your body of work has to be accepted by the experts, so in this context the place became irrelevant. This may not be true for all qualifications, but it is something to take into account.
• Go through and request the timetable for the course that you decided on. Put all the assignment dates in your diary, and make a plan ahead of time that allows you to meet the deadlines. Strangely, 1 single man has dropped out the doctorate and 2 people have been late with assignments out of 9 people. I am not aware of their full circumstances, but what works for me is the scheduling of completion in advance. I cannot afford to wait until the last minute. I have to dedicate time to it regularly; no excuses.
• If you haven’t already you will need a dedicated machine just for you and your study, and I highly recommend an Ipad with a kindle app, or kindle. The ability to read anywhere and everywhere that you have a free moment means that you can maximise your research and analysis time, boosting your productivity.
Use Your Network
• Mummies are the most powerful and resourceful network. We all make choices and I know Mummies who are blissfully raising their children that were lawyers, copy writers, teachers, HR Directors, CEO’s and the list goes on. Reach out for help. I needed someone to proof read my research proposal. I stopped counting after 8 people stepped forward. The value they added was colossal, because they provided a second pair of eye’s to: grammar, clarity and even built on the process.
3. Do it in a way that makes you successful.
• Check in with your family how it is working and if there anything that would help each other? Overall my family is so proud of me. There have been times where we have had to make sure that we both get a break.
• The good thing about studying later on in life is actually I am no longer an anal perfectionist. I work hard at it and do many drafts, but there is a point where I say ‘that assignment’ will have to be enough as I want to play with my son and daughter.
• If you are doing a thesis make sure the topic is what you are passionate about. My topic is how to develop talent in children. When I was on maternity leave with my second child I was so engrossed in the subject that I would sit down to research, and then before I knew it, it was time to pick up my daughter from kindergarten.
4. Be clear what success looks like, and it is not what you think!
• Be clear that this does not define you. It may help you to get to a goal but success does not come in the form of a job title, or degree. How you live, experience life and the difference you make to the people you meet is success. It could be as simple as you need a mental challenge, or you want to make a difference in a certain field. So if this helps you in how you live and experience your life then go for it.