Apr 23, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Pursuing a doctorate is rigorous work. However, just because you’re doing a PhD doesn’t mean it has to take over your personal life. In fact, plenty of PhD students manage other commitments as well, including raising families.

Wondering whether you’ve got what it takes to take on a PhD when you’ve got kids (or to take on kids when you’re working toward your PhD)? The right strategies go a long way. Read on for a roundup of six tips aimed at helping you balance your academic goals with your personal ones.

1. Make sure your partner is on board with your PhD.

A strong support network makes all the difference when you’re working toward your PhD. Why? Because if your partner isn’t prepared to back you up, that lack of support may turn into an insurmountable roadblock. Plus, having your own personal cheerleader at home can be a huge advantage.

Writes Amanda Murdie for the academic website Duck of Minerva of her own experiences as a PhD candidate, wife and mom, “The only thing I really have going in my life is a very supportive partner: my husband put his career on hold for me to pursue my PhD.  He found a job that was on the nights and/or weekends."

At times, a PhD can be all-encompassing; this means it can’t just be your dream, but your partner’s dream, as well.

2. Make sure your PhD program is on board with your family.

Of course, no PhD program can forbid you from having a personal life, but the reality is that some fields of studies, PhD programs, and even countries are more “family-friendly” than others. For example, in the UK, international students must study full-time. This may put them at a disadvantage compared to domestic students for whom part-time studies are an option. Conversely, in countries like Norway, PhD programs have the same progressive maternity/paternity policies as 

Tips for finding a family-friendly PhD program? Look into whether the university has infrastructure in place for PhDs with families, such as family-friendly accommodations and support groups for students with families.

3. Be aware of your options.

As a PhD student, you know how to do research. Apply the same doggedness to your search for family-friendly resources as you do to your academic research. If you have young children but don’t have a partner who can stay home with them, what are your options? From in-home options like babysitters and nannies to out-of-home options like daycare centers, there are several different possibilities. Determining what will best suit your family across everything from budget to personalities can give you invaluable peace of mind.

4. Don’t be afraid to delegate and/or outsource, if necessary.

PhDs and parenting have at least one thing in common: Neither is conducive to passivity, and together they’re even less so.  

Suggests Tanya Golash, who had twins followed by a third child while completing her PhD, “Delegating tasks can make life as an academic parent much, much easier. Instead of spending hours verifying your bibliography, are you willing to pay a student to do it? If you really need Saturday mornings to catch up on reading, will you be willing to hire a sitter? Instead of poring over Strunk & White yourself, are you willing to hire a professional editor to get your manuscripts ready for submission?”

Additionally, domestic tasks like grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and laundry can also be outsourced, if your budget allows.

5. Accept imperfection.

PhDs may be inclined toward perfectionism, but you won’t be doing yourself any favors if you hold yourself to an impossible standard while juggling your PhD and your family.

Says Carolyn of The Healthy Doctor, “First of all you must accept that “good enough” will be your mantra for the PhD and at home. “It’s a PhD not a Nobel Prize” as the saying goes; a completed journal paper or thesis that is “good enough” is better than aiming for a flawless thesis that never gets finished. Ditto for the home – ditch Pinterest or anything that makes you feel like you should be baking organic muffins for your little one, while lovingly creating exquisite art and craft activities within your sparkling home with its perfectly organized kitchen cabinets (ahem). You are not that parent. You cannot afford to be, time-wise. There are more important things to do with your time including self-care and bonding with your children. Also, nobody can be that perfect parent – it’s a myth. The same can be applied with relish to almost everything in your life….It is entirely possible to have things in relative order at home and with the PhD, and you will have moments of perfection, but they will not last.”

6. Make exercise a family endeavor.

Exercise offers a huge number of benefits for PhD students, including stress management, weight control, brain health and happiness levels. But nothing says you have to reap all these benefits alone. Instead, consider turning exercise time into family time.

Depending on the ages and inclinations of your kids, this may mean anything from pushing the stroller on a brisk walk to a game of pickup basketball. In addition to helping to ensure that you get your workout it, involving your children in exercising leads by example.

One last thing to keep in mind? While it’s easy to think of parenting while working on a PhD as an obstacle to overcome, having kids may ultimately be an advantage.  Contends Bushra Jamil, a PhD student with three young kids, “Believe me, kids are not a liability; they have turned out to be my asset, rocking my PhD assignments with them. As a PhD program can be long and very tedious at times, so children are like Zephyr in this journey, their smiles and hugs like a panacea. At the end of the day, they act as an anodyne.”



Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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