Writing a Dissertation with a Baby
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Writing a Dissertation with a Baby
Once upon a time I was able to organize and
self motivate, but currently after many ''opportunities for
personal growth'' including caring for my 3 year old with
cancer, my mind isn't what/where it used to be.
I need advice to help me with organizing my time and
writing, and keeping me on task. I have ADD, and a lot of
stress in my life but I've got to get it together and FOCUS!
I need to get a writing plan and tools for focusing but I'm
so distracted I don't known where to start.
Really, it's getting ridiculous. Don't let me become
another ABT chump.
Here is a suggestion about how to get going on your
dissertation. Find 15 minutes during the day every day that
you can call you own. Get your notes, your calculator, your
computer, and anything else you may need and sit down and
stare at it. Sit there for 15 minutes, even if you can't
seem to get started with it. Do not look at your email, talk
to anyone, or otherwise distract yourself. Just sit there.
In most cases, people get bored in about two minutes and get
Hire a dissertation coach. that's what got me through. I got
mine from the all-but-dissertation survival guide years ago.
I had a weekly appt with my coach once a week on the phone,
and email support. it was so worth it for me.
I have a question for those of you who have written / are writing
/ plan to write a dissertation while having babies. I have a 4
month old daughter and at some point in the next few months I
plan to hire a part time nanny so I can work on my dissertation.
I figure it will take me anywhere from 15-20 months to write the
dissertation. However, I am enjoying my time so-o-o much with my
daughter that I know I'll be so jealous of the babysitter who
gets to spend time with her! I feel very very strongly that I
want to finish the dissertation so I can move forward with
teaching, as I hope to find a part-time teaching position.
However, I am really really conflicted since she will be this
snuggly and little for such a short period of time. I have my
whole life to write the dissertation, but only this little bit of
time to be with her as a baby. On the other hand, it really is
only a few hours of each day that she wouldn't be with me so I
can write and do research, and ''inch by inch,'' as it were, finish
the dissertation. How did you come to terms with a similar decision?
- dissertation mama
Congrats on both the baby and having the motivation to finish the
dissertation! Here's what I did:
1. Enrolled our child in the UCB childcare program open to
graduate students. (We did not meet income eligibility
requirements, but the program had to allow full-fee paying
students to participate as well). This provided me with a
built-in support system - others trying to write a dissertation
while parenting. What was also wonderful is that the program
required parent participation, so I got to know the other
children and parents. An invaluable community.
2. When the baby was as young as yours, we hired a babysitter to
take care of her in our (small) apartment while I wrote in the
morning. This way, I could see/hear what was going on, and also
get some work done. This took a bit of discipline, but worked
really well. In the afternoon, I would take my daughter to the
campus program. At the time, the infant care program was half-day
only. It was a nice balance for me. As our child got older, and
progressed to full day care, we had her in the program all day on
the days I needed it, and took her home early when I did not.
I do not know if the program is still structured this way,
because my ''baby'' is now 11.
It can be PHinally Done
I was in a similar situation, though I had more of my
dissertation written when the baby was born. Didn't get any
writing done the first 9 months--naps weren't long enough, and I
didn't feel ready to hire a sitter. By the time baby was nine
months old, I was ready. We used college students, 12-15 hours
a week, and by then baby was more mobile and active, personable
with the sitters. I was starting to feel a little isolated at
home, and I was eager to start to have a mental life of my own.
For me, writing part-time and being with my child the rest of the
time was a great balance and perhaps healthier for both of us
than my being a full-time caregiver (even if it was hard to
imagine when the baby was an infant).
Remember, too: you don't actually have your whole life to write
the dissertation. There are timelines for the university that
you have to follow. And beyond that, I think there are emotional
barriers likely to arise the longer you wait.
A tricky situation and a difficult decision to make. I can 100%
empathize with your
wanting to spend all your time with your baby.
However, taking a break finishing the dissertation, might result in more
years than you
ever planned for or anticipated. Taking care of your child will just get
over the next years. And you will be more removed from the 'career' path
might imagine now, not even wanting to finish the dissertation anymore,
might consider your role as a caretaker more important.
If you plan on spending only a few hours a day and not full time for
writing, I would
encourage you to do it now and finish it. It will be so rewarding having
dissertation, and having the chance to get a job when you find your
child is old enough
to be in some day care/preschool situation.
Don't give up your personal goals.
One thing I've found over my 5 years of parenting so far is that
''balance'' looks completely different for almost every family, so
the first thing I'll say is that only you can decide how your
time is best spent in the coming months. But now I'll give you
advice based on my personal experience. :) I wrote my
dissertation during my first child's first year, with 12 hours a
week of paid childcare plus the constant support and help of a
very involved partner. That was actually perfect for me. I
usually did 4-5 three hour sessions per week (really more like
two hours given how long it takes me to transition from mommy
brain to work brain), and that was plenty to keep me focused on
my work without taking too much time away from my baby. I
finished a couple of days after his first birthday and truly felt
that we had a wonderful first year together.
In my experience, it is much, much harder to concentrate on
writing during the toddler and preschooler stage! They sleep
less, they really want to play instead of just cuddle, and for my
kids at least, it is unacceptable for me to be in the house but
unavailable to them. So unless you want to wait until your
little one heads off to kindergarten, I'd encourage you to get it
done now, in small, focused, consistent blocks of time. Good luck!
My advice would be to find someone you like and then just take it
from there. Believe me, sooner than you know you'll NEED a short
break every once and awhile from your cuddly baby. They get big
quite fast. I'd start a relationship with a nanny now, and only
work as much as you feel comfortable. It will be easier now,
getting your baby used to another caregiver. If you wait until
you're really ready to work, your baby may be one or older and
may have a much harder time learning to trust another caregiver.
I wish I would've started my daughter out with a nanny/babysitter
at that age, at least for a few hours a week. Transitioning to a
babysitter when she was closer to one year was much harder,
because she knew she wanted to be with me and had some separation
Best of luck and enjoy your baby...before long you'll be chasing
I think your plan sounds perfect - although be prepared for the
writing to take longer than you might originally have thought. I
found that not being able to immerse my head in work really took
a toll in my efficiency and focus (fatigue probably didn't help
either). I wrote my study protocol when I was expecting my first
baby - he's five now, and my second child is 3 - and I'm hoping
to finish up and defend this year. It's been a very VERY long
road, but while I used be kind of down on myself for taking so
long, and it was so hard watching friend and friend finish, I
wouldn't do it any other way. I couldn't put off having kids, I
didn't want to sacrifice any more of my time with them in those
sweet early days, and I'm not on the hot academic track anyway..
I did have some great support at one point - a bunch of ABD moms
met through BPN, and we met periodically to commiserate - we all
went our separate ways, but it was great at the time to hear
from other people trying to balance two loads - you might look
for a similar support group.
Let me preface this by saying that you and only you can decide what is
right for you
and your baby. I chose school and baby and I am writing in response to
what you wrote
of your potential jealousy of a caregiver's time with your child. If you
choose to share
care, you are also choosing to share love. Should your child come to
babysitter, you must put your personal jealousy/guilt/etc aside, and be
whoever you choose to care for your child is doing a fabulous job.
grad student parent
Ever since having my daughter last summer (even before while I
was pregnant) I've had no interest in writing my dissertation.
I've been away from it for over a year now and just the thought
of starting the process again (I've written very little) gives
me real anxiety and depression. Also, I'm beyond normative
time, so my department is not very supportive. Most days I just
want to chuck the whole grad school thing and be done with it,
but then I also have feelings of failure and anxiety about that--
what would I do, wasted time and money, starting over,
disappointed loved ones, etc. Has anyone else been in this
situation before? Any advice, words of wisdom and support would
Dear PhD Candidate,
Your message struck a chord because I've been there and have just
finished the doctorate, many years past my school's 7 year limit.
I don't know if finishing is the best decision for everyone, but it was
something I felt like I needed to do because I'd lived with it for so
long. I had always worked full time during school so had a marathon
rather than a sprint mentality about it.
Despite that, just before my daughter was born, I worried that I'd
never have time again ... and had only just gotten the proposal passed.
Our baby had health problems, then family members had health problems,
and over the next 4 years, armed with health related extensions that put
off my school from pestering me, I finished. What helped? Babies wake
you up at weird hours and then go to sleep again, so I'd work at weird
hours. Work was flexible. I gave myself permission to put it aside,
sometimes for up to a year. When I got back into it, I got used to
writing at night on a regular basis. I was helped to understand by some
of my readers that this was not my life's work, that it was ok to ''just
get it done'', and maybe it was normal to be sick of it and just plain
disinterested. And probably most useful, I had friends who were taking
as long - some with kids, some without. Some would finish before me and
be inspiring. Some would have life troubles and keep working slowed down
- and be inspiring. My kid grew bigger. It felt like I was being a good
role model by telling her I was working when she'd find me if she woke
up in the middle of the night, and I'd stop to be with her. At
graduation, one of the people from my cohort had her 7 year old burn all
her papers because her child was so sick of living with them - it was
cathartic for them all. There was a nursing mothers club in cohorts
behind me. This is all to say - you are not alone and having company is
important to spur you on or to commiserate ... or to make it ok to stop
I hope this rambling helps. If you want to talk about it, feel free to
Enjoy your daughter and good luck with your decision.
I know from first hand experience how hard it is to get back to your
dissertation after a baby. I can suggest three strategies which have
worked very well for me at different points in my life.
One is a writing
group, which can be formed by you and another person or more people. It
does not have to be big. The group aggrees to meet at regular intervals
(I have done it weekly and monthly).
Each time, a member distributes a chapter or paper beforehand to be read
by the group and discussed at the meeting. The group support and
feedback is invaluable and the structure of deadlines helps you get some
The second is consulting with Neil Fiore. I first worked
with Fiore in the mid eighties when he worked at UC's Counseling Center.
Later, I joined a group at his private practice. He is great about
helping people move along in their work. He is a psychologist and author
of many books. His contact info is:
830 San Carlos Avenue
Albany, CA 94706
Phone: (510) 524-4626
Fax: (510) 524-9149
Web site: www.neilfiore.com
The third is working outside your home, even if for some of the time in
a regular place. My brother-in-law worked in a cafe.
Years later, I worked in his office in the evenings and weekends.
In addition, Stanford's Tomorrow's Professor E-mail List had a posting
last week on writing and publishing with interesting research data that
might be helpful. You can find it at
Research cited indicated that people who write between 15-30 minutes
everyday write more than those who write only in big time blocks. People
who write everyday and also account to someone weekly on their writing
wrote more than any other group. These were helpful tips to me and they
may help you too.
Finally, make the task as simple as possible. Cut down to the bare
minium you need for a dissertation. Tell people who care you need their
support and how they can help you. It can be so lonely, that you need to
do what will make it work for you. Good luck!
I was in the same boat as you, and finished, so take heart. It can be
done. I took several (six?)months off and then had a nanny come in for
15 hours a week to care for the baby while I worked. If I remember
correctly, I sent a note to my committee that I was getting back to
writing, where I was with things, my notion of how I wanted to proceed,
and could I talk with them to catch up. It all sounds so matter of fact
now, but at the time, it was not easy. My advice, for what it is worth,
is to first ensure yourself regular and sufficient time to return to
thinking about your work, reread what you've written and any notes about
how you had imagined you'd proceed. Hopefully you'll remember what got
you into this in the first place. Don't let rough drafts (or no
drafts)discourage you. Don't worry whether your committee is alienated;
grad students disappear and reappear. I imagined quitting a million
times, but had invested too much time and energy to bag it at that late
stage. It was a slog, but I'm glad I finished. But that was my
experience. Send a note if you'd like to talk some more.
I would like to know how moms out there manage to balance their lives
between caring for their infant(s) and doing research / writing the
dissertation. Is such a thing possible or am I just kidding myself?
To the mom who is writing her dissertation and caring for an infant.
First of all, in asking for advice from moms, you have neglected all the
dads who stay home to write up and care for children. I did this while
my wife worked full time as a school teacher. That said, all I can say is
that it is a very difficult thing to do. You may not like to hear it,
but what fianally worked for me was sending our kids to day care. I tried
all kinds of things. I tried staying up late to write. I tried getting up
at 4:30 or 5:00 am to write (that didn't last long). I wrote on weekends.
We hired a babysitter who would come in for a couple of hours two days a
week so I could write. That worked okay. But, what really finally did
it, was we put our son in day care at 16 months. Our daughter was in
kindergarten, and we worked out a carpooling arrangement with other
parents with kids in the same kindergarten who also took their kids to
after school care. So, I only had to drive the kids from kindergarten
to day care once a week. Our daughter went to the same day care that our
son was in, so they were very happy to be together in the afternoons.
Mornings were torture, when I dropped my son off. I felt guilty like
you wouldn't believe. But, the women at the day care center were warm,
loving, and nurturing, and I have to say, although I would have
preferred to have our kids at home, I think there were actually some strong
benefits, in terms of them learning social skills and making friends
with other kids their age, they got out of that experience. Happily, we all
pulled through it. I finished my disseration. My wife and I are still
married, and my son is now a well-adjusted kindergarten student. In
fact, his teacher says he adjusted surprisingly quickly to kindergarten
(Perhaps due to his positive experiences in daycare?). My daughter is an
active, delightful fourth grader (no bias here). So, hang in there! It can
be done. This will probably sound like no advice, but what you really have
to do is find the formula that will work for you -- that will meet your
writing needs, meet you child's needs, and let you get enough sleep. It
may take a while, but with some experimentation, you will find it. And,
if you keep writing -- write everyday, even if its only for 15 minutes
-- one day you will be done. All the best. My heart goes out to you.
Hi--I'm a first year graduate student working on my MA/PhD; I started last fall
when my daughter was 3 months old. I think the key to successful academic work
with an infant--although this depends on what age and how mobile they are, too
-- is that you are flexible. I do a lot of reading in odd places (on the bus
on the way to & from class, etc.) and at odd times. My daughter's sleep
schedule is only somewhat fixed, but if she's waking up around 9 am, I'll get
up around 7:30 or 8 to eat and read/write. Gradually it gets easier to do
things like shower, clean, eat, and play (obviously :) ) while your
child is awake, leaving their nap times for your writing. Also, a supportive
partner is wonderful.
I had a baby mid-dissertation and completed it when my child was 2.5. I
have one word of advice --
CHILDCARE. I know it is hard to justify the expense to allow you to do
something that you make
no money at, but my feeling is that writing is serious work, and needs
serious space blocked out to do it. Both writing and baby care are very
hard, without making both harder by maintaining a fiction that one can
do both at the same time.
I know other people manage to get work done by working "around" the
baby's schedule (while the
baby is sleeping). While that never worked for me, I can imagine it
working if you can psychologically switch gears quickly (I can't), if you think
clearly either very early in the morning or late at night, if your
partner is willing/able to take over when he/she comes home, and if you have a
decent space at home in which to work.
If you are enjoying your baby, don't feel ready for childcare at this
point, and are frustrated trying to work around the baby, it may work better
to just decide not to do writing for awhile, take a maternity leave, and
not feel like you *should* do it.
I had finished all my research, but needed to write my dissertation when
my son was born. Although I hadn't planned on it, I ended up basically taking
a break for a year. My committee chair finally kicked me back into gear when
my son was 1 year old. What worked for me was to get a babysitter for even a
few hours a week. I had 5 hours a week for 3-4 months and then 10 hours a week
for the last couple months. I also wrote when my son was napping, after he
went to bed at night, or the weekends when my husband could watch him. It
certainly wasn't easy, but I had great motivation to finish and get out. I
found that waiting until he was bit older made it easier for me to get
the babysitter. In retrospect, I'm not sure I would have actively chosen to
do it that way (it would have been nice to finish sooner), but it's
Feel free to contact me with further questions if you wish.
In response to the question about writing with baby, it all depends on
your support system and your baby. I moved to Berkeley from Canada when my
son was 4 months old, so that my husband could start his PhD work. I had
planned to have my PhD finished before we moved, but I developed
pre-eclampsia during my pregnancy and was on bed rest for 2 months (the
last week, hospitalized) before his C-section birth. I was very lucky:
my son was a good, healthy baby. We could set our watches by him, he was
so predictable in his routine: he nursed every four hours, napped on
schedule, etc. That helped. I just found that I had to be very disciplined.
It took about 2 months before I was getting enough sleep to be really
productive, but after that it got easier. (Note: we couldn't afford
child-care; if you can, you should be fine). When he was awake, we went
for walks, to the park, shopping, etc. When he slept, I raced to my
computer and worked. I shut off the phone, refused to answer doors,
etc, during the day when he was napping, so that I could work. At night when
my husband was home, he would help out. And on weekends, he would take the
baby out to give me time to work. I also took my son to a conference
when he was 10 weeks old (with my mother-in-law along for help). I defended
my dissertation in Canada a year after he was born, and even managed to
publish 3 papers. So, it can be done. HOWEVER: my advice is to get
lots of help. A bouncy chair or swing by the computer also helps: I would
sing to my son while I typed. Good luck.
I wrote most of my dissertation after I had had my son and I can
give you some (rather obvious) advice. First of all, I thought that
since newborn babies sleep all the time (it said so in all the books)
I would have lots of time to write. Ha! You know how that works.
In the first 7 months of my son's life I wrote literally wrote two
The most important things are: get enough sleep. Otherwise your
brain won't work right and no matter how much you tell yourself
you must do things, you simply won't be able to do them. If this
involves taking midday naps, going to bed early, sleeping late, whatever
it takes, you must do it.
The other important thing is to have considerable (4-6+ hour) blocks of
time to do your work in, baby free. In my case this involved
living with my parents for a summer and getting 3 free days a week
to write, not my ideal situation, but it worked.
Last, set up a schedule to allow for the above and stick to it.
Babies and children in general usually respond well to schedules,
and when you see your slow but steady progress you will stop
feeling so panicked and stressed.
I have been working on my dissertation ever since my son was born a year
and a half ago. It has been hard. Very hard. However, I am beginning
to make good progress. Things that have helped are setting a schedule that
works for myself and my husband. We have no child care outside the
home, so I work evenings and weekends. These times are also looked at as
"special time" for my husband and son. It is tiring and many times I
have wanted to give up, but I think of it as a short-term sacrifice for a
long term goal. Hope this helped!
Sure it can be done. Go to any graduation and you'll see lots of Dr.
Moms and Dads toting babies on their hips in their graduation gowns. It
isn't fun, but it can be done. Unlike a "normal" job, you are at least on
your own schedule and if the baby gets an ear infection, you don't have
to let your down boss and colleagues, even if you have to make up time by
working in the middle of the night. I finished with a toddler and a newborn,
and now that I have "big kids," I'd convinced I'd rather do a dissertation
with a baby than an older kid with school and a life and a schedule.
Some advice for surviving a dissertation with a baby:
Before getting started: If you're just entering the dissertation
process, think hard about *logistics* when designing your proposal. I
wouldn't mention this to your committee, but think hard about practical
matters as well as scholarly ones. Is your research in a lab close by, or
does it require hours of travel to interview subjects? Can you choose a site
close by? Can you conduct research on a schedule that matches your childcare
or other parents' availability? Factor in childcare costs and how much
time away you want to spend.
Now, for the writing part:
1) consider writing a job with deadlines and get several hours of real
child care a week if possible. The older the baby, the more you'll need
2) However, in a pinch, never underestimate the focus and productivity
of working in the middle of the night or intensely for one hour during
baby's nap to meet a deadline.
3) Re. #2: Don't set yourself up for failure by approaching a writing or
analysis task completely exhausted b/c you'll spend more time staring at
the screen and berating yourself than getting anything done. If you can't
keep your eyes open, go to bed.
4) If you find yourself using childcare time to clean house/apt. Instead
of writing, get a cleaning service. True, you probably can't afford a
cleaning person when you're a student. On the other hand, can you afford to
be a student for another year or more if you don't finish writing? Are there
other home or dissertation related things you can "hire out?"
5) Create real deadlines with your advisor by promising drafts by
certain dates, and do #2 now and then to get it done.
6) It is absolutely essential to find time and ways to replenish your
energy and have fun. (Take a hike, read a magazine, get a manicure, rebuild
an engine, meet friends for coffee, or whatever is your thing.) It is OK
to use paid childcare time for these treats, the same way you might take a
lunch hour if you were in a normal job. If you are always taking care of
others, and obsessing about your dissertation, you will burn out,
procrastinate, and resent your work, your kid and spouse/partner.
7) Be prepared to having that nagging feeling of having something
hanging over your head, b/c you'll always feel you could be doing more,
writing more, analyzing better. Try, try, try, to turn that feeling off and
ave real breaks from writing, *and* from thinking that you should be writing.
Easier said than done, but you'll come back to the computer in better shape
too write and you'll be able to savor that baby time.
8) Form a writing/dissertation support group with other parents or
friends. My writing group all finished our dissertations in record time, due
in large part to support and encouragement from each other.
9) Attend a workshop by Dorothy Duff-Brown (dissertation/writing
consultant) offered by the Graduate Division, or other dissertation-survival
workshops. Or read _How to Complete and Survive a Doctoral Dissertion_ (I
forget the author and I happily passed the book along when I was done).
10) When the going gets tough, keep in mind that having a baby tends to
move people along because it helps them be realistic and practical about
narrowing the scope of their findings sooner along in the process, and kids
provide an external deadline/motivation/reason to finish. Kids keep you from
dragging it out and trying to write the "perfect" dissertation (of which there
is no such thing).
p.s. the VCR is a perfectly acceptable emergency babysitter.
I had my baby one month after starting graduate school (!) and I
didn't take a leave of absence from my graduate program. Two weeks
after giving birth I had to take a mid-term. Ugh! I had no concept of
how difficult it would be! I think I was an idiot. It stressed me out
beyond belief, and totally compromised the breastfeeding. Now that my
baby is 4 months old, things are calmer, but still very time
consuming and exhausting. I am also wondering how I can possibly do
grad school and care enough for my sweet baby/spend enough time with
her. I find the only way to get any research done is to LEAVE THE
HOUSE. Otherwise I am caught up in the cycle of cleaning the bottles,
preparing more formula, cleaning her laundry, etc, and of course,
playing with her every second she is awake because she is just so
darn cute! By the time she finally goes to sleep at 9:30pm, I'm too
exhausted to read and fall into bed myself. But I am fortunate--my
mother comes and does child care part-time so I can go to class and
study, but it seems like it's never enough time. My suggestion to you
is to find a caretaker (mother, mother - in - law, or other student
in the same situation with whom you can trade off childcare), and
make a solid schedule where you have research time and work
intensively during these few precious hours, and LEAVE THE HOUSE.
Keep this time as sacred to your well-being, and don't back down.
Otherwise you'll be miserable. And maybe have Dad sit baby on
Saturdays so you can go to campus and have a good, solid day of
research. Good luck! PS--even if you're breastfeeding, you might want
to consider giving baby formula when you are off doing research, so
that you aren't totally shackled to the house. This way another
caregiver will be able to feed baby and you won't be stressed out
worrying if she/he is hungry while you're gone. A bottle of formula
per day won't hurt your baby, and will help your sanity immensely, no
matter what the breastfeeding-only brigade tells you!
I thought I could write a research paper during my maternaty leave with
my first baby (I had already received the PhD). How wrong I was. I could
not even get enough sleep and food for myself. However, it can be done if
you have some help, and it is even better if your infant is not a newborn.
If you are not yet ready for daycare, you MUST hire a babysitter (or be
lucky enough to have a Mom/Aunt/friend who can do this), who can be in your
house with you, but just care for the infant so you can concentrate. This is
nice especially if you are breastfeeding. If you can do daycare- that's
even better. If your baby will be a newborn or less than 4-5 months,
they need a caring loving person all the time, but not necessarily Mom. The
"only Mom will do" stage comes later. I can get a lot of writing done
now if I work at home and the baby goes to daycare (now he's 20 months).
But don't fool yourself into thinking that you can do two things at once.
Having done both, caring for a baby is much more exhausting that writing
a dissertation. However, I am sure some Moms can do this. I am one of
those Mom's who really indulges her baby- I love to play and snuggle and
wrestle and read with him, and I am still nursing. It is actually impossible
for me to be home with him and make him play by himself while I work.
Actually, this is physically impossible for him as well- he will not let
me leave him. This is hard even when Daddy is home- he is firmly in the
"only Mom will do" stage. Also, as a newborn, he would not sleep unless he
was connected to a body. That meant that I could either put him in his crib
for a 10 minute nap, or I could hold him on my lap or shoulder and he
would sleep for 3 hours. So, I never got those long blocks of time. I got
some really good cramps writing with a baby in one arm.
BTW, I wrote my dissertation in Plant Biology in one month. I
already had three papers written (the introduction as a review article,
and 2 research papers). I had to write one last chapter, and make the whole
thing work. So, it does take a long time. And I had no baby then, and
I was able to work 10 to 15 hours a day (all at home in front of a
computer). Good luck!!!
Although this is more of an announcement, I'm sending it to "Advice" in
response to the woman who is trying to write her dissertation with a new
baby in the house. On April 27 the Neighborhood Moms Career Network
will present a panel discussion entitled: Working from Home--Will it Work
For You? One of the panelists is a writer and full-time dad who will speak
specifically to the challenges of writing in a home office with child
present. The other panelists are consultants and a telecommuter who are
sure to have many tips on carving out time and space to get work done
despite the compelling demands of your little one. Moms and dads who
work for pay or academic immortality are welcome at the event and
childcare will be available. Watch the Neighborhood Moms Newsletter
(527-MOMS if you don't already get it) and the Announcements section of
UCB Parents next month for more information.
More for the parent asking about writing a dissertation with a baby:
All of us who replied to your query suggested good strategies (eg.,
childcare, leave the house, get enough sleep, etc.) for how to get
through. But one of the replies made an important point that should be
highlighted: If you feel you need to take a "maternity leave" or "semester
off" or whatever, by all means do so, even if your committee gives you a hard
time. The culture at Berkeley often forces parents to downplay the importance of
childrearing. You can miss a meeting if you have blocked out "research
or writing time" but heaven forbid you miss work for a school play or sick
kid. Taking a semester off until you are fully recovered and adjusted to
your baby, and are rested enough to read a journal article without falling
asleep will certainly enhance your productivity when you do come back. I
didn't take time off because I didn't know any better, but in retrospect it
would have been a good idea. Although we all wrote that you can write a
dissertation with an infant, that doesn't mean you need to prove that
you can do it, too. If time off is what you want, and it's an option for you,
take the time to enjoy your baby and tune out any bad vibes from your
committee that make you feel less of a scholar.
The person who requested this information has already been indundated with
advice, but there is one piece of information that I have not yet seen
mentioned. About 2 years ago the Graduate Division instituted new guidelines
stating that student parents were entitled to an extra year of normative
time in writing dissertations, plus another year of normative time prior to
advancement to candidacy (if the child had already been born at that point.)
This might be a useful fact to mention to your committee members.
Personally, the only thing that worked for me was getting outside childcare.
I listened in envy to stories of babies who took 2-hour naps; for the first
7 months of her life my kid never napped more than 45 minutes at a stretch.
Although I was able to work with incredible focus during those times, it
just wasn't enough to make any real progress. Even now, working in the
evenings is difficult: by the time my kid goes to bed at 8, I've usually put
in a 14-hour day (one way or another) and can't concentrate enough to be
productive. Writing a dissertation with a baby is tough -- you're engaging
in two very isolating pursuits, both of them almost guaranteed to bring out
any latent feelings of inadequacy. The big advantage for me, though, is that
it will never be easier to work part-time, and I enjoy the time I spend with
I'm looking for advice from the trenches from anyone who has
written a dissertation while being a new mother or father. My
baby is due mid-June and I'm trying to graduate (ph.d. in
physics) by December. I've done most of the research so
it's mostly a matter of writing up what I've already done. I'm
set up to do this at home. My husband has a full-time job
plus 2 hours of commuting a day.
What I'm considering at this time is part-time day care beginning
in September. I'm looking for opinions on whether it would
be better to do this for 2 or 3 full days each week, or to do
half-days every week day. Which would allow more productive
time? Which is easier for the baby to adjust to? Which is
easier to find? Another option would be to have a part-time
in-home (my home) sitter while I work. Do you think I'd get
any work done this way? Is this type of care hard to find?
Much more expensive than day care?
Thanks for any tips,
I'll share my experience with you, and you can take this into
account when laying your plans. This turned into a long screed,
so other parents please skip if you are not interested in this subject.
I was in the same state as you, although I did have a couple of
chapters, the big data ones, half written by the time my son was
born. I thought in the three months I had off before I went back to
work TA'ing would allow me to get quite a bit of work done on my
thesis. Hah! My son was the type of baby who woke up several times
a night and seldom slept day or night for more than three hours.
A friend had warned me that my brain would turn to mush after
the baby was born, and I'm sorry to say that she was right.
When my son was 3 months old I started TA'ing a class I had
never taught, or even taken before, and was only really familiar
with about half of the material. So although my thinking skills
did improve as my son finally got to where he was only waking
once a night, I used most of my spare time learning this new
material which I was teaching.
That summer I moved back in with my parents, and arranged for
my mother to watch my son for 3 days a week (all she would give me)
while I drove to a nearby university and wrote my thesis sitting
in the basement of the main library there. This had a wonderfully
focussing effect as I knew this was probably my only shot at
completing a first draft of this monster. This led me to leave
some things out I had planned to include, but I'm convinced that
it made a better, leaner and more focussed, thesis in the end.
I did complete a draft that semester, and ended up filing the
following April, after various rewrites and such.
Something different about my experience than yours: I am
a single parent, completely self-supporting (except for that little
stint with my parents) and so had to keep working the whole
time, although only part time. The most important thing at
first is how much sleep you are able to get. If you happen
to have a baby that sleeps in long stretches from the first,
you should be able to get to work within a month after the
birth, albeit only slowly at first. If it were me I would
have child care away from my home while I was trying to work;
but that has more to do with my own distractability, perhaps,
than with the advisability of this practice for you.
Whether part time every day, or 2-3 full days a week: I think
either could work for you, once you get on a schedule. How
long does it take you to get down to work? Can you work for
long stretches, or do you need a break every two hours?
If it takes you a good hour to really get started, but then
you can work for 6 hours with only one break, full days should
work fine; but if you can get right down to work at the
beginning, but need a long break every two hours, then half
days will probably work better.
I can just advise that you try to find a child care giver who
is flexible and will let you change your schedule depending
on what you find is working and also how much sleep you are
getting. Not to mention deadlines. I won't mention them.
This message is in response to Anita. I had a baby six months ago, and began
working and writing my dissertation for 25 hours a week at home when Hannah
was 3 months old. We decided to have someone come to our house and do
childcare. This has worked out really well for me. This arrangement allowed
me to start working but still nurse Hannah and play with her a little during
the day. I found that half-days worked best--it's hard to keep up energy all
day, and it was hard for me to be away from Hannah for that long, too.
It is important to have a room you can work in and shut the door. However, I
found that being able to hear that everything was okay with Hannah allowed me
to concentrate on my work!
A few friends of mine suggested finding a student (high school or undergrad)
to care for the baby, someone who you wouldn't necessarily leave the baby
alone with but who would be fine in a non-emergency situation. This is a
cheaper way to go, and may be all you need. I didn't take that advice, but
we did hire someone who does light housekeeping. I love this, and it takes
some pressure off of my husband and I. You could also do a nanny share.
Thesis writing with an infant is tough, but do-able. It's good you're
looking into daycare options now, as they can take some time. My son was
born in December; I planned to take 8 weeks off, but took 10 because that's
when daycare could start--and, frankly, was thrilled with the "extra" two
weeks to spend with him! Now we're doing MWF at a daycare center and the
rest of the time home with me. I've found three days adequate for my work,
but do get frustrated with the on-again/off-again pace of things. Five
half-days would cure this, but we found childcare we love (Cornerstone
Children's Center) and that's not one of our scheduling options. One
advantage of three days is less commuting. Remember, your trips to and from
childcare take up some of those precious work hours!
Given what you're paying for (someone to substitute for you!), childcare is
not overly expensive, though it does hit most students' budgets hard. We're
paying $435/month for three days, 9:00-6:00. In-home sitters are usually
slightly more expensive, though you can often share a sitter with another
family and split the costs (note that sitters usually charge more for two
kids than one, with obvious cost implications). Working in the same space
your child is being cared for can work if you can get behind a closed door
and not jump up at every noise marking discomfort, and I have to say that I
hadn't realized how hard that would be until after Nick came along--they're
all just babies until you have one of your own, and then they all crank the
empathy-meter to the max! The real key is to look around and find something
you are 100% comfortable with, because unless you really are at ease with
your choice, you'll be spending your work time worrying instead of writing.
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