Often when people hear I am father of a three-year-old and doing my PhD they seem very surprised. It’s true, I was very young when our son was born (21 years old) – very out of the ordinary to today’s standards. A common question I get is, ‘Isn’t it hard to combine a PhD with being a father?’ The truth is, not really, and here’s why.
First of all, as a parent you follow the rhythm of your child. My son wakes up every morning around 7.30 a.m. By 9.00 a.m. he has to be at his nursery. This cancels all possibility of sleeping late. By 9.15 I am on my way to the university.
Secondly, having a fixed daily schedule forces you to use your time efficiently. You can’t afford to be unproductive; you’ll have to work within your daily time constraints (9.30 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m – and no work on weekends)
Thirdly, parental responsibility compels you to perform. If you decide to engage in the not-so-lucrative business of writing a doctoral thesis (or doing a master degree for that sake), you better make sure that it pays off. Otherwise you might as well have looked for a regular job.
Fourthly, you are guaranteed to have weekends off (if you like it or not). Many doctoral candidates run the risk of getting too absorbed in their work – forgetting that there are other things to life than academia. With a child you’ll be forced to enjoy your weekends and take your mind off work.
Fifthly, as a PhD student you’re a very flexible parent. While most parents will be in despair when the nursery is closed or when their child is sick, it is fairly easy to cope with this as a PhD student. You’ll just work a bit more in the evenings to compensate.
Lastly, and this doesn’t relate directly to doctoral studies, having a child (or children) early in your life will make things easier in the future (assuming you don’t have the intention to keep ‘em coming). Prof Anne-Marie Slaughter highlighted the difficulties of being a parent while hold a top position (that mostly women have to cope with). Our son being born earlier in our lives will give us a lot of freedom later. When he turns 18, I’ll be 39. Most of my peers will then struggle to combine their busy careers with being a parent as Slaughter has described, while me and my partner will be relieved of (most of our) parental duties and able to concentrate on our careers…
To be fair, nothing is always easy. In order to be a good parent and a diligent doctoral student you have to be determined and work hard. And, of course, a loving and reliable partner is a sine qua non. Yet, things aren’t as hard as they sometimes might seem.