The Toddler-Thesis Nexus

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.

8 thoughts on “The Toddler-Thesis Nexus

  1. For what it’s worth I totally agree with you! My parents had me at a young age en now they are enjoying there selfs to the fullest. We have an business and I’m now 25 and in the homestretch of my thesis and after this is done I’m taking over the company. The will retire before they are 50.

    So yes having children at a young age does have benefits

  2. Of course, your girlfriend and son are rays of sunlight, so that makes life easier ;) And I’ll have Jan read this, see if we can get a headstart..

  3. I’ve always enjoyed watching the 2 of you having a child that early. Far more ‘the natural and healthy’ way than having children when you’re in your 30’s ( or even 40’s). It also helps when you both have brains and common sense.( like Julia and you) You guys are doing great and you can be very proud. love, katja.

  4. Being about to have a child while doing/finishing (?) my PhD, I loved your post. It’s very inspiring!
    These are also the arguments I’ve been having in mind for a while, hoping that they would concretize. It’s nice to see that your experience actually matches the theory. :)

  5. Reading your post makes me think having a kid early helps with the energy levels too. I had mine when I was 30 and I am not nearly half as chirpy as you are. For me, it was mostly sleep deprivation, him getting infections so a lot of sick days home. I started my PhD when he was 2, he is going to 5 this month and PhD in my case involved a 9 months fieldwork with the kid, and him changing nurseries because he didn’t like the first one then changing again because we were doing fieldwork then again back to the second nursery and then to school. Too many transitions none of which were easy. So I guess, again, it depends a lot on individual circumstances.

  6. It is SO nice to see another parent ho sees the positives to going through a PhD while raising small children. I have four (ranging ages 4 months to 4 years) and I often say school is my break from kids and my kids are my break from school. There are tough times, but there are so many positives as well–particularly when thinking about the long term. Thanks! Consider checking out my blog and sharing your insights!

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