Loughborough PhD Social & Support Network

#SSN Open Letter- Is it enough?

Is it enough? 

I’ve spent my morning frantically refreshing websites in a bid to obtain a PS5 for my stepsons, which means its gone 9am before I start working on my PhD. The guilt sets in. There are repairmen coming to fix the freezer, a dog that needs a walk and regular deliveries of Christmas orders which I have tried to get out the way early. So, I’ve got my coffee, the laptop fires up (slowly) and I’m ready to go.

Todays tasks involved transcribing and continuing to recruit participants for interviews which given that it involves social workers finding an hour to speak with me, is proving difficult. Earphones in, recording on, off I go.

My phone rings, it’s the dentist rearranging my foster daughter’s appointment, I can’t recall her schedule at sixth form so need to contact her before I can ring them back and confirm. Earphones back in, a little voice pops in my ‘did you get the chicken out to defrost’, downstairs I go and a quick post breakfast wipe around and might as well make a coffee, the last has gone cold. The doorbell rings, I quickly sign for a package and another for next door, ironically a student house and I’m almost positive they are all in!

Ok, headphones in and I’m on a role for forty minutes, I’m sailing through and enjoying it. My brain takes pleasure in being focused on a single task and I feel like I’m really generating a product of my endeavors, ping! A notification for a seminar I so excitedly signed up for last week, starts in fifteen minutes. Do I stop and shift my brain into another zone, its not directly linked to my subject area but its really interesting and I always get a boost from broadening my horizons. A quick calculation and I figure out if I attend the seminar, I will have three hours to work before school finishes and the house becomes alive again. I attend and at the end there is an open discussion, people share their progress to date and reel off the abundance of additional tasks they are completing above and beyond their PhD, one guy has secured funding to work abroad, another has obtained an internship in London for three months, the organisers of the seminar are all post graduates too and plan to run further events and invite others to present or contribute.

I leave the chat impressed but forlorn, my inbox is hardly bursting, the kids are all at school, I have the luxury of a home office, a partner at work so the house is quiet and no distractions, maybe I should be networking, hosting events, writing articles. I’m going to write a list and a schedule and start working on some academic side hustle, I can’t just do my PhD that’s not enough, I open my notebook….the shopping list….dammit I’ve not ordered online there’s no way I will get a slot now. I will go tonight, once everyone is home and fed, I will go, it will be quiet and then I have the rest of the afternoon to work.

Earphones in, blissful I work solidly and am completely engrossed when the front door opens. In walks my foster daughter, I trot downstairs for a break and a quick chat, ‘how was your day’, a quiet ‘fine’ is mumbled and a cup of tea is rejected…a warning sign. After a little coaxing it spills out, a sort of fall out with a friend, nothing extreme but she’s feeling low and needs a good chat and before I know it its 5pm and the dog hasn’t been out, dinner is nothing but a raw pack of chicken in a pool of ice water on the worktop and I still need to do that food shop.

Right, she’s off to do homework, I have a window, leg it round the park in the rain with the dog, lob some dubious veg and chicken in a pot and a casserole I hope will emerge on the other side. Now, decision time, a quick thirty minutes work before my partner is home and we have dinner then off to the supermarket, or forget the shopping, do it in the morning and work after dinner? We eat, I’m exhausted, I feel guilty, I haven’t done anything! My partner washes up and puts some washing in, see I don’t even have to complain about not sharing household tasks, I’m ‘lucky’ I have help.

I slope upstairs to work but I can hear my family laughing away downstairs even though I know my foster daughter is still upset, I can’t concentrate, I give up. Tomorrow. Tomorrow I will get up early, workout because I haven’t had chance for a couple of days, then the food shopping as early as possible and I have the whole day free to work. Wait no the dentist is at 1pm. Should I take her back to school after? We will be done by 1:30pm that’s two hours of lessons. No she can come home it’s silly to make her go back in. Ok, so I can work again once we are home, so wake up, workout, shopping, worktime, dentist, get home, work, dog walk, dinner, work?

Shit, it’s Wednesday, so there’s karate tomorrow night! Ok, so no work in the evening. Or maybe I can take my laptop? The class is just over an hour it’s not worth driving home I can sit in the car and work. Ok, right, so, about those articles I was going to write……. 

I often wonder if I should have done my PhD sooner, before I had a family, a renovation project of a home. I would have had so much more time to invest in all the other bits that go alongside a PhD. I do not know if that’s true and I know I shouldn’t punish myself, but I am scared a PhD alone is not enough. I get jealous when I hear about other people being pulled into projects by supervisors or running peer support groups, some of them even have kids and jobs and all sorts going on themselves. My inbox is pretty quiet, I’m on top of my work really, it feels like time stolen but I’m not behind. I do not live near campus, I’m 50mins away, is that why I feel so out of the loop? I am naturally a grafter, I get work done quickly, my previous role with a local authority was insanely busy and frantic so I’ve learned to manage high workloads. But, this is different and it’s not because I’m struggling to keep up, I think I just don’t want it enough, by the time I’ve carved out the hours I need in deep thought to work I don’t want to then eat into the time with my family or work until midnight or on weekends. My ‘extras’ come from other areas of my life, I foster, a job I adore, I work out, I volunteer, I renovate my house and yes, I think those things contribute to making me the employee someone will want when this is all over. I do not doubt everyone who is weaved into every event, society and special interest group is putting themselves in a great position for their future career but for me my PhD is enough. 

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