CV and what fits in the gaps

Today during the baby’s naptime (and while the eldest was at preschool) I decided to update my long-neglected CV to make sure I didn’t miss anything out from the last few years. This was prompted by a perhaps foolish move on my part to glance at another PhD student’s CV. A PhD student without children or similarly life-dominating commitments. It initially got me down that (s)he had seemingly been able to take on more work experience around the edges of the PhD: teaching and translation and other publications. So I decided it might be best to record what I have actually done while I remember, and it turns out it is quite a lot after all. By the end of this calendar year, I will have actively presented at 6 academic conferences since 2013 and attended still a few more. I’ve written a published chapter. I’ve founded and coordinated a professional network. I’m on track to submit my PhD on schedule. That’s no small feat.

When people discover I am doing a PhD in translation studies, they often ask whether I fit in any freelance translation ‘on the side’. It’s all I can do not to scream, WHEN?! But usually I demure to explaining that any ‘spare’ time I have around the children is for my PhD. Any time I have not caring for small people and all related aspects of parenthood is necessarily devoted to my studies. So when the kids are at nursery (part time), I do not lift a finger to do any housework until they return. Laundry and washing up can be done with the kids running around, transcription and reading and writing and high-level thinking cannot. Maybe I could do translation in my evenings? But, yet again, if I have any energy left in the evenings – and it’s rare that I do – it really should be for my PhD. After all, I have a studentship.

I studied for my Master’s part time and worked full time in a commission-based graduate level job (4-5 days) alongside it. I managed to fit in freelance translation then. And volunteering as an events coordinator for a local community group, and web administrator and trainer for the group’s website. And going to the gym, and evenings out with my partner and friends, and weekends away. That is how it is without kids, your time is your own and seemingly never-ending. I enjoy being busy – my mental wellbeing thrives on being busy – and it is hard to reconcile that productive feeling with the less self-absorbed enforced busy-ness of parenthood.

I have made peace with the fact that being less ‘productive’ for my CV right now is okay. This is how it is at the moment. In future, whatever job I have may well be mostly be conducted outside the home, where the line between parenthood and ‘work time’ is more clearly delineated. Parenting is time and tasks impossible to record on the CV.

Week on, week off

We had two weeks out of routine this month. My partner and I swapped places in the first week – currently he works (and lives) away for most of the week while I hold fort at home. But he took holiday from work while I went away for a few days to study, meet colleagues, conduct research, visit the London Book Fair, and facilitate a translators’ network meeting. He stepped into my shoes of running the household – the usual rinse-and-repeat routine of meals, laundry, washing up, nursery runs, waking up early, and so on. I had a brilliantly productive week and created a bunch more work for myself to get on with! While we as parents swapped, the kids were not out of routine and everything went smoothly. Then we went and lived elsewhere for a week in order to visit family.

I won’t call it a “holiday” in hindsight, although I appreciate that sounds unfair – it rained almost solidly, Kid Two spent half the week oozing snot from his nose, eyes, and ears (impressive) and Kid One was a treated to a 24 hour upset tummy (possibly from the on-site restaurant where food was served perturbingly quickly). Most pertinently, Kid Two regressed to waking a couple of times a night and then at 5am for the day, in turn waking both parents and Kid One who is usually an excellent sleeper (they were sharing a room) and on top of that I’m a terrible sleeper at the best of times and had two insomniac nights lying utterly awake. Yes, I’m ungrateful to complain and sound terribly privileged. But it was exhausting. So far, so typical of any trip with preschool-aged children, I guess.

Because of our usual living/working/studying arrangements, my partner exclusively uses holiday from work for me to [bugger off and] do my PhD work. A friend remarked beforehand how unusual and perhaps lovely it would be to actually see each other while he was on annual leave! (Perhaps the first time in a couple of years?!) This hadn’t crossed my mind for long enough to dwell, thankfully, as the luxury of time together for a week was immediately muddied as we both bumbled around in survival mode and used evenings to try and top up our sleep.

I freely admit I hated losing PhD time after such a busy productive week mere days earlier. The change of pace was challenging. I didn’t officially schedule a “week off”. I was fantastically thrilled for the full day I got child-free for transcription, and the snatched hours on a couple of other occasions.

Our week “off” brought into focus that the kids and I have really been thriving on our weekly routine this calendar year so far. In fact, maybe I’ve been more productive than ever: drafting and redrafting three chapters since Christmas. I’ve managed trips to London, library time, supervision meetings, and research interviews with various professionals for my research, and had two conference paper proposals for later in the year accepted (woot!). My weeks have fallen into a pattern of two days full childcare (combination of nursery and grandparent help), plus every other Friday as a PhD day (when my partner has his flexible working day “off” ie with the kids) and usually a few hours – occasionally a full day if necessary – at the weekend. I feel like I’m on the right trajectory. It’s all rather invisible from the outside though as evidenced by someone recently asking me whether I was still studying. I’m able to say yes, despite appearances while at playgroup or the park.

It is perhaps the busiest we’ve been though, both fitting in full-time work – however you define that – around the equally full-time job of looking after kids, without full-time childcare arrangements. The pace has really picked up for me. And I feel this desperate pressure that we need to keep up the pace to ensure that I actually submit my thesis on schedule. Back to normal again this week and I’m finding it hard to hit the ground running. Trying to kick myself out of feeling paralysed by the pressure and instead glad to be back on track. The routine is in place and I need more weeks on than off!

The Valley of Shit

Sigh… just realised I went through the Valley of Shit before Christmas! This bit of this blog post totally resonates:

“The problem with being a PhD student is you are likely to have been a star student all your life. Your family, friends and colleagues know this about you. Their confidence in you is real – and well founded. While rationally you know they are right, their optimism and soothing ‘you can do it’ mantras can start to feel like extra pressure rather than encouragement.”

Things are really back on track now. Though it’s tough to find time to update my blog!

The Thesis Whisperer

I have a friend, let’s call him Dave, who is doing his PhD at the moment.

I admire Dave for several reasons. Although he is a full time academic with a young family, Dave talks about his PhD as just one job among many. Rather than moan about not having enough time, Dave looks for creative time management solutions. Despite the numerous demands on him, Dave is a generous colleague. He willingly listens to my work problems over coffee and always has an interesting suggestion or two. His resolute cheerfulness and ‘can do’ attitude is an antidote to the culture of complaint which seems, at times, to pervade academia.

I was therefore surprised when, for no apparent reason, Dave started talking negatively about his PhD and his ability to finish on time. All of a sudden he seemed to lose confidencein himself, his topic and the quality of…

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