This week’s Meet a Mum is Ellen, a Mum and PhD student. She also runs a great blog where you can read more about her experience balancing her life as a student and mother
You can find it at
I think you will really enjoy reading her story…
Tell me about yourself and your family?
My partner and I have been together for ten years – we met in London during my first year of uni – and in 2012 we had a baby daughter. She has just turned two. My partner works full-time during the week and is also studying via distance learning (Open University) for his first degree. We still live in London.
What are you studying at the moment? Was there any particular reason why you chose this course?
I am studying a PhD in Scandinavian Translation Studies, looking at the market and dissemination of Danish literature in the UK. The PhD studentship is co-funded by my university and the Danish Arts Foundation, and its public engagement element has involved creating a network in consultation with literary translators of Danish into English.
I completed my MA in the same field in 2010 after studying part-time and working (almost) full-time, and I always knew I’d go back to do a PhD one day, if we were in some way financially able. I assumed this would be when I was retired! When this studentship was advertised I leapt at the chance! In some ways the timing was perfect – a year earlier and I would have been about to give birth so unable to take the position, a year later I might have settled into my job or already moved elsewhere in my career.
What are some the things that motivate you to keep studying?
I enjoy the lifestyle and balance this offers our family. I know it would be impossible in most full-time jobs: I spend most of my time with my daughter and fit in my studies around her. When my partner and I first talked about having children, a really significant thing we agreed on was that we wanted the majority of her pre-school care to be done by one of us (in fact, we originally assumed it would be him as I was earning more at the time) or close family – idealistic I know! But we have somehow managed it. Ultimately, studying generally makes me happy, and that is so important.
What are the most challenging aspects?
I never feel like I’m doing enough. It’s an extra layer of stress I could do without! I snatch time here and there to read, write, or study – during her nap time occasionally, evenings if I have enough energy, and the more formal arrangements with nursery and family.
But I constantly compare myself to an imaginary ‘other’ who is childless and able to ‘properly’ study full-time. I generally don’t need to be at university very often, so I find it frustrating when meetings or events are announced at short notice or at awkward times meaning I have to scramble to arrange childcare. Often I have to opt out of attending entirely.
Who or what supports your study?
We use a mix of solutions, better get comfy while I list all these! We have a fantastic combined nursery and work hub relatively nearby where we pay for a set number of monthly hours (my partner’s Childcare Vouchers via his work salary cover the majority) and they give us the flexibility to book the hours where we need them.
For example, most often I book a 5 hour slot every few days where my daughter plays in the nursery while I work in the open-plan office upstairs. I’ve used them on a couple of occasions when I need to attend university in person as well – dropped her off and picked her up a few hours later (this makes my commute so long I can’t even bear to compare it with a child-free commute!).
I do a weekly childcare swap with another mum – she’s self-employed and, like me, most of her time during the week is taken up with childcare duties – our children are the same age and we found each other through a local parenting network. We alternate between each of our homes where we each take an hour or so to work at our laptops in another room while the other mum takes care of the kids, then we swap, and after both of us have had our shift, we all have lunch together.
When my parents visit, my mum is a fantastic and enthusiastic granny who loves taking care of her first grandchild! The plan when I started my degree was for them to visit at least once a month, but this has had its ups and downs owing to some unforeseen health issues. We’re extremely grateful for their visits; it’s hard for most families I know who live in London as close family so often live elsewhere.
My partner has recently started ‘compressed hours’ under a flexible working agreement with his employer, it’s brilliant and I wish we’d thought of it sooner. He works the equivalent of 10 days’ hours in nine days. This has meant adding on an extra hour (in the morning) to each workday – so he’s in the office 7.30am-5.30pm (Written down that looks incredibly long! But his commute is only ten minutes and he gets lots of good coffee). On day 10 he has a day off, so now every other Friday he is able to take over childcare while I study. Finally, my partner and I take a weekend day each as ‘our’ day for studying, but recently having every second Friday back like this has meant we get more family time, too.
In what ways does your study impact your daughter?
She is too young to know any different! She recounts back to us ‘daddy goes to work’ and ‘mummy goes to work’. It was important to us to ensure the terminology was the same, when I go to my desk or leave the house because of my degree, she should know I am going to work, just like daddy. She’s amusingly aware that we often do ‘shifts’ looking after her, though, for example when my partner comes home and she waves ‘bye bye mummy’ even when I’m not going anywhere!
What would you say to other mums considering studying and what tips can you offer?
It Can Be Done!
In fact, I was in touch with another student parent via a local parenting website recently and here’s what I said to her: I never manage to get any work done if it’s just me and the toddler, so I try and fill our time with playgroups and meeting friends and then I don’t feel like I should be studying, though occasionally I’m able to use nap time when I have the energy.
My partner and I use a shared Google calendar so we can easily see what we both have on e.g. deadlines, time allocated to work, weekends we’re busy, might be worth setting up something similar if you don’t have it already? Don’t be afraid to take your kid to uni for non-classroom-based things, for instance I’ve taken my daughter to the university library if I’ve had to return/pick up books from the issue desk and it’s never been a problem.
Thanks Ellen for sharing your story. The nursery and work-hub sounds amazing! As far as I am aware there aren’t any places like this in Perth…anyone know otherwise? What about the rest of Australia? I think they would be a MASSIVE hit, don’t you?