What I love so much about this website is the opportunity it gives me to learn about the different research projects other Mums are working on (or have finished). This week’s Meet a Mum has been doing a
This is a brand-new concept and our Mum this week was the first candidate in her stream at her university to undertake the degree in this format.
This week’s Meet a Mum is Janet McKay…
So meet Janet!
Tell me about yourself and your family?
I’m a solo mum by choice with a beautiful 3.5 year old daughter – Heather. I’m a musician (flute) specializing in new music – very recent works that incorporate ‘extended techniques’ (sounds made on the instrument other than the ‘typical’ sound).
What are you studying and was there any particular reason why you chose this course?
I’m doing a PhD in Music Performance. I decided on this particular course as it had such a strong focus on the actual performance aspect, rather than the purely academic/written aspect. There are very few institutions in Australia that currently offer this model of PhD, and in fact I’m the first candidate in the stream at my university. I felt that this program offered me the flexibility to conduct my research through performance and present the artistic outcomes as research findings.
My assessment comprises three public recitals at each of the milestone points (Confirmation, Mid-Candidature, Thesis Review) which are video and audio recorded to submit together with a 20,000 word ‘critical commentary’ exegesis as the final piece of assessment.
My research is on the role of the flutist in performer-composer collaborations – for my project I commissioned 7 composers to write new works for me, involving a high level of collaboration throughout the compositional process. I have now premiered these works as part of the recital component of my candidature.
What are some the things that have motivated you to keep studying?
I’m a bit of a ‘late bloomer’, in that many people these days are starting their PhD in their 20s. I was 38 when I started! So the motivation is firstly to just get it done so I can apply for academic jobs in my field, secondly to complete it before my daughter starts school, and thirdly to provide a strong example of commitment, follow-through and hard work to my girl.
What are the most challenging aspects?
Dealing with university administration! Because this stream is so new there have been many teething problems along the way. Mostly because certain aspects of performance-as-research had not been fully considered.
Another huge challenge was finances. In my first year I was eligible for a special government scheme that reduced child care fees considerably for people who are studying. Then the rules changed and PhD students were suddenly ineligible. I fought as hard as I could, writing letters to my local government members, other politicians, getting the Australian Postgrad Association on board, but none of it made an ounce of difference. So in subsequent years my child care fees have skyrocketed from about 200%. I’m still very thankful to have had that one year of significantly reduced fees, and to still have some concessions on my fees, albeit much smaller.
Time was another challenging aspect. Between dropping my daughter at childcare in the morning, and starting my teaching work in the afternoons, I’d have about an average of 6 hours a day to work on my research (including flute practice.) After collecting her from childcare, then the whole dinner-bath-bed routine, and by the time she was asleep (usually around 7.30, but often as late as 8 or 9!!) I’d be completely wiped out with no hope of doing any constructive reading/writing for the rest of the night. That was 4 days a week – I work Saturdays (and have an in-home carer), and have my daughter at home with my on Fridays and Sundays. So really I’ve been trying to complete this PhD on essentially part-time hours.
What would you say to other mums considering studying?
Go for it! It is a tough road, but it will be worth it in the end.
Who or what has supported your study?
I was fortunate to receive a university scholarship for the duration of my candidature. This amounted to about ½ my regular annual income, and is supplemented by part-time work and government parenting benefits.
In what ways does your study impact your daughter?
I think it’s been positive overall. Returning to study with an infant gave me the flexibility to work around her needs, much more so than if I’d been working full time.
Do you have any tips or hints for other mums?
Particularly for the solo mums, I’d say line up as much support as you can with household things/babysitting etc. When kids are sick it can really throw your deadlines out the window, so getting help at times like that can be a real lifesaver. Try to stay organized and on-target with your deadlines and milestones, and remember to factor in quality time with your kids each week. Treat your study like a job – time off is really important for your own sanity and for the health and wellbeing of your family.
What are your hopes and dreams? Where do you hope this will take you?
I’m hoping that this will open the door to tertiary teaching, and as such provide a more stable income for me in the future. For the past 20+ years I have been a freelance musician and self-employed music teacher, which has been great for the flexibility, but now I crave a bit more reliability of income and security of employment (as much as we can have those in this day and age!). I also hope it will lead to further collaborations and performance opportunities by opening up my networks through conference attendance, thesis publication and those type of things.
Thank you Janet for telling us a little bit of your story!