Tell me about yourself and your family…
I am a 38 year old dual national (US/UK), living in Newcastle upon Tyne UK. I grew up in New York and moved here with my husband in 2004. I completed an MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies at Newcastle University in 2005, worked for seven years in a variety of art and museum education roles before starting my full time PhD in 2012. We have three children, aged 7, 5 and 1.
Putting the older kids to bed while carrying the baby – learning to multi-task!
What are you studying at the moment and was there any particular reason why you chose this course?
My PhD research focuses on art interpretation in museums and galleries, knowledge production, and how museums come to tell the stories of art that are presented in exhibitions and displays.
I worked as a learning officer for many years, most recently in an art gallery, and was interested in the way museum practice was shifting. Whereas in the past, the curator was the ultimate authority in deciding what was shown in the gallery, I noticed that more responsibility was being given to education departments in developing exhibitions. The opportunity arose for a funded PhD so I left my role at the gallery to focus on my research full time.
What are some the things that motivate you to keep studying?
At the moment I am really relying on a newly formed Facebook ‘PhD Mums, Moms and Dads’ group to provide some support. They have been a huge source of inspiration at a time when I wasn’t sure I would continue. The group formed just as I was returning from maternity leave.
I have a small group of other PhD students who I call upon to get me going, and I also get a lot of motivation from my husband. A positive meeting with my supervisors always gives me a boost, too. Ultimately, though, I find inspiration and motivation on the days when I’ve had lots of sleep and find myself absorbed in an interesting book or article, or find myself in the ‘zone’ while writing! Those days get me through the not-so-great days.
What are the most challenging aspects?
I tallied up the hours I spend with my kids and the hours I spend on my PhD each week. I spend at least 5 – 6 waking hours a day actively caring for my children on weekdays and 24 on weekends – this is not including sleep times or those nights when no one sleeps – so all in all, it’s like working a 60 hour a week job on top of doing a full time PhD.
It’s hugely challenging to find the time to do everything I need to do to be successful at both things. Some weeks, when there is a sick child or I don’t feel well, or it’s the school holidays, I achieve next to nothing on my PhD.
Other weeks, I feel like I’ve done a brilliant job of researching but not at being an attentive mum. Finding a balance is difficult. I also feel as though I have next to no time to do the things I enjoy and that relieve stress, like exercise and pursuing my art practice.
What would you say to other mums considering studying?
Striking a balance is tricky. I’m lucky in that I have 3 full days of childcare with help from my in-laws on other days. If you can afford help, get it. If not, you will master the art of working in short bursts!
Everyone works differently and it will take some time to figure out how you work best, based on your responsibilities at home. Try not to sacrifice sleep if you can, and don’t beat yourself up if you have a hard week and just want to forget about your studies for awhile!
The little one nicknamed ‘Baby PhD’ by my fellow students when I was pregnant…
In what way does your study impact your kids?
Having deadlines looming or needing to work after bedtime means that sometimes the atmosphere at home is stressful. I try not to work when they are around as I need to focus on what I’m doing, and I can’t cope with lots of interruptions.
Because I treat my PhD like a job and work three days a week until 5pm, they don’t get to go to after school activities or have friends over, which I don’t like. Our weekends feel chaotic as we cram all those things into a Saturday. On the plus side, they are able to entertain themselves pretty well and are surrounded by books and learning. The older two are brilliant readers and writers, and I think having a mum studying at home encourages them.
Thanks Jen for sharing a bit of your life with us!