Mommy PhD: The last 500m

Mommy PhD: The last 500m

Lisa Kane_Mommy PhD_Last 500mSurely, I thought, I will get to the printer today?! All I need to do is to convert my Word file to PDF and then we are done?! Well, it seems that every step of the PhD process is designed to test your fortitude and iron will.

There must be a special place in hell reserved for the programmers who put together the software for converting Word to PDF documents. Maybe they had some real belly laughs around the water cooler about those random errors generated by the Word to PDF conversion of long documents. Haha!

When you finally, finally decide that the thesis is finished and that you are ready to take the next step and that the next step is a mountain called Adobe is sore indeed. I probably should have smelt a rat when the publisher laughed when asked him if he did the Word to PDF conversion in-house. Hahaha.

I had already read the horror stories online and had decided to enroll help to do this. But what should surely have taken two minutes ended up taking nearly six hours. You would think converting Word to PDF simply means the output PDF pages would look exactly like the output Word pages, right? But no!!

Figure captions, which were perfectly placed in Word suddenly unmoored themselves and floated around the page in the PDF; labels on figures would similarly go walkabout; page numbers would fail to correlate and most mysteriously the notes formatting simply failed.

In the end I checked it again, sent a little prayer and whisked it off to the printer, reassuring myself that the reader wouldn’t be familiar with the Word version and so wouldn’t know what they were missing out on.

TIP: Leave yourself wide margins of time at the end. Find a friend, or pay someone to help you with desktop publishing. By then you really won’t give a damn about line spacing, but first impressions and the finishing touch really do count.

Mommy PhD: Practical tips to overcome a crises of writing confidence

Lisa Kane_Mommy PhD_Just write

Write for an audience: Print off a list of all the people who want to read what you are writing and write for them

Revisit inspired times: Flip through your notebooks to reconnect with energy and enthusiasm from earlier in the process

Intellectual nourishment: Reread an inspiring paper

Seek out the muse: Check out the latest writing of someone I admire

External affirmation: Print off the nice things people have said about me and my writing and put them on a board

The right context: Create a more beautiful physical space for my writing

Work to schedule: Make time in my diary for my writing

Play to a schedule: Make time in my diary to do fun, happy things

Just write.

Anything.

Now.

Mommy PhD: The 21st kilometer

I tried to explain it to a friend: “It’s like the 21st kilometer of a half marathon,” I said. “You know the end is near but you are so tired it takes all of your energy to just put one foot in front of the other. That’s all you can do… keep shuffling forward.”

Never having run long distances herself, she gave me a blank stare. By this stage my own long-distance running was a hazy memory but the last kilometer of those three half marathons I managed to complete, were seared into my memory.

The last stage of the PhD was so arduous that it really felt like the best analogy. The good intentions, the clear purpose and the joy that got, and get me going, on this journey had all but vanished along the way. All that kept me moving forward was bloody-minded determination to cross the finishing line despite the pain.

Like running, like child-birth, like nothing else I have experienced before, I just kept going with the PhD because I couldn’t not finish. And I just didn’t have the energy to decide to do anything different.

Mommy, PhD: Finding time – saying no

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If you’re going to find time then you’re going to have to start saying “no”. This may be one of the toughest tasks for a mamma doing a PhD. No to birthday parties (your friends’ and your children’s). No to nights out with your bestie, with your partner. No to time with dear family. No to ‘unmissable’ movies, shows, openings. No to must-attend school events. In the end no to even the essential things – the walk, the exercise class, the weekly shopping, the Doctor check-ups. For me the only way to finish was to adopt, for a time, the life of the ascetic. Pared down, inward looking, intensely centered and removed from social context.
And although it had its costs (to friendships in particular) it had a simple, restorative beauty of its own. And through it I discovered a real gratitude for down time doing the simplest of things which I reconnected with post-PhD. Yay to coffee and cake with a good friend. The joy of it. After months without it.

On PhD humiliation: letter to a friend

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Hi Beth,

It was good to see you yesterday, although you did seem out-of-sorts and, as you said yourself: shattered. As I sat there I was quite torn. On the one hand you were asking for my thoughts and recollections, but on the other hand it seemed that more than anything you needed to have a good howl. I hope you got that (howl) before the end of the day. So in answer to your question, here are a few thoughts. I hope they help, but I think the howl will probably help more.

The PhD process brought me to some of my lowest lows in my work life so far. Bringing our as-yet-unformed work in front of so-called experts is exposing, even humiliating. It’s hard not to feel demeaned and belittled in front of rigorous academic critique. I remember phoning Rob after one such session and choking, sobbing over the phone. That was my lowest point and I nearly, nearly gave up. On one level a PhD is simply a qualification in bloody-minded persistence. It’s about not giving up, and about keeping going through times exactly like this.

In retrospect (and I know this is probably not much consolation) I can see the emotional lows are a big part of the process. You will reach a stage where you know the answers to the questions raised by experts or you can see the questions for what they are – irrelevant. Then there you are, standing firm on your own piece of ground and robust in your position.

Remember, also, we are ‘disabled’ to some degree by our age, gender and past as practitioners. Academic language and norms are not the same as the languages we use in practice. As difficult as it is to learn a new language, so it is to learn academic norms of communication. This will feel a real struggle at first but once mastered you have a huge advantage because you will know how to speak in practice AND in academic words. Bilingual. Not all academics have that. Similarly as a woman you may struggle to be heard in your male-dominated discourse, but once you’ve mastered the use of male academic language then you have the advantage of being able to slip in-between those worlds.

So well done on getting this far. Hang on in there. Persistence is key. More than anything, just take the next step.

Warm wishes, Lisa

Mommy PhD: Writing on Mars

 

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Cover of children’s book “Let’s Pretend” via Pinterest

 

It’s so important to have separation while studying, but how do you make sure that the necessary separation doesn’t become hurtful? How do you avoid resentful children en route to a lifetime of therapy? This was a tough one for me. I didn’t want Brett and Hannah to feel that they couldn’t have access to me but I also needed them to know that my PhD room was a different room from the others in the house.

When they were very little I would leave them with care-givers and tell them that I was “going to Mars”. “Going to Mars” they understood, really meant going down to the shed-study at the bottom of the garden, but in their vivid imaginations I was on Mars. If they wanted to contact me they would use the “inter-planetary” phone. And of course there were exceptions to the galactic separation. Needing a cuddle with mama was reason enough for warp-speed space travel, with me happily beaming back down to earth, because cuddles are available at any time – no questions asked.

Mommy PhD: The unresolved childhood theory (2)

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Image of the Walking to School Campaign, Victoria, Australia

 

Dark anger about injustice regarding freedom of movement, especially for children, definitely motivated my PhD and its focus. On the flip side, so did joy. Some of my own happiest childhood memories were made on streets. One of my earliest memories is of simply walking along a suburban street. The light is that impossible fresh green which glows through leaves during the first days of a warm English spring. I remember it as one of the happiest, most peaceful experiences of my life. These memories provided a deeper, almost spiritual motivation for my thesis. The substance of the thesis actually found its roots in these early childhood experiences. Understanding these memories as not only key motivators, but also as the essence of my real fascination helped tremendously in defining my work and writing my introduction.

Is it necessary to dig this deep into motivation? If, as a mother, your Masters or PhD process is going to stretch over several years then I think it’s crucial you get to the bottom of what angers, frustrates and really moves you. Without a real, authentic motivation the inevitable question of why you are doing this simply won’t have a good enough answer.

In my experience finding your purpose, is quite difficult to do on your own. Exercises in the book “What Color is your Parachute?” helped me. So did various More To Life courses, especially the Power of Purpose. Talking to friends and family helped.

But once found this motivation is like a mythical potion. When you feel like you’re failing, or question what you are doing, you can revisit this purpose and it will reinvigorate you when nothing else seems to work. Find it, cherish it, and keep it close.

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