Mommy PhD: Biting tails

Lisa Kane_Mommy PhD_Biting bullets

Over the last few weeks of my PhD my Facebook posts grew in number and prophetic statements: “Nearly there!!” I wrote. “So close I can almost smell the printer!!” “Days to go!!” “Hours to go!!”

Well, how naive was I. Those last few jobs stretched on endlessly and took about four times longer than expected. “The tail of the lizard,” my Zimbabwean husband chimed in, “is always the hardest to eat.”

Knowing this, don’t be a fool like me, and think that those final jobs will be done in a flash. One of the big reasons for my delays were leaving those tricky-to-find page numbers of quotes till last. I realised too late that the page numbers for those classic quotes don’t get any easier to find just because you have procrastinated about them for a few years.

Sure, Google did a great job finding some of the sources, but those classic quotes I had from material dating back to 1937 ended up staying in the drafts folder. By that stage of the process my tired eyes simply couldn’t scan the page for quotes anymore.

TIP: Bite this bullet early on and find the quote page number, or ditch the quote.

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.



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: The unresolved childhood theory (2)


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.


I’m back. Nervously and apprehensively. Unsure. Behind this though, and urging me on, are some tugs of courage to do something different. I stopped blogging a year ago because of the wooden-ness that had crept into the posts. I didn’t like what they had become (what I had become?) They read like so many other surly posts about streets and cities and traffic. “IT NEEDS TO CHANGE!” they screamed, judging and condemning the people who had been involved with the processes en route.

I do think “it” needs to change (street design, that is, and planning for cities, especially here in South Africa) as too often streets feel and act like places of aggression, rather than our home on this earth. I want to talk more of the role of streets in our precious lives and I want to acknowledge the role of respect for humanity and dignity of the person in street design.

More than that, though I want to carve out a small place in the cyberspace where I can talk out about the messy, maddening and sometimes hair-tuggingly frustrating act of working in places which seem to lack compassion for humanity, for the weak and vulnerable. I want to use blogging as a place to reflect on what works, what really doesn’t, and what I haven’t a clue about in all of this. I want to do this in a way which celebrates the reflective, the quiet, the compassionate and the peaceful and which moves from preaching to (horrible term I know but I don’t have an alternative) sharing, and inviting in. Along the way I hope to find some fellow travellers.

There are risks here. One is that I lose all credibility and never work again. Which is pretty terrifying. I have hope, though (and some threads of evidence) that I am not doing anything so risky here. Instead, I think that I am putting some words to a zeitgeist which is already emerging in street design and in research. Even if the traditional work which relies on my logic, rationality and quantitative analysis skills dries up then I am trusting there will be something else which calls on a deeper understanding of shared humanity, compassion and creativity. I’m guessing that I am also adding some words to an ongoing redefinition of what it means to be a woman doing research. Brené Brown is a flag bearer here, but there are others too. Their stand allows women, and hopefully men too, to do research unashamedly whole. If all this sounds a bit too earnest then I promise it won’t be. After all, ‘whole’ means I get to blog about macaroons.

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