Being a mum and a postdoc – balancing career in academia and motherhood


Becoming a mum changed my life, literally. No longer I was able to work cruzy schedule with nighttime binge writing sessions, weekend marathons, and sleeping in whenever I could. In a nutshell, having a baby killed my inner owl pretty quickly and unceremoniously. It took me some time to develop a new self in a “work” department.

I have been told many things about having a baby while being an academic, with the most common being: “you will ruin your career”. Often from people who do not have babies by themselves. People who have children while working in academia were way less talkative and polarised. Bach then, I have wondered why…

Now, I suspect why. Having children while trying to maintain a career in academia humbles you in so many ways. It is also a very personal journey, so talking about it does not feel like applicable to other people. Although, I agree that it is certainly individual, hearing about some things can be useful, or at least give a reassurance. So I decided to write about my experience of being a mum and a PhD candidate first, then a researcher, and finally a postdoc.

Pregnancy

I had a healthy pregnancy and I worked throughout the whole time. Even on a delivery day I have managed to do some work on a review, I was helping with, as a distraction. During the pregnancy I have finished a write up of my thesis, submitted it, was working as a research assistant, and a demonstrator (teaching in a lab). For the most part, the pregnancy did not affect my work. Although, I have lost one teaching position when the person in charge got to know that I am pregnant.

Having an infant

That was the hardest time for me. Sleep deprivation was brutal. I had to make myself a promise that I will work at least an hour a day on my thesis corrections. It took me a few months, but I did it finish all corrections in a timely manner, and soon after graduated with a PhD.

Having a toddler

As our toddler really enjoyed a company of other children, we have decided that is time to find a daycare. For me, it meant I could work more, although occasional sleepless nights would affect my productivity. I did not take a full time position (although I would if there would be one available), but I had a few part time jobs adding up to a full time equivalent. I have also taken a language course at uni.

Postdoc

I hold a full time postdoc position at a university in Japan now. I work when my child is in preschool or sleeps. Data collection to my project requires me to occasionally work in the evenings and/or weekends. This project is my passion, and truly enjoy every minute working on it. I work, whenever I can.

I immensely enjoy being a mum too. And that is where the problems starts:

When I work, I feel I want to spend more time with my kid; When I spend time with my kid, I feel equally strongly that I should work more.  

Hopeless situation you would think. But I think I found a solution, or rather a mirad of things I have a control over and can influence.

Being present

Whatever I do, whether at work or home, I try to give it my full attention. I stay fully engaged and present. Trying to forget about home when at work or vice versa is impossible. However, I strive to at least not actively engage in the tasks related to the other thing. For example, I do not even look at my emails, until my child goes to bed.

Quality time

Even when I come home tired, I try to offer my best self to my child. It is a conscious decision I make. On some days I need a pep talk on the stairs. But most days, I am just happy and grateful to be a mum, so the fun just follows. I try to do things with my child, go places, and all around spend a “quality time” according to my child’s needs at the moment.

The same goes for work time. I try my best to focus on the task or on a person I work with. I try to plan ahead and execute with intent. Also, I try to divide tasks into the ones I can do wherever, and the ones I need to do in the office. Subsequently, I am able to batch similar tasks I need to do in the office, and do them more efficiently.  

Cutting out fluff

I am constantly working on cutting out all the unnecessary things in my life. I cut out watching TV, I reduced the amount of meetings, and I optimise logistics related both to work and home life. It is amazing how much time you can save by batching , delegating and planning.

Some tasks which are less important or short I do during commute time. For example, I study Japanese vocabulary on the train. I have written some of the blog posts for this blog while waiting for a meeting or appointment!

Environment

I manipulate the environment to best stimulate my productivity. Working from home, in the morning, with a cup of hot or cold tea, is the most productive way to get a lot of writing done. I do quite well with writing in a cafe too. Tasks that require working on two monitors, like data analysis, I prefer to do in the office. Also, the tasks that require the Japanese language ability, which I don’t have, are automatically assigned to the office too.

Keeping myself healthy

I try to keep myself in a good health. Honestly, this it the hardest thing ever, as becoming a mum shifted thinking about myself further along the line of priorities. I recognise however, that if I am not at my best shape, it is harder to be a mum I want to be. Not even mentioning how it affects my productivity. For this reason, I try to eat decently and sleep enough (although barely). I go to the qym at least three times a week when my child is already asleep.

Mixing work and family

Although I usually try to keep work and family separated as much as I can. There is one instance when I always try to combine the two: conferences. Luckily my husband can work remotely, and my kid is young enough that we can travel together. Not that I go very often… But if I go, they go too. I try to schedule a day off after a conference, so we can enjoy some sight seeing together too. Usually it works beautifully, and although it is a bit more stressful for me before the conference, it keeps us together, a big win after all.

To summarise, I try to focus on quality over quantity. As quantity is reduced by work, I invest all I have into making our family time rich and engaging.

What are your experiences in balancing career and motherhood I would love to hear?

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