Students who are parents

Rear body shots of 2 adults holding either hand of a toddler, walking away from the camera.

I joined the university’s mentoring program in my first year as an HDR student. I am so grateful I was assigned my mentor. She has stuck with me through all the disruptions during my Ph.D. candidature.

She’s provided guidance, motivation and role-modelling. She’s also an academic researcher caring for a baby. A good number of other HDR students in my school are parents too and although we sometimes get to talk about our lives outside of our labs, we don’t really see how it can be quite an isolating experience.

Here are some tips from @aKIDemicLife on Twitter:

  • Break tasks into small chunks and learn to say no
  • Taking time for yourself is critical to your endurance
  • Don’t wait for help, ask for it
  • Try and keep in mind why you started
  • Some weeks you will be more parent, other weeks more student – make use of the flexibility

You’re not alone. There are lots out there. Take this postgraduate student who shares her experiences as a student-parent. Find your supportive community. Also, the wonderful @RebeccaGelding has compiled a Twitter list of Ph.D./ECR parent tweeters.

As student, what are some ways we can reach out to student-parents? How can we be supportive, even if we don’t have children ourselves? Although student-parents need unique support, they also don’t want to be limited by assumptions that they are hindered to perform well in their studies by their responsibilities as parents. In general, I want people to get to know me first before forming any assumptions – keep an open mind.

I asked student-parents how we can show support as a community, and here are some of their responses:

  • I had two kids during my Ph.D. and what helped me the most was having flexible work hours and being able to work from home.
  • Sometimes it's nice to have a conversation about myself and not the kids.
  • Don’t assume we are limited compared to other students, ask about our children after you discuss our research (unless they bring up kids first), and don’t let others only focus on new parenthood status when they speak with, or around, you.
  • Be aware that parents will be experiencing a huge shift in their identity which can make changes to their perspectives and outlooks. Maybe take time to ask about them in themselves (and not just about their offspring and them as a parent).
  • Tell them that there is a "Ph.D. and early career researcher parents" group on Facebook.
  • Be kind when they inevitably have difficult patches during the Ph.D. and remember that they won't find evening events (especially) easy to attend.
  • Do ask what their preferences are for communication methods and meetings (regular re-evaluation)
  • Don’t assume they don’t want to be included because of a baby. Do encourage them, everything is still possible - even with a baby! Don’t assume they can’t conference/grant/travel
  • The best support my supervisor gives me is when we hit the school holidays and says 'see you on the other side' - no expectation of attendance or output. Takes all the pressure off.
Tagged in What messes with your head, parent-student, Wellbeing, Student care