mom life · phD

Day in the life of a PhD mom

This is how my typical day looked like when I was at a writing stage of my PhD dissertation.

My daughters were 4 years old and 1 year old. 

6:30 am                       Wake up (if none of them woke me up yet), make lunch

7:30 am                        Feed the girls, change, start the laundry 

8:30 am                          Violin practice for my older daughter (while the younger one wants to join)

9:00 am                          Drop them off at daycare
9:30 am                          Start writing at a nearby cafe

12:30 pm                         Going home for lunch

1 pm ~ 2:30 pm             Line dry laundry, tidy up home, house chores, errands

2:30 pm ~ 4:00 pm         Get back to writing dissertation 

4:30 pm                           Picking up the girls

5:00 pm                           Cook dinner (with the kids as long as my sanity lasts) 

6:00 pm                         Eat, clean up

7:00 pm ~ 8:30 pm      Playtime followed by bath time 

8:30pm  ~ 9:00 pm      Reading books and going to bed 

10:00 pm ~ 12 pm        Whatever I need to do….and crowl to bed

ZZZZZZ…… nightmares about my dissertation 


I was too exhausted to work at night, my only productive time was when the girls were away. 

Even during those hours, I couldn’t use my time entirely on my work…a lot was spent on house chores and errands.

It’s all about your priority, I guess. I just couldn’t let my home get cluttered with stuff…and I just need to eat food that is homemade and yummy.  And I wanted to spend time for my daughters to go to her violin lessons and practice. 

Afterall, I just couldn’t prioritize my work over these things. And we can only do so much everyday.

It was possible to finish my dissertation even with this much work, and successfully defend it. But the problem was, I didn’t get to do the extra work to get a job after I get my PhD…that is to build up my resume by teaching, publishing, presenting, etc. 

I wonder what I could have done differently, and if I should have done differently. 

I thought my journey was over, but seems that I’m still trying to figure out how to make sense of my journey. 


It’s okay to quit your PhD

When I was feeling stuck with my dissertation, I often felt like quitting my PhD.

When I told my thoughts (or more like my feelings) to my friends and family, they unilaterally told me I would regret if I quit.

“Once you quit, you would never be able go back.”

“You would feel like a loser.”

“You would always feel like you couldn’t finish what you started.”

“You are so close to finishing it. You are almost done.”

I was convinced, or I was afraid of feeling like that for the rest of my life, so I kept going.

After a lot of tears, nightmares and distress, I finished my dissertation, passed the defence, and graduated with that glorious PhD.

Now, do I feel good about myself not quitting it? That I kept trying and got my PhD?

The answer is No.

I actually regret I finished it.

I actually feel ashamed of becoming a PhD and not having any future lined up.

I wish I quitted when I felt like it.

I would have had more time to spend with my two little girls.

I would have at least been 5 years younger and may have been able to have another child.

I would have had more job possibilities without a PhD cause very few would want to hire a mom with a PhD.

If you feel like you want to quit your PhD, and if your inner voice and your surroundings keep telling you shouldn’t quit because quitting is simply a bad thing, I would tell you something different. 
It’s okay.

You can quit.

Honestly, becoming a PhD is not that great. It’s pretty useless. 

Time is too valuable to spend on something you don’t feel great about.

Find your passion instead. Don’t waste your money on tuition. Use it for something you love.

If you are a PhD student feeling like quitting, and especially if you are a mom I just want to let you know you are not alone. 

Ai xoxo


Is there a good time to have a baby?

“Is there a good time to have a baby during our PhD?”

I asked the professor who taught our first PhD course who had two children during her PhD student time. 

She immediately said, “no.”

There is never a good time. It’s always a bad time to have a baby. 

So, the questions is, “when is a better timing than other much worse time? ”

Here is what I think based on my experience…

1. Getting pregnant while preparing your comps 

I think I would have quit my PhD if I had my baby when I was still working on my course work or before comps. In a way, that would have been a good life in itself cause it would have been before I spent considerable time and money for my study.  

If you and your partner are contemplating on having a baby, if you can work it out so that you are writing your exams during your pregnancy that is probably one of those better timings. 

But make sure you count out the months you may have morning sickness. 

I couldn’t work for the first 4 months of pregnancy because of the terrible nausea and it may happen to you, too. 

You probably want to avoid going in labour in the middle of comps prep or right before you write your comps.  Depending on how long it takes to prepare for comps, you may want to avoid this timing at all. However, I got pregnant with my first one when I was writing my comps, and even subtracting those months I was super ill in bed (Seriously, couldn’t even look at a screen.), I made it before pushing her out. 

But when I think about it, it was pretty risky cause anything can happen in any pregnancy. 

2. Getting pregnant after advancing to PhD candidacy

If you and your partner can wait, probably after moving up to candidancy is a better timing to get pregnant. 

Even if you are super ill, there is much less pressure to wake up and work. You can work on ethical reviews for data collection or if you got that done beforehand, you can start recruiting and collecting data during this pregnancy. 

If you are not doing something like a longitudinal ethnographic study, you should be able to get majority of your data during the pregnancy period. 

(I opted for an interview based data collection precisely because I knew I had limited time…)

Then, after your baby is born, you can leave your already collected data aside, let it sit and fermented (and something magical may happen), and enjoy your baby and your mat leave. 

3. Getting pregnant after data collection is completed

After getting your data collected could also be a better time to get pregnant than some other time because you can basically spend time transcribing if you are feeling good enough and get started with your actual dissertation. 

I really recommend you push yourself and write as much as you can during your pregnancy because after you have a baby, you will probably lose interest in your dissertation. That happened to me actually.

I got pregnant with my second one while I was working on my first draft, and I couldn’t thank myself more for having written a major bulk of my dissertation during this pregnancy period when I totally lost my interest in it after my second baby was born. 

 4. Getting pregnant while you are working on your second draft
This is probably the most ideal scenario…I say it because it was so hard for me to work on my second draft after I came back from my second mat leave. It felt impossible to work on the feedback while juggling with my two littles. My life has changed completely. I will write more on that in another post (about juggling household chores, motherhood, and all that) but if I had known how life became overwhelming as a mom of two, I would have opted for this timing. One of my friends worked around this timing and it seemed to me it was all under control after she had her second one.  

5. Getting pregnant during your home stretch

This may seem ideal and all good…but I don’t think I was able to defend if I was feeling super sick like I did for my two pregnancies. One of my best friends who did her PhD in UK took a plastic bag with her for her viva because she was constantly throwing up…luckily, she didn’t have to use it at her viva. So yeah, it is doable but considering my nausea was much more serious than hers, I don’t think I would have been able to defend. 

These 5 timings are based on my own limited experience and perspectives so you may have different opinions…but I hope this post will serve as a useful point of reference for PhD students who are thinking about having a child. 

There are also many other factors that you have to consider such as your financial situation. Childcare affordability is also crucial. We had to wait for 2 years to have my first baby get in a daycare (I put her name on the wait list when I was 4 months pregnant) so that had a major impact on my productivity.

But after all, it’s not like you can get pregnant when you plan to…Especially with me entering my late 30s at that time, I felt like I shouldn’t wait for the best timing.  I am perfectly happy with my two daughters despite all the challenges I had to face. 

Conceiving a baby is such a wonderful blessing. Going through a safe pregnancy and labor is an act of miracle. 

So yes, it is always a bad time to have a baby but it always woderful to have a baby. If you have one, you and your partner just have to work it out. So what are the things that need to be considered before having a baby? How can the baby-PhD journey become less stressful? The next few posts will be dedicated on things to work out with your partner before the baby is born. 



Many diapers, one dissertation

Hello. I’m Ai.
I am a mom of two little girls, who just finished the long winding journey of a PhD student life at the University of British Columbia.

In this blog, I would like to share with you what I’ve learned about balancing parenthood and PhD studenthood.

From coping with pregnancy, overcoming parental guilt for sending a child to daycare, having a clutter-free home life so that you won’t go nuts, to juggling housework and deadlines (and keep your sanity), and successfully finishing your PhD.

Here is a quick timeline of my doing diapers and dissertation.

I started my PhD study, Fall 2009.

Married, Fall 2010.

Was super sick during my pregnancy in early 2011.

Did my comps and proposal defence in August 2011 and became a PhD candidate.

Gave birth to my first daughter in September 2011.

Took 4 months of parental leave.

Start data collection in August 2012.

Worked on my first draft but got super sick during my second pregnancy in early 2014.

Gave birth to my second daughter in August 2014.

Took 1 year-parental leave.

Wrote wrote wrote…and defended March 2017.

So yes…it took me a long time to finish, and there are a few things I would have done differently if I was to do it all over again (no, I don’t want to do it all over again).

My hope is that by sharing the lessons I learned, this blog would support mom/dad (to be)-PhD students wherever there are along their long winding journeys. Hopefully, many dissertations will be completed!

Sincerely Yours,