The daily life of Ph.D. students is tense and stressful. It is full of challenges and expectations. Your daily routine is full of deadlines, meetings, papers to read, presentations to prepare, and so on. As you advance, the pressure increases since you want to fulfill all the degree requirements. You want to do more, learn more, and improve your skills, yet still enjoy your life. Unfortunately, this usually means spending more time than working hours.
However, one thing that can help you during this stage is to have your loved ones around you. They provide energy for the soul to overcome hard times. I’m lucky to have my small family, my wife, my five years old daughter, and my newborn baby, around me at this stage.
Caregiving for a family member can be pleasing and challenging. As they support you, you also need to be there when they need you. Thus, time management is crucial as you need to balance your time between family and study (to read more about this balancing, please read this article. However, having two kids in the house is plenty to be worried about! Yet, one thing that can help you manage things is the daycare centers.
My daughter enrolled in a daycare center in August 2020. She quickly loved the atmosphere there and made many friends. She also started to learn German there and teach her mother and me new words that she learns in school, as we still learn German as well.
Ph.D. student, father, and during COVID-19 pandemic!!!
When the pandemic effect starts to manifest, Ph.D. students, like many others, got affected by the circumstances that it imposed. For us, it meant, for instance, to have less direct contact with our colleagues and supervisors, less access to lab equipment, and strict travel rules that affect attending conferences. Yet as parents, we had also additional challenges such as less access to the daycare centers. Some of these challenges were quickly resolved. For example, meeting the supervisor became possible with online platforms. However, some became more problematic as the pandemic advance.
Life during the lockdown
As I said before, the daycare center provided great help to grad students to take care of the young ones while they are busy conducting research. However, as the pandemic advance, the daycare centers also got affected by that. In the beginning, it meant for us that we will have fewer hours per day in the daycare center. Yet, as the second wave hit Germany, the government had to enforce stricter rules to restrain the infection. The new rules demand many families to take care of their children. For my family, that was the case.
To have two children in the same place where you work is like having your office close to a construction area. A constant noise that you can’t avoid or suppress, just try to live with. As it was hard in the beginning, my wife and I eventually get used to it (with a lot of self-control).
My work from home as a Ph.D. student became smooth, yet, one occasionally can have some unavoidable embarrassments. Those moments vary, based on the child’s age. For example, my newborn baby might start crying during a meeting, or he might need his diaper to be changed during a long meeting. The blessing of turning the camera off saves me many times.
However, my daughter also tries to overcome her brother’s moments. For example, she might start climbing my back while I present something, or unplugs the internet/laptop cable during a meeting “by mistake”. Not only that, but also stealing my pens/notebooks, and so on.
Fortunately, other people usually have a good reaction to these moments. My supervisor has also a small daughter, and from time to time I can see things similar to what I face. So, we could relate to these scenarios. Also, my colleagues and project partners seem to have a good understanding of the situation, and that they totally don’t want to make me feel embarrassed.
One unfortunate side about doing home office is that your children see the daily routine as a Ph.D. student. Before, my daughter would ask me about what is my work and what I usually do, I would respond using fancy words such as conducting research and solve difficult problems. However, now, she can see that I’m sitting in front of the computer screen staring at it all day. I believe that this was a disappointment for her, however, at least, now she is warned how Ph.D. student life looks like.
What would make Ph.D. student life easier?
If I was a decision-making person, what can I do that can decrease the tension from the life of parents’ grad student? I ask myself this question a lot. However, it seems like there is nothing much that can be done. However, still, there are small things that can be considered to ease the situation. For example, I wish that the daycare center was better prepared for the transition to the online platforms so that they can at least keep kids busy and also socializing with other kids. I would also wish that the total working hours for parents decreases so that they can put some time to take care of their children.
All things consider, the COVID-19 pandemic had showed us how we, as a human society, can cope and adapt with hardships and challenges. Looking back into the last year, I think that the corona pandemic had strangely influenced our lives. We were forced to adopt a new lifestyle. For some of us, the new lifestyle is better since it means that they can spend more time with their loved ones. For example, eating and having coffee breaks with together. It also meant to spend less time in traffic. For those, the next challenge will be, how they can go back to the normal lifestyle before the pandemic.
Author: Emad Alamoudi