PGR: Parent grappling with research?

This week is part of the University of Birmingham’s Parents and Carers Fortnight 2022. Sarah Chung, a parent and a PGR in the School of Education, shares the strategies which help her balance the demands of both.

I never thought that I would be doing a PhD. I particularly didn’t think I would be doing a PhD whilst navigating the wonderful world of parenthood. However, in 2018 I found myself doing exactly that. I was nervous – I think every postgraduate researcher has heard at least one horror story and, in my case, I had friends who had completed PhDs in their early/mid 20s and without children, who had said how hard it had been. However, having previously done my Masters in the School of Education, I knew how supportive the lecturers and staff were, and so I began my journey as a part-time postgraduate researcher.

Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas on

There were many aspects of studying for my PhD that were tricky initially and part of my first year was spent working out how, or if, I could make it work. For me, ensuring that my research work didn’t impact on my time with my children was essential and so, through some trial and error, I found a schedule that worked for us. So, what helped?

Scheduling my time but allowing flexibility

I tried to have set working hours during the week but, as I’m sure any parent will say, there are times when this not always possible – sickness, inset days, and school assemblies for example. This is where it is important to allow yourself to be flexible.

Realistic expectations

There are so many opportunities available to us as PGRs – conferences (organising and attending), student representative positions, advanced training modules, and even opportunities to work within departments at the university. I think it is important to join in these activities as they’ll help develop your skills as a researcher and network with your colleagues, but it is equally as important to try and balance everything. I chose to do advanced training modules but spaced them out over two years, which allowed me to develop the skills I needed at a pace that suited me. Pick opportunities that you feel will help you but at a pace that suits your situation and remember it is ok to say ‘no’!

Getting to know other PGRs

It may seem an obvious thing to say but talking to other PGRs, particularly other parent PGRs, can really help. Ask questions, ask for tips and advice on how they have balanced research and parenting – the PGR community is really welcoming and will be a great source of support. Look out for events organised by the University Graduate School and Westmere Scholars, who most recently had an Easter event for PGRs and their families.

Work with your supervisors

I hit the ground running – sorting through paperwork and trying to understand what was expected of me. Meeting my supervisors really helped with this! I was very open about my commitments outside of academia and both my supervisors were fantastic in helping me learn to navigate university life. Your supervisors are there to support and guide you through your PGR journey – they want you to do well. Be honest about your commitments and work together on a schedule that suits you all.

This isn’t by any means an exhaustive list – talk to others, try things out, but most importantly see what works for you.

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