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Marriage, Motherhood, Pandemic…My PhD Journey Has Been Tough But I Refuse To Give Up!

After the coursework officially ended, I breathed a sigh of relief. If only I had known that this was just the beginning of a very long struggle.

Let’s start with a little bragging first.

I have always been a bright student and it was somewhat expected that I would get into academics after finishing my masters. Though my entry and subsequent temporary exit from academics wasn’t exactly the journey that I had dreamed about – primarily because of my disillusionment with certain issues, but that’s another story!

The point here is that once I determined that I would re-enter into this field again, I appeared for the Ph.D. interview at my old university. I was selected and finished my coursework as well, but fate had written a completely different story for me. For certain professional reasons, I had dropped out from the Ph.D. course there. Though slightly frustrated, I kept looking for options at other universities.

Enter marriage…. and pregnancy

By this time, I also got married and as it happens in India with women in India, a lot of changes took place in my life as well.

After being married for 1.5 years, I realized that I had conceived. We were overjoyed, but the nagging thought about the illusive degree kept poking in my head now and then. In my 5th month of pregnancy, I saw an advertisement at a reputed institute, asking for Ph.D. scholars. I thought of trying once, thinking that even if I fail, I would at least console myself that I had tried. The presentation and interview went on more or less smoothly, but there was no news for the next 2 months.

By then I had reached 7 months of pregnancy. I kept working, when I got the news that I had been selected as a scholar at the institute. I was over the moon, but wasn’t sure whether would be able to continue with it in such an advanced stage. However, since I was very fit even during the advanced pregnancy stage, I completed a certain portion of the coursework in my 8 months of pregnancy. I managed to finish rest of the coursework when the baby was 2 months old.

It wasn’t easy being a new mom and attending classes

Doing coursework after delivery has been one of the toughest phases of my life. I chose to breastfeed the baby and used to be awake almost the entire night. During the day I used to feel extremely sleepy. Imagine the condition when I had to travel almost for an hour thrice a week for attending the coursework classes in such a situation. Moreover, these classes were held in the afternoon-the only time when I could catch a wink!

Additionally, there was the problem of expressing milk. The expressed milk wasn’t much and I was paranoid about the baby being hungry, screaming at the top of her lungs. At that point, I had no other option but to feed her formula milk on days I wasn’t there.

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Did I feel guilty? Hell lot! But I kept reminding myself that if I have come this far, I can manage the rest of the journey as well.

The real struggle was to come

After the coursework officially ended, I breathed a sigh of relief. If only I had known that this was just the beginning of a very long struggle.

The next 1-2 years were spent in working full-time at college, preparing questionnaires and taking interviews. On days I had an interview with a respondent, I would be out of home for as long as 12 hours! With my husband shifting to a new city due to work commitments, my responsibilities had increased greatly, but a positive aspect that has always been there is that I have a great support system at home. Both my parents and in-laws have been managing the household responsibilities and so, I had to hardly bother about these things.

Still, with a full-time job, a very young child and a doctorate degree to achieve, I had my plate overflowing!

Then the pandemic struck…

2 years after I had my Ph.D. registration done, the pandemic struck and life, as we all know, almost changed overnight. Initially, I enjoyed staying at home because I could have quality time with my child — something that I couldn’t really do before. However, over time I realized that this pandemic wasn’t going to end soon, and the main thought then struck me was that-“How am I going to finish this fieldwork”?

During this phase, like all of us, I was also going through a lot of emotions. None of us has have ever witnessed such a situation before — shutting down of the entire transport system, images of empty streets, masked people outside, sanitizing every possible thing. Everything was taking a toll on my physical and mental health.

During the pandemic I had shifted to my parent’s house (my husband was stuck in another city). My parents run a paying guest facility and we were living in a house full of 16 people (spread over three floors though), in the era of social distancing!

One month after not knowing what exactly to do, I finally decided that since I am staying at home for a long time now, I can utilize this time to write the thesis-at least the introductory chapters.

…and I had to juggle schedules frequently

The world I had known by then was fast collapsing, but I knew that since I had a 3 year old child and senior citizens to take care of, I had to keep my fighting spirit alive. So, I reworked my schedule. After supervising my child’s online classes, I sat down to write.

I wrote every day for an hour and in a way, it helped to me maintain my sanity. I worked like this for an year, but then realized that I was getting mentally too exhausted after supervising the child’s classes and taking my own online classes.

So, again, I changed my schedule. I now started waking up at 5 AM, made my coffee and sat down to write. After working for an hour, I woke up the child and helped her to get ready for the online classes. While this plan worked fine during the summer, in winter it was too dark outside and I couldn’t switch on the light for the fear of the child waking up.

So, I again thought hard and came up with an alternative plan. I switched on the mobile’s flashlight and kept on writing. But again, this had a catch-the mobile had to be placed in such a way that the flashlight would make my keyboard visible, but not fall on the child’s eyes! Things were difficult at first, but I would soon got the hang of it. Of course, on certain days the child would wake up and try to read what I am writing on the keyboard!

The fight hasn’t ended yet, but I will get there

In between I also managed to finish my pending fieldwork. Armed with masks and sanitizer sprays, it was an unforeseen situation.

Two years went on like this and over time, things returned to a semi normal situation. The college had reopened and I was looking forward to meeting my colleagues and students after such a long break. Things went on for usual, till I realized that since I couldn’t finish submitting the thesis within the stipulated 4 years, I will have to go for re-registration.

It broke my heart a little, but I have written maximum chapters of my thesis till now and so, am confident that I will manage submitting it within the next 2-3 years. Of course, there are days when I feel extremely disappointed at the progress of my thesis, but I keep reminding myself that if I have come this far, it’s just a matter of time before I get my much-coveted doctorate degree.

Finally, my advice for all those women struggling out to get their doctorate degree would be keep on fighting till you reach the end. With lots of hard work, patience, perseverance and a good support system, you will achieve your dreams someday or the other and so will I.

Image source: shutterstock

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About the Author

Priyanka Roy

Assistant professor and a mother to a young daughter, I am learning to balance my personal and professional life. read more...

3 Posts | 2,520 Views

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