There is a common belief that to achieve something great, you should choose one and sacrifices the other. On the other hand, Diah Priharsari (PhD in Information Systems from University of Technology Sydney) has proven that she could raise her two kids and submitted her PhD in three years, one year earlier than the normal duration. In this article, Diah shares her experience and her way to balance between two roles as a mother and a PhD student.
I was pregnant on the first day before I went to pursue my PhD..
When I heard that I was pregnant, I felt like a strike of lightning on a warm sunny day. It was not because I did not like to have another child (please note this, I already had one child, at that time, her age was around 3 years). It just, I never expected to have another baby during my PhD. My PhD scholarship only paid me for four years. It did not accept maternal leaves which meant I had to complete my study on time.
My first 1.5 years as a PhD student were not smooth at all. I had to struggle to fit into an unfamiliar condition that I never encountered before. Not to mention my pregnancy, the PhD itself was harsh already.
Never did I imagine, that a few years after that, finally, I submitted my thesis. Not only that, I could finish my thesis in less than 3 years with no revisions from two external examiners. I also made high-quality publications from my thesis (three Q1 papers and the best paper nomination).
Life as a PhD student with two young age children
Becoming a PhD student means that you have to be ready for a less comfortable life. PhD is years of intense study that will affect how you see your life. It is not a fancy life. I got a scholarship to fund my study. The stipend was not enough to finance a whole family as the amount was designed for a single student. We had to work, cut our meal costs, and live below standard life. For example, I could afford only a very cheap small apartment 1.5 hours from my university.
I spent half of my time taking care of my family and the half other for studying. I had to carry my newborn baby while writing for my systematic literature review, cooking, doing the laundry, and taking care of my first child (who was around 4 years at that time). I felt numb. I could not feel my feeling. At the end of the day, I just could thank God because I survive that day and got ready for the next day. I just went through one day and continue to the next day, day by day, step by step.
As a student, I listened to a lot of advice from experienced people. I remember one piece of advice from my co-supervisor, “You have two options. First, you can graduate with a certificate saying that you have a PhD degree. The PhD becomes a paper only. Or, you can graduate with the necessary skills to survive in academic life. If you choose the second option, you have to aim high, which is publishing your work in good outlets”. The words echoed in my mind for years.
For me, my PhD life was a constant battle of limited time and money, demanding attention from my children, and pressures from study. But a few months after I delivered my second baby, I made myself clear, that I was not here for nothing. I and my husband had given up many things in our lives to be there, to be at that moment. I would not waste that. I had to give the best show I could give to my little world, which is my two kids. We were going to do our best.
What I did during my PhD to achieve superior results?
- Self-control. I will not lie, managing life as a mother and a student is not easy. You need a lot of control over yourself. The idea of self-healing can easily slip into ignoring your goals. The time that I had was never enough to take care of myself. I had to accept that and bear with it. I should be able to say enough to myself. So many other things could also distract me from my goals. Usually, as a student who lived overseas, traveling around the country could be very tempting. Or, adding additional hours to work was also appealing. The dollars that we got could mean a lot we transferred that to Indonesia. But, every time that temptation came, I got back to what I wanted to be and checked whether those things helped me to achieve my goals.
- Good time management. I always had lines of deadlines and set up routines. I could not miss a deadline as I knew that I had so many responsibilities. Missing one deadline might lead to the loss of another deadline and crush my already wiggly timeline. Again, as a mother, I should always prepare myself for unexpected things like a sick child. Thus, I should always spare time between the deadline for that. There were times that I had to change the deadline, but that was quite rare.
- Good communication with your family and also supervisors. I should always be true to my supervisors and my husband about my situation. They were people who would help me when I needed help. I need to cooperate with others to make sure that I could meet all my deadlines. If I sensed something that might risk my work, I always communicated that earlier to my husband, my family, or my supervisors and developed contingency plans. I even involved my first child to make plans. As a result, she knew when I needed her support and what kind of support I needed. She did her best to help me. To be honest, I am so proud of it.
- Having friends to hang out with. This is super important. Good friends do not mean people who will help your work. They could be people who do silly things together with you. They could be people who just like to be with you doing nothing. In my case, I had some friends who had family too. We did a family gathering once a week. If we had enough money and the weather was nice, we went outside. Otherwise, we just spent our weekend in their house, chatting.
- And, the last is I always had this in my mind: you might not always get the best result, but you should believe in yourself that you have done your best and you are ready to do your best again!
What then …
Earning a PhD does not mean everything. I am telling you this not to discourage you, instead, I am saying this to let you know what you can expect. I am not going to tell you that life after PhD is not less difficult. It gets better but does not necessarily get easier. The struggles are still there with more space to breathe. I am still learning to put things in the right box. As you pursue a better life after your PhD, you will find yourself in a place where people around you expect you to do more. The degree itself entitles you to receive more expectations from others. You might need to learn other skills related to classifying things that matter to you. If you are interested, a paper written by Leon F. McGinnis “Life after the PhD: what I wish I had known sooner” reflects a life after PhD well.
The bright side of it is that the journey during my PhD has opened a new perspective of how I should see this life. I felt like I discovered a new me, the good version of me. It gives me the energy to meet other challenges. Life does not get easier but I know that I had won my battle and am ready for the next battle.
For every woman and pregnant woman out there, I want to shout you out, if I can do it, you can do it too!
Sydney from the Sydney Eye Tower. Source: personal documentation.
Diah Priharsari (Diah) is a mother of two kids. Diah got her PhD in Information Systems from University of Technology Sydney in 2020 while she was pregnant and raising two young kids. Diah submitted her PhD in three years (one year earlier than the normal duration) and published three papers in Q1. Her PhD paper was also nominated as the best paper in a high rank conference in the IS field. Diah can be contacted at email@example.com