Doing a PhD and/or starting an academic career can be a lonely business. But you can get support, some of it through social media. This is a guest blog post by Nicola White and Rebekah Farrell who started their own support group on Facebook. Nicola is a Research Associate in the Division of Psychiatry at UCL, London. Her academic background is in Psychology and she was awarded a PhD in Medical Decision Making at UCL in October 2017. Rebekah is a PhD Candidate in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University, Melbourne. Her topic is in the field of multinational corporate accountability and international law. She supports studies as a sessional researcher and lecturer but her background is as a lawyer.
“Parents who Study” is a Facebook support group and the brainchild of two mums who were seeking connection and support while completing their PhDs. Despite being on other sides of the world, they were able to connect via social media.
Nicola started to blog her experience shortly after returning to a PhD course after maternity leave. There were a few motivations for this. First, she was keen to get back in to the habit of writing. Of course a blog is slightly different to writing for academia as it doesn’t get peer reviewed, but for Nicola, it was about getting her confidence back in her ability – to know that she could actually do what the course demanded. Secondly, she wanted to connect with other parents. Upon entering the world of Instagram Nicola “met” a wealth of people such as “instamums”, “phd students”, and people who were a bit of both. All provided support. All, unknowingly, helped her through some difficult times.
Rebekah’s circumstance was similar. Returning from maternity leave was a challenge. All of a sudden she found herself trying to meet study deadlines whilst balancing work commitments and still being the mum she wanted to be (or figuring out what that even looked like!) She created an instagram account where, with a big sigh of relief, she met numerous parents all navigating the challenges (whilst also enjoying the delights) of raising children whilst studying. All of a sudden she felt connected to a world of people who were sharing the same experiences. It was enough to keep her progressing through her studies, and even more than that, she felt energised and motivated to do so, just knowing that she wasn’t alone.
The idea behind Parents who Study was for people to connect, to voice their worries and to provide support and advice. It is designed to be a warm, welcoming and friendly forum. Creating the group and inviting members was relatively easy because of Nicola’s already established following on instagram where she had already connected with a large number of mums in academia. From there it was a matter of reaching out to other groups and bloggers to request that they promote the facebook group. Everyone was very supportive in doing so and the numbers continued to grow (over 300 members to date). Diversifying the group was a little more difficult and the membership base would still benefit from more dads who study!
Members of Parents who Study are active in their engagement with the group and discussions span topics including: how to meet deadlines when you have a sick child, how to communicate your needs as a parent with your supervisors, how to create space (and boundaries) for studying, applying for child care funding and student loans, the ins and outs of day care arrangements and how to sit an exam on 3 hours sleep! There are also discussions relevant to all students- publishing during your candidature, writing conference papers and tips for dictation and referencing software. This week some members organised an online “shut up and write” session- a super helpful way of motivating each other to get some words on paper!
If you are a parent who has studied, is currently studying or is thinking about studying feel free to come by and say hello!
Support groups are important. They share information and advice, offer solace and companionship, and above all, help you understand that you are not alone. As well as Parents Who Study, there are other helpful support groups on Facebook, such as:
PhD and Early Career Research Parents
PhD OWLS – Older Wiser Learners
PhD and Early Career Teacher/Researcher Parents
Women in Academia Support Network
These are all closed accounts with moderators; there are rules about joining and participating which you can check out before clicking. If you know of other helpful self-help groups on Facebook, do add them in the comments.
Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash
Thank you for bringing up this issue. I can relate to Nicola, Rebekah and many others who juggle work, parenthood and a PhD study. I wear many hats as a full-time employee, a mother, a wife, a daughter, and a part-time PhD student. I find that good time management is a key to success. However, I must admit that I do not have a social life outside my work and family. I have never expected that doing a PhD will be easy, therefore, I have accepted that I may not have a social life for many years to come. Sometimes I do feel the need to socialise and re-charge my batteries.