Emmet Jackson is a part-time distance Ph.D. Candidate in the Archaeology Department under the supervision of Dr Robert Morkot. He is working on the history and development of Egyptology in Ireland, the public and private collections of Egyptian antiquities, and the complex issues posed by Ireland’s place as a colony, but with individuals who were also part of the ruling imperial elite. He is a trustee for the Association of Studies for Travel in Egypt and the Near East (ASTENE) and works full time as a fishery scientist in Ireland.
I am a part-time distance PhD student in the Archaeology Department in my fifth year and quickly approaching the seven-year end. I work full time as a fishery scientist an area not, in any way, related to my PhD subject which focusses on the history of Egyptology in Ireland during the 19th century. I say that I am attempting a PhD, rather than doing one! I am aware that it might not work out. One difficulty doing research in an area not remotely related to my day job is switching the brain from one subject to the other in the evenings and weekends and of course finding time. Working full time and studying part time with a family is hard, but I am aware of my privilege. I am a white male in full time employment with a supportive partner and two happy kids. I had the financial support of my parents throughout my undergraduate education and working full time means that I can pursue a part-time PhD. I have immense admiration for people who are tackling a PhD without these privileges. However, I still find the work-life-PhD balance difficult. Time of course is one of the most limiting factors. When I used to go on fishing trawlers for my job we would use the adage ‘time and tide wait for no man’, I think the same is true for your PhD!
Work can be hectic, there are deadlines and career stresses that can occupy and dominate your thoughts. It can be exhausting and leaves you incapable of switching the brain over to PhD mode after a long day’s work. One of the only positives on days when work has broken you is coming home to your family. Giving them time after work and at the weekends is a priority and study becomes the third wheel, ‘the gooseberry’. Sometimes, I just want to play with the kids and let’s face it, playing with the kids is way more fun that tackling some writing or that book you’ve being putting off reading. I also have terminal procrastination syndrome which doesn’t help!
At one particular time, last year, I had a moment of complete self-doubt and was going to quit. Was I able for this? Was it a huge mistake undertaking this project? Was I crazy to even attempt this when there were other pressures in my life? Studying as a distant part-time student can result in a real feeling of isolation. It means a disconnect with your University peers and support network. To battle this, I joined several on-line groups for distance students, part-time students and one for PhD and early careers academics who are parents. It was to this latter group that I posted a rant expressing my fears. There was the usual sway of support from the members that I so often see for other parents’ calls for help. One in particular which struck a chord read:
‘I was part-time with a job that had no relationship to my thesis. At different stages I guess different sections of your life reach a crisis point and have to come first for a while. It sounds like right now work is the crisis area that needs your best attention for a couple of months […]. I don’t think it works to try to keep all life sections (job/research/family/relationship) simultaneously at the top all at the same time… I don’t think that means you’re failing either.’
This among other comments was so helpful. It is true that when things are going well I can, and should, try to keep juggling all aspects of my life, but at other times something has to give. My main focusses, at the moment, might be divided into family, work, and study. At times one of these is going to be pulling more and takes a lead. Rather than feeling I am failing at the other two, if one of them is requiring more time and attention, I need to realise that and accept it, as the comment above said, I can’t keep all sections of my life as the top priority simultaneously. So, right now after a period of busy work and busy family life (and everything COVID has brought) I can see that the next few months might allow me to swing my attention, and time, to that lesser visited PhD part of my life. One of the other comments from the parents reminded me of that joke ‘how do you eat an Elephant?’… ‘one piece at a time’. I just need to get that bib on and start tucking in. Best of luck to you on your own PhD feast.
Written by: Emmet Jackson