Writing a Dissertation

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  • Hi, I am getting ready to start writing again, and wondering if anyone in the east bay is in a similar place and looking for someone to hold themselves accountable for regular writing times. I am flexible with the time every day.

    I am also considering getting a desk at one of the coworking places (impact hub, wework, etc). So anyone might be interested in that? 


    Not sure if you're looking for an online writing group, but have you heard of Academic Muse? The coordinator (a prof at UC Davis) runs it, and manages/moderates groups of dissertators/other academics to hold each other accountable for daily writing progress. I used it for about six months when finishing up my diss, and it was helpful in keeping me honest. It also has a great chat function, so we'd hold writing sessions together online. The community was endlessly supportive, and because it's anonymous (unless you choose to reveal yourself), it also felt like a safe space to share some of the frustrations, difficulties, politics, etc. that go with finishing up a PhD. Good luck! 

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Dissertation writing-overwhelmed and distracted!

Jan 2010

Once upon a time I was able to organize and self motivate, but currently after many ''opportunities for personal growth'' including caring for my 3 year old with cancer, my mind isn't what/where it used to be.

I need advice to help me with organizing my time and writing, and keeping me on task. I have ADD, and a lot of stress in my life but I've got to get it together and FOCUS! I need to get a writing plan and tools for focusing but I'm so distracted I don't known where to start.

Really, it's getting ridiculous. Don't let me become another ABT chump. girlscientist

Here is a suggestion about how to get going on your dissertation. Find 15 minutes during the day every day that you can call you own. Get your notes, your calculator, your computer, and anything else you may need and sit down and stare at it. Sit there for 15 minutes, even if you can't seem to get started with it. Do not look at your email, talk to anyone, or otherwise distract yourself. Just sit there. In most cases, people get bored in about two minutes and get to work. Sanon

Hire a dissertation coach. that's what got me through. I got mine from the all-but-dissertation survival guide years ago. I had a weekly appt with my coach once a week on the phone, and email support. it was so worth it for me. http://www.abdsurvivalguide.com/ Andi

Conflicted about writing dissertation vs. time w/baby

March 2009

I have a question for those of you who have written / are writing / plan to write a dissertation while having babies. I have a 4 month old daughter and at some point in the next few months I plan to hire a part time nanny so I can work on my dissertation. I figure it will take me anywhere from 15-20 months to write the dissertation. However, I am enjoying my time so-o-o much with my daughter that I know I'll be so jealous of the babysitter who gets to spend time with her! I feel very very strongly that I want to finish the dissertation so I can move forward with teaching, as I hope to find a part-time teaching position. However, I am really really conflicted since she will be this snuggly and little for such a short period of time. I have my whole life to write the dissertation, but only this little bit of time to be with her as a baby. On the other hand, it really is only a few hours of each day that she wouldn't be with me so I can write and do research, and ''inch by inch,'' as it were, finish the dissertation. How did you come to terms with a similar decision? - dissertation mama

Congrats on both the baby and having the motivation to finish the dissertation! Here's what I did:

1. Enrolled our child in the UCB childcare program open to graduate students. (We did not meet income eligibility requirements, but the program had to allow full-fee paying students to participate as well). This provided me with a built-in support system - others trying to write a dissertation while parenting. What was also wonderful is that the program required parent participation, so I got to know the other children and parents. An invaluable community.

2. When the baby was as young as yours, we hired a babysitter to take care of her in our (small) apartment while I wrote in the morning. This way, I could see/hear what was going on, and also get some work done. This took a bit of discipline, but worked really well. In the afternoon, I would take my daughter to the campus program. At the time, the infant care program was half-day only. It was a nice balance for me. As our child got older, and progressed to full day care, we had her in the program all day on the days I needed it, and took her home early when I did not.

I do not know if the program is still structured this way, because my ''baby'' is now 11. It can be PHinally Done

I was in a similar situation, though I had more of my dissertation written when the baby was born. Didn't get any writing done the first 9 months--naps weren't long enough, and I didn't feel ready to hire a sitter. By the time baby was nine months old, I was ready. We used college students, 12-15 hours a week, and by then baby was more mobile and active, personable with the sitters. I was starting to feel a little isolated at home, and I was eager to start to have a mental life of my own. For me, writing part-time and being with my child the rest of the time was a great balance and perhaps healthier for both of us than my being a full-time caregiver (even if it was hard to imagine when the baby was an infant).

Remember, too: you don't actually have your whole life to write the dissertation. There are timelines for the university that you have to follow. And beyond that, I think there are emotional barriers likely to arise the longer you wait. Ph.D Mama

A tricky situation and a difficult decision to make. I can 100% empathize with your wanting to spend all your time with your baby.

However, taking a break finishing the dissertation, might result in more years than you ever planned for or anticipated. Taking care of your child will just get more demanding over the next years. And you will be more removed from the 'career' path than you might imagine now, not even wanting to finish the dissertation anymore, because you might consider your role as a caretaker more important.

If you plan on spending only a few hours a day and not full time for writing, I would encourage you to do it now and finish it. It will be so rewarding having finished the dissertation, and having the chance to get a job when you find your child is old enough to be in some day care/preschool situation. Don't give up your personal goals.

One thing I've found over my 5 years of parenting so far is that ''balance'' looks completely different for almost every family, so the first thing I'll say is that only you can decide how your time is best spent in the coming months. But now I'll give you advice based on my personal experience. :) I wrote my dissertation during my first child's first year, with 12 hours a week of paid childcare plus the constant support and help of a very involved partner. That was actually perfect for me. I usually did 4-5 three hour sessions per week (really more like two hours given how long it takes me to transition from mommy brain to work brain), and that was plenty to keep me focused on my work without taking too much time away from my baby. I finished a couple of days after his first birthday and truly felt that we had a wonderful first year together.

In my experience, it is much, much harder to concentrate on writing during the toddler and preschooler stage! They sleep less, they really want to play instead of just cuddle, and for my kids at least, it is unacceptable for me to be in the house but unavailable to them. So unless you want to wait until your little one heads off to kindergarten, I'd encourage you to get it done now, in small, focused, consistent blocks of time. Good luck! Ph.D. Mommy

My advice would be to find someone you like and then just take it from there. Believe me, sooner than you know you'll NEED a short break every once and awhile from your cuddly baby. They get big quite fast. I'd start a relationship with a nanny now, and only work as much as you feel comfortable. It will be easier now, getting your baby used to another caregiver. If you wait until you're really ready to work, your baby may be one or older and may have a much harder time learning to trust another caregiver. I wish I would've started my daughter out with a nanny/babysitter at that age, at least for a few hours a week. Transitioning to a babysitter when she was closer to one year was much harder, because she knew she wanted to be with me and had some separation anxiety.

Best of luck and enjoy your baby...before long you'll be chasing after her! another mom

I think your plan sounds perfect - although be prepared for the writing to take longer than you might originally have thought. I found that not being able to immerse my head in work really took a toll in my efficiency and focus (fatigue probably didn't help either). I wrote my study protocol when I was expecting my first baby - he's five now, and my second child is 3 - and I'm hoping to finish up and defend this year. It's been a very VERY long road, but while I used be kind of down on myself for taking so long, and it was so hard watching friend and friend finish, I wouldn't do it any other way. I couldn't put off having kids, I didn't want to sacrifice any more of my time with them in those sweet early days, and I'm not on the hot academic track anyway..

I did have some great support at one point - a bunch of ABD moms met through BPN, and we met periodically to commiserate - we all went our separate ways, but it was great at the time to hear from other people trying to balance two loads - you might look for a similar support group. neriss

Let me preface this by saying that you and only you can decide what is right for you and your baby. I chose school and baby and I am writing in response to what you wrote of your potential jealousy of a caregiver's time with your child. If you choose to share care, you are also choosing to share love. Should your child come to love his/her babysitter, you must put your personal jealousy/guilt/etc aside, and be grateful that whoever you choose to care for your child is doing a fabulous job. grad student parent

Finishing dissertation/Ph.D. after child's birth

Sept 2005

Ever since having my daughter last summer (even before while I was pregnant) I've had no interest in writing my dissertation. I've been away from it for over a year now and just the thought of starting the process again (I've written very little) gives me real anxiety and depression. Also, I'm beyond normative time, so my department is not very supportive. Most days I just want to chuck the whole grad school thing and be done with it, but then I also have feelings of failure and anxiety about that-- what would I do, wasted time and money, starting over, disappointed loved ones, etc. Has anyone else been in this situation before? Any advice, words of wisdom and support would be welcome.

Dear PhD Candidate,

Your message struck a chord because I've been there and have just finished the doctorate, many years past my school's 7 year limit. I don't know if finishing is the best decision for everyone, but it was something I felt like I needed to do because I'd lived with it for so long. I had always worked full time during school so had a marathon rather than a sprint mentality about it.

Despite that, just before my daughter was born, I worried that I'd never have time again ... and had only just gotten the proposal passed. Our baby had health problems, then family members had health problems, and over the next 4 years, armed with health related extensions that put off my school from pestering me, I finished. What helped? Babies wake you up at weird hours and then go to sleep again, so I'd work at weird hours. Work was flexible. I gave myself permission to put it aside, sometimes for up to a year. When I got back into it, I got used to writing at night on a regular basis. I was helped to understand by some of my readers that this was not my life's work, that it was ok to ''just get it done'', and maybe it was normal to be sick of it and just plain disinterested. And probably most useful, I had friends who were taking as long - some with kids, some without. Some would finish before me and be inspiring. Some would have life troubles and keep working slowed down - and be inspiring. My kid grew bigger. It felt like I was being a good role model by telling her I was working when she'd find me if she woke up in the middle of the night, and I'd stop to be with her. At graduation, one of the people from my cohort had her 7 year old burn all her papers because her child was so sick of living with them - it was cathartic for them all. There was a nursing mothers club in cohorts behind me. This is all to say - you are not alone and having company is important to spur you on or to commiserate ... or to make it ok to stop and reprioritize.

I hope this rambling helps. If you want to talk about it, feel free to email. Enjoy your daughter and good luck with your decision. fred

I know from first hand experience how hard it is to get back to your dissertation after a baby. I can suggest three strategies which have worked very well for me at different points in my life.

One is a writing group, which can be formed by you and another person or more people. It does not have to be big. The group aggrees to meet at regular intervals (I have done it weekly and monthly). Each time, a member distributes a chapter or paper beforehand to be read by the group and discussed at the meeting. The group support and feedback is invaluable and the structure of deadlines helps you get some writing done.

The second is consulting with Neil Fiore. I first worked with Fiore in the mid eighties when he worked at UC's Counseling Center. Later, I joined a group at his private practice. He is great about helping people move along in their work. He is a psychologist and author of many books. His contact info is:
830 San Carlos Avenue Albany, CA 94706 Phone: (510) 524-4626 Fax: (510) 524-9149 E-mail: neil [at] neilfiore.com Web site: www.neilfiore.com

The third is working outside your home, even if for some of the time in a regular place. My brother-in-law worked in a cafe. Years later, I worked in his office in the evenings and weekends. In addition, Stanford's Tomorrow's Professor E-mail List had a posting last week on writing and publishing with interesting research data that might be helpful. You can find it at http://ctl.stanford.edu/Tomprof/index.shtml Research cited indicated that people who write between 15-30 minutes everyday write more than those who write only in big time blocks. People who write everyday and also account to someone weekly on their writing wrote more than any other group. These were helpful tips to me and they may help you too.

Finally, make the task as simple as possible. Cut down to the bare minium you need for a dissertation. Tell people who care you need their support and how they can help you. It can be so lonely, that you need to do what will make it work for you. Good luck! Been there

I was in the same boat as you, and finished, so take heart. It can be done. I took several (six?)months off and then had a nanny come in for 15 hours a week to care for the baby while I worked. If I remember correctly, I sent a note to my committee that I was getting back to writing, where I was with things, my notion of how I wanted to proceed, and could I talk with them to catch up. It all sounds so matter of fact now, but at the time, it was not easy. My advice, for what it is worth, is to first ensure yourself regular and sufficient time to return to thinking about your work, reread what you've written and any notes about how you had imagined you'd proceed. Hopefully you'll remember what got you into this in the first place. Don't let rough drafts (or no drafts)discourage you. Don't worry whether your committee is alienated; grad students disappear and reappear. I imagined quitting a million times, but had invested too much time and energy to bag it at that late stage. It was a slog, but I'm glad I finished. But that was my experience. Send a note if you'd like to talk some more. mmabel

How do you research and write and care for baby too?

Jan 2000

I would like to know how moms out there manage to balance their lives between caring for their infant(s) and doing research / writing the dissertation. Is such a thing possible or am I just kidding myself?

To the mom who is writing her dissertation and caring for an infant. First of all, in asking for advice from moms, you have neglected all the dads who stay home to write up and care for children. I did this while my wife worked full time as a school teacher. That said, all I can say is that it is a very difficult thing to do. You may not like to hear it, but what fianally worked for me was sending our kids to day care. I tried all kinds of things. I tried staying up late to write. I tried getting up at 4:30 or 5:00 am to write (that didn't last long). I wrote on weekends. We hired a babysitter who would come in for a couple of hours two days a week so I could write. That worked okay. But, what really finally did it, was we put our son in day care at 16 months. Our daughter was in kindergarten, and we worked out a carpooling arrangement with other parents with kids in the same kindergarten who also took their kids to after school care. So, I only had to drive the kids from kindergarten to day care once a week. Our daughter went to the same day care that our son was in, so they were very happy to be together in the afternoons. Mornings were torture, when I dropped my son off. I felt guilty like you wouldn't believe. But, the women at the day care center were warm, loving, and nurturing, and I have to say, although I would have preferred to have our kids at home, I think there were actually some strong benefits, in terms of them learning social skills and making friends with other kids their age, they got out of that experience. Happily, we all pulled through it. I finished my disseration. My wife and I are still married, and my son is now a well-adjusted kindergarten student. In fact, his teacher says he adjusted surprisingly quickly to kindergarten (Perhaps due to his positive experiences in daycare?). My daughter is an active, delightful fourth grader (no bias here). So, hang in there! It can be done. This will probably sound like no advice, but what you really have to do is find the formula that will work for you -- that will meet your writing needs, meet you child's needs, and let you get enough sleep. It may take a while, but with some experimentation, you will find it. And, if you keep writing -- write everyday, even if its only for 15 minutes -- one day you will be done. All the best. My heart goes out to you.

Hi--I'm a first year graduate student working on my MA/PhD; I started last fall when my daughter was 3 months old. I think the key to successful academic work with an infant--although this depends on what age and how mobile they are, too -- is that you are flexible. I do a lot of reading in odd places (on the bus on the way to & from class, etc.) and at odd times. My daughter's sleep schedule is only somewhat fixed, but if she's waking up around 9 am, I'll get up around 7:30 or 8 to eat and read/write. Gradually it gets easier to do things like shower, clean, eat, and play (obviously :) ) while your child is awake, leaving their nap times for your writing. Also, a supportive partner is wonderful.

I had a baby mid-dissertation and completed it when my child was 2.5. I have one word of advice -- CHILDCARE. I know it is hard to justify the expense to allow you to do something that you make no money at, but my feeling is that writing is serious work, and needs serious space blocked out to do it. Both writing and baby care are very hard, without making both harder by maintaining a fiction that one can do both at the same time.

I know other people manage to get work done by working around the baby's schedule (while the baby is sleeping). While that never worked for me, I can imagine it working if you can psychologically switch gears quickly (I can't), if you think clearly either very early in the morning or late at night, if your partner is willing/able to take over when he/she comes home, and if you have a decent space at home in which to work.

If you are enjoying your baby, don't feel ready for childcare at this point, and are frustrated trying to work around the baby, it may work better to just decide not to do writing for awhile, take a maternity leave, and not feel like you *should* do it.

I had finished all my research, but needed to write my dissertation when my son was born. Although I hadn't planned on it, I ended up basically taking a break for a year. My committee chair finally kicked me back into gear when my son was 1 year old. What worked for me was to get a babysitter for even a few hours a week. I had 5 hours a week for 3-4 months and then 10 hours a week for the last couple months. I also wrote when my son was napping, after he went to bed at night, or the weekends when my husband could watch him. It certainly wasn't easy, but I had great motivation to finish and get out. I found that waiting until he was bit older made it easier for me to get the babysitter. In retrospect, I'm not sure I would have actively chosen to do it that way (it would have been nice to finish sooner), but it's what happened. Feel free to contact me with further questions if you wish. Lucy

In response to the question about writing with baby, it all depends on your support system and your baby. I moved to Berkeley from Canada when my son was 4 months old, so that my husband could start his PhD work. I had planned to have my PhD finished before we moved, but I developed pre-eclampsia during my pregnancy and was on bed rest for 2 months (the last week, hospitalized) before his C-section birth. I was very lucky: my son was a good, healthy baby. We could set our watches by him, he was so predictable in his routine: he nursed every four hours, napped on schedule, etc. That helped. I just found that I had to be very disciplined. It took about 2 months before I was getting enough sleep to be really productive, but after that it got easier. (Note: we couldn't afford child-care; if you can, you should be fine). When he was awake, we went for walks, to the park, shopping, etc. When he slept, I raced to my computer and worked. I shut off the phone, refused to answer doors, etc, during the day when he was napping, so that I could work. At night when my husband was home, he would help out. And on weekends, he would take the baby out to give me time to work. I also took my son to a conference when he was 10 weeks old (with my mother-in-law along for help). I defended my dissertation in Canada a year after he was born, and even managed to publish 3 papers. So, it can be done. HOWEVER: my advice is to get lots of help. A bouncy chair or swing by the computer also helps: I would sing to my son while I typed. Good luck.

I wrote most of my dissertation after I had had my son and I can give you some (rather obvious) advice. First of all, I thought that since newborn babies sleep all the time (it said so in all the books) I would have lots of time to write. Ha! You know how that works. In the first 7 months of my son's life I wrote literally wrote two sentences.

The most important things are: get enough sleep. Otherwise your brain won't work right and no matter how much you tell yourself you must do things, you simply won't be able to do them. If this involves taking midday naps, going to bed early, sleeping late, whatever it takes, you must do it.

The other important thing is to have considerable (4-6+ hour) blocks of time to do your work in, baby free. In my case this involved living with my parents for a summer and getting 3 free days a week to write, not my ideal situation, but it worked.

Last, set up a schedule to allow for the above and stick to it. Babies and children in general usually respond well to schedules, and when you see your slow but steady progress you will stop feeling so panicked and stressed.

I have been working on my dissertation ever since my son was born a year and a half ago. It has been hard. Very hard. However, I am beginning to make good progress. Things that have helped are setting a schedule that works for myself and my husband. We have no child care outside the home, so I work evenings and weekends. These times are also looked at as special time for my husband and son. It is tiring and many times I have wanted to give up, but I think of it as a short-term sacrifice for a long term goal. Hope this helped!

Sure it can be done. Go to any graduation and you'll see lots of Dr. Moms and Dads toting babies on their hips in their graduation gowns. It isn't fun, but it can be done. Unlike a normal job, you are at least on your own schedule and if the baby gets an ear infection, you don't have to let your down boss and colleagues, even if you have to make up time by working in the middle of the night. I finished with a toddler and a newborn, and now that I have big kids, I'd convinced I'd rather do a dissertation with a baby than an older kid with school and a life and a schedule.

Some advice for surviving a dissertation with a baby: Before getting started: If you're just entering the dissertation process, think hard about *logistics* when designing your proposal. I wouldn't mention this to your committee, but think hard about practical matters as well as scholarly ones. Is your research in a lab close by, or does it require hours of travel to interview subjects? Can you choose a site close by? Can you conduct research on a schedule that matches your childcare or other parents' availability? Factor in childcare costs and how much time away you want to spend.

Now, for the writing part:
1) consider writing a job with deadlines and get several hours of real child care a week if possible. The older the baby, the more you'll need childcare.
2) However, in a pinch, never underestimate the focus and productivity of working in the middle of the night or intensely for one hour during baby's nap to meet a deadline.
3) Re. #2: Don't set yourself up for failure by approaching a writing or analysis task completely exhausted b/c you'll spend more time staring at the screen and berating yourself than getting anything done. If you can't keep your eyes open, go to bed.
4) If you find yourself using childcare time to clean house/apt. Instead of writing, get a cleaning service. True, you probably can't afford a cleaning person when you're a student. On the other hand, can you afford to be a student for another year or more if you don't finish writing? Are there other home or dissertation related things you can hire out?
5) Create real deadlines with your advisor by promising drafts by certain dates, and do #2 now and then to get it done.
6) It is absolutely essential to find time and ways to replenish your energy and have fun. (Take a hike, read a magazine, get a manicure, rebuild an engine, meet friends for coffee, or whatever is your thing.) It is OK to use paid childcare time for these treats, the same way you might take a lunch hour if you were in a normal job. If you are always taking care of others, and obsessing about your dissertation, you will burn out, procrastinate, and resent your work, your kid and spouse/partner.
7) Be prepared to having that nagging feeling of having something hanging over your head, b/c you'll always feel you could be doing more, writing more, analyzing better. Try, try, try, to turn that feeling off and ave real breaks from writing, *and* from thinking that you should be writing. Easier said than done, but you'll come back to the computer in better shape too write and you'll be able to savor that baby time.
8) Form a writing/dissertation support group with other parents or friends. My writing group all finished our dissertations in record time, due in large part to support and encouragement from each other.
9) Attend a workshop by Dorothy Duff-Brown (dissertation/writing consultant) offered by the Graduate Division, or other dissertation-survival workshops. Or read _How to Complete and Survive a Doctoral Dissertion_ (I forget the author and I happily passed the book along when I was done).
10) When the going gets tough, keep in mind that having a baby tends to move people along because it helps them be realistic and practical about narrowing the scope of their findings sooner along in the process, and kids provide an external deadline/motivation/reason to finish. Kids keep you from dragging it out and trying to write the perfect dissertation (of which there is no such thing). p.s. the VCR is a perfectly acceptable emergency babysitter.

I had my baby one month after starting graduate school (!) and I didn't take a leave of absence from my graduate program. Two weeks after giving birth I had to take a mid-term. Ugh! I had no concept of how difficult it would be! I think I was an idiot. It stressed me out beyond belief, and totally compromised the breastfeeding. Now that my baby is 4 months old, things are calmer, but still very time consuming and exhausting. I am also wondering how I can possibly do grad school and care enough for my sweet baby/spend enough time with her. I find the only way to get any research done is to LEAVE THE HOUSE. Otherwise I am caught up in the cycle of cleaning the bottles, preparing more formula, cleaning her laundry, etc, and of course, playing with her every second she is awake because she is just so darn cute! By the time she finally goes to sleep at 9:30pm, I'm too exhausted to read and fall into bed myself. But I am fortunate--my mother comes and does child care part-time so I can go to class and study, but it seems like it's never enough time. My suggestion to you is to find a caretaker (mother, mother - in - law, or other student in the same situation with whom you can trade off childcare), and make a solid schedule where you have research time and work intensively during these few precious hours, and LEAVE THE HOUSE. Keep this time as sacred to your well-being, and don't back down. Otherwise you'll be miserable. And maybe have Dad sit baby on Saturdays so you can go to campus and have a good, solid day of research. Good luck! PS--even if you're breastfeeding, you might want to consider giving baby formula when you are off doing research, so that you aren't totally shackled to the house. This way another caregiver will be able to feed baby and you won't be stressed out worrying if she/he is hungry while you're gone. A bottle of formula per day won't hurt your baby, and will help your sanity immensely, no matter what the breastfeeding-only brigade tells you!

I thought I could write a research paper during my maternaty leave with my first baby (I had already received the PhD). How wrong I was. I could not even get enough sleep and food for myself. However, it can be done if you have some help, and it is even better if your infant is not a newborn. If you are not yet ready for daycare, you MUST hire a babysitter (or be lucky enough to have a Mom/Aunt/friend who can do this), who can be in your house with you, but just care for the infant so you can concentrate. This is nice especially if you are breastfeeding. If you can do daycare- that's even better. If your baby will be a newborn or less than 4-5 months, they need a caring loving person all the time, but not necessarily Mom. The only Mom will do stage comes later. I can get a lot of writing done now if I work at home and the baby goes to daycare (now he's 20 months). But don't fool yourself into thinking that you can do two things at once. Having done both, caring for a baby is much more exhausting that writing a dissertation. However, I am sure some Moms can do this. I am one of those Mom's who really indulges her baby- I love to play and snuggle and wrestle and read with him, and I am still nursing. It is actually impossible for me to be home with him and make him play by himself while I work. Actually, this is physically impossible for him as well- he will not let me leave him. This is hard even when Daddy is home- he is firmly in the only Mom will do stage. Also, as a newborn, he would not sleep unless he was connected to a body. That meant that I could either put him in his crib for a 10 minute nap, or I could hold him on my lap or shoulder and he would sleep for 3 hours. So, I never got those long blocks of time. I got some really good cramps writing with a baby in one arm. BTW, I wrote my dissertation in Plant Biology in one month. I already had three papers written (the introduction as a review article, and 2 research papers). I had to write one last chapter, and make the whole thing work. So, it does take a long time. And I had no baby then, and I was able to work 10 to 15 hours a day (all at home in front of a computer). Good luck!!!

Although this is more of an announcement, I'm sending it to Advice in response to the woman who is trying to write her dissertation with a new baby in the house. On April 27 the Neighborhood Moms Career Network will present a panel discussion entitled: Working from Home--Will it Work For You? One of the panelists is a writer and full-time dad who will speak specifically to the challenges of writing in a home office with child present. The other panelists are consultants and a telecommuter who are sure to have many tips on carving out time and space to get work done despite the compelling demands of your little one. Moms and dads who work for pay or academic immortality are welcome at the event and childcare will be available. Watch the Neighborhood Moms Newsletter (527-MOMS if you don't already get it) and the Announcements section of UCB Parents next month for more information.

More for the parent asking about writing a dissertation with a baby: All of us who replied to your query suggested good strategies (eg., childcare, leave the house, get enough sleep, etc.) for how to get through. But one of the replies made an important point that should be highlighted: If you feel you need to take a maternity leave or semester off or whatever, by all means do so, even if your committee gives you a hard time. The culture at Berkeley often forces parents to downplay the importance of childrearing. You can miss a meeting if you have blocked out research or writing time but heaven forbid you miss work for a school play or sick kid. Taking a semester off until you are fully recovered and adjusted to your baby, and are rested enough to read a journal article without falling asleep will certainly enhance your productivity when you do come back. I didn't take time off because I didn't know any better, but in retrospect it would have been a good idea. Although we all wrote that you can write a dissertation with an infant, that doesn't mean you need to prove that you can do it, too. If time off is what you want, and it's an option for you, take the time to enjoy your baby and tune out any bad vibes from your committee that make you feel less of a scholar.

The person who requested this information has already been indundated with advice, but there is one piece of information that I have not yet seen mentioned. About 2 years ago the Graduate Division instituted new guidelines stating that student parents were entitled to an extra year of normative time in writing dissertations, plus another year of normative time prior to advancement to candidacy (if the child had already been born at that point.) This might be a useful fact to mention to your committee members. Personally, the only thing that worked for me was getting outside childcare. I listened in envy to stories of babies who took 2-hour naps; for the first 7 months of her life my kid never napped more than 45 minutes at a stretch. Although I was able to work with incredible focus during those times, it just wasn't enough to make any real progress. Even now, working in the evenings is difficult: by the time my kid goes to bed at 8, I've usually put in a 14-hour day (one way or another) and can't concentrate enough to be productive. Writing a dissertation with a baby is tough -- you're engaging in two very isolating pursuits, both of them almost guaranteed to bring out any latent feelings of inadequacy. The big advantage for me, though, is that it will never be easier to work part-time, and I enjoy the time I spend with my daughter.

May 1997

I'm looking for advice from the trenches from anyone who has written a dissertation while being a new mother or father. My baby is due mid-June and I'm trying to graduate (ph.d. in physics) by December. I've done most of the research so it's mostly a matter of writing up what I've already done. I'm set up to do this at home. My husband has a full-time job plus 2 hours of commuting a day. What I'm considering at this time is part-time day care beginning in September. I'm looking for opinions on whether it would be better to do this for 2 or 3 full days each week, or to do half-days every week day. Which would allow more productive time? Which is easier for the baby to adjust to? Which is easier to find? Another option would be to have a part-time in-home (my home) sitter while I work. Do you think I'd get any work done this way? Is this type of care hard to find? Much more expensive than day care? Thanks for any tips, Anita

I'll share my experience with you, and you can take this into account when laying your plans. This turned into a long screed, so other parents please skip if you are not interested in this subject.

I was in the same state as you, although I did have a couple of chapters, the big data ones, half written by the time my son was born. I thought in the three months I had off before I went back to work TA'ing would allow me to get quite a bit of work done on my thesis. Hah! My son was the type of baby who woke up several times a night and seldom slept day or night for more than three hours. A friend had warned me that my brain would turn to mush after the baby was born, and I'm sorry to say that she was right.

When my son was 3 months old I started TA'ing a class I had never taught, or even taken before, and was only really familiar with about half of the material. So although my thinking skills did improve as my son finally got to where he was only waking once a night, I used most of my spare time learning this new material which I was teaching.

That summer I moved back in with my parents, and arranged for my mother to watch my son for 3 days a week (all she would give me) while I drove to a nearby university and wrote my thesis sitting in the basement of the main library there. This had a wonderfully focussing effect as I knew this was probably my only shot at completing a first draft of this monster. This led me to leave some things out I had planned to include, but I'm convinced that it made a better, leaner and more focussed, thesis in the end.

I did complete a draft that semester, and ended up filing the following April, after various rewrites and such.

Something different about my experience than yours: I am a single parent, completely self-supporting (except for that little stint with my parents) and so had to keep working the whole time, although only part time. The most important thing at first is how much sleep you are able to get. If you happen to have a baby that sleeps in long stretches from the first, you should be able to get to work within a month after the birth, albeit only slowly at first. If it were me I would have child care away from my home while I was trying to work; but that has more to do with my own distractability, perhaps, than with the advisability of this practice for you.

Whether part time every day, or 2-3 full days a week: I think either could work for you, once you get on a schedule. How long does it take you to get down to work? Can you work for long stretches, or do you need a break every two hours? If it takes you a good hour to really get started, but then you can work for 6 hours with only one break, full days should work fine; but if you can get right down to work at the beginning, but need a long break every two hours, then half days will probably work better.

I can just advise that you try to find a child care giver who is flexible and will let you change your schedule depending on what you find is working and also how much sleep you are getting. Not to mention deadlines. I won't mention them.

Good luck. Dianna

This message is in response to Anita. I had a baby six months ago, and began working and writing my dissertation for 25 hours a week at home when Hannah was 3 months old. We decided to have someone come to our house and do childcare. This has worked out really well for me. This arrangement allowed me to start working but still nurse Hannah and play with her a little during the day. I found that half-days worked best--it's hard to keep up energy all day, and it was hard for me to be away from Hannah for that long, too.

It is important to have a room you can work in and shut the door. However, I found that being able to hear that everything was okay with Hannah allowed me to concentrate on my work!

A few friends of mine suggested finding a student (high school or undergrad) to care for the baby, someone who you wouldn't necessarily leave the baby alone with but who would be fine in a non-emergency situation. This is a cheaper way to go, and may be all you need. I didn't take that advice, but we did hire someone who does light housekeeping. I love this, and it takes some pressure off of my husband and I. You could also do a nanny share.

Good luck. Suz

Thesis writing with an infant is tough, but do-able. It's good you're looking into daycare options now, as they can take some time. My son was born in December; I planned to take 8 weeks off, but took 10 because that's when daycare could start--and, frankly, was thrilled with the extra two weeks to spend with him! Now we're doing MWF at a daycare center and the rest of the time home with me. I've found three days adequate for my work, but do get frustrated with the on-again/off-again pace of things. Five half-days would cure this, but we found childcare we love (Cornerstone Children's Center) and that's not one of our scheduling options. One advantage of three days is less commuting. Remember, your trips to and from childcare take up some of those precious work hours!

Given what you're paying for (someone to substitute for you!), childcare is not overly expensive, though it does hit most students' budgets hard. We're paying $435/month for three days, 9:00-6:00. In-home sitters are usually slightly more expensive, though you can often share a sitter with another family and split the costs (note that sitters usually charge more for two kids than one, with obvious cost implications). Working in the same space your child is being cared for can work if you can get behind a closed door and not jump up at every noise marking discomfort, and I have to say that I hadn't realized how hard that would be until after Nick came along--they're all just babies until you have one of your own, and then they all crank the empathy-meter to the max! The real key is to look around and find something you are 100% comfortable with, because unless you really are at ease with your choice, you'll be spending your work time worrying instead of writing. Good luck!