By Adam McDonald
In September 2012, I enrolled in the Policy Studies PhD program at Ryerson University. I was 34 years old, a full-time employee of the Ontario government, a husband, and stepdad to a young woman who had just graduated high school. I thought I was prepared for the challenges of managing full-time studies, full-time employment, and family responsibilities.
You see, my wife and I had talked through much of how we thought this might work. We lived in Brantford – about 100 km from Toronto, where I worked – and figured I could manage most of the reading during my two-hour commute and focus on writing in the evening after the family responsibilities were concluded. We agreed that it would mean less “fun” in the evening to allow me time and space to work.
It didn’t turn out quite like that.
To be sure, the coursework was a lot like what I had been used to as a Master’s student. But what my family and I were less prepared for was the way PhD-level research takes over the brain of the student, sometimes to the exclusion of all else. Our plan had to be modified.
We refocused the way we choose to spend time together and have agreed that Saturdays are off-limits to research and other PhD-related functions; instead, they are reserved for family time. The trade-off allows me to structure my time to focus on the research tasks before me, since after-work time is so limited.
Over time, we’ve learned that good time management is critical to succeeding in all three of these areas; without it, the structures of our life would collapse and leave us in chaos. We’ve learned that it is possible to balance work, PhD research, and family. But it means self-discipline, an understanding family, and excellent time management.
And it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.
If you’re thinking about starting a PhD – or even in the middle of one! – make sure you have buy-in from your family. Their support will be crucial both emotionally and practically: giving you space and time to work without distraction will be one of the greatest gifts they can give you.
Adam McDonald, B.A. (Hons), M.A.
Ph.D Candidate, Policy Studies