Back to top

The challenge of being a part-time PhD, part-time worker, and full-time mum

I think I’ve gone through every emotion at least twice in the past month as I’ve tried to get a handle on family life in lockdown.

I am a mum, in my first year of a part-time PhD, alongside working clinically as a children’s physiotherapist co-leading the paediatric neurorehabilitation team. Thinking about how I’ve coped with life being turned upside down, I have prioritised needs, which is actually in line with what my PhD is looking at – the long-term needs of children and young people with acquired brain injuries and their families.

In the weeks before lockdown my initial priority was my clinical work. Alongside working out how we could continue to meet the needs of our patients, we had to prepare for potential redeployment and complete adult training updates. I also had to prepare to pause my PhD and increase my clinical hours. This hasn’t been required so far, however trying to continue, while working from home, has presented a challenge in itself. I am, first and foremost, a mum.

I think my lowest day was the last day at school for my boys. Walking into the school playground to pick up my 10-year-old, saying goodbye to his friends and mine was so sad. For my 14-year-old, I don’t think it really hit until the week after when the reality of no school, no independence, and no swimming or cricket kicked in. Managing their different responses and helping them through every day had to be top priority. And how were we going to manage home-schooling alongside working? My husband, who is self-employed, and I made the decision to keep the boys at home and juggle school around our work, with the assistance of ‘Grandparent Virtual School’!

So, a month on, how am I coping? Well, there are good and bad days. Some days I think we’re thriving in our little bubble, sometimes not. The Graduate School page on looking after your mental health pointed me to an article about 5 steps to wellbeing when working from home, which my son’s primary school also use, and I am trying to instil into lockdown family life.

  • Stay connected – Technology has enabled me to stay in touch with my PhD supervisors, fellow PhD students, friends and family.
  • Stay active - We’ve had lovely family time, playing garden cricket, riding bikes and walking our dog.
  • Take notice – Rest when you need it. As the school Easter holidays hit, I realised my brain had had enough and I took 2 weeks off completely which did me the world of good. Our garden has never looked so lovely!
  • Give – A massive positive from lockdown has been connecting with our neighbours. We’ve all been out clapping on Thursdays and chatting across garden fences and over the road. We’ve also delivered cards, cakes, flowers and pictures to our neighbours, friends and family.
  • Keep learning – I haven’t always had the headspace to be able to concentrate on writing my research protocol, so I’ve focused on other tasks such as reading and collating my literature for my background chapter.

All in all, I’m doing what I can, when I can. I’m prioritising our needs day by day and we’re surviving. In fact, I think Team Keetley might come out of this stronger than ever.

Rachel Keetley

PhD Student
Division of Rehab and Ageing

Published on: 5 May 2020