Our sitter is on vacation this month, so I’m on full-time mama duty and it’s been amazing. If you’re a graduate student or an adjunct, common wisdom says you can kiss your career goodbye once you reproduce. My advisor suggested I follow in her footsteps and wait until I have a lavish tenured position at an elite university before the big breed. But since I didn’t go “straight through” (doctoral program immediately after college), I’m not 27, and can’t afford to wait until like, never, for a tenure track position I hurled my well-laid plans into the woodchipper and got pregnant. Fast-forward eighteen months and I have a kinetic toddler and I’m still working on my first chapter. But have I abandoned all hope in this month of full-time toddler care? Am I out of the academic game forever because now I change diapers and chop hot dogs into tiny little Trivial Pursuit pie-sized pieces? The short answer is: surprisingly, … no.
The past three weeks have been my most productive all year. The massive time-suck that overshadows my work and family life isn’t the kiddo, it’s the TA-ing. My program offered me a 6th year teaching fellowship so I had to TA. I put the kid in daycare because I thought it would afford me the time to teach and write, but my teaching pittance paid for daycare which only gave me time to prepare for teaching. This daily ouroboros left me with overwhelming teaching responsibilities, a stagnant dissertation, and guilt about paying for daycare despite my uneven productivity. But since my teaching responsibilities ended, I’ve felt free to do my own work. And knowing that I have t-minus 2.5 hours and counting, I get straight to work and don’t stop until the baby wakes up. I did this 5-days a week for three weeks and made amazing progress.
But it wasn’t just the freedom from teaching, I also changed my process. After this discussion on #PhDChat, I decided to set my laptop aside and return to handwriting my notes. I used to write this way and then decided to try and type everything on my computer. I thought I was skipping an unnecessary step since my process looks like this:
- Handwrite notes
- Transcribe onto laptop into a draft
- Print draft and revise
- Repeat step 3 until satisfied with final draft
I thought if I skipped step 1, I’d save time, but instead I interrupted my natural way of writing. Returning to handwriting allows me to own my words. I imbue typed words, yes, even my own, with some magical authority and I have a hard time returning to my typed notes. Hence, I have over 40,000 words and not a chapter to speak of.
While I haven’t completed my chapter draft, I’m feeling optimistic about finishing — moreso than I felt all year. Let’s just hope my 6-week summer class doesn’t disperse my momentum.
tl:dr: teaching can be a bigger time suck than parenthood. So long as you work on your dissertation every day, you’ll get it done.