Typical Day in The Life of a PhD Student Parent

What does a typical day look like in the life of a PhD parent who works 4 days on her PhD? Read this post to find out!

Typical Day in The Life of a PhD Student Parent
There are many puzzle pieces to fit together when you are parent and trying to do a PhD

Firstly, I don't think that there is a 'typical' day in the life of a PhD student because every day is different. But since you may be comparing to other jobs or are thinking about a PhD, I thought it would be useful to write about a day in my PhD (parent) life.

05:00 is wake-up time

Alarm goes off. Alarm is switched off.

05:15 - 05:40 is actually wake up time

Made it at 05:21 this morning.

I get up and pull on my snuggly avocado-on-toast jumper (yes, it's amazing). I head to the bathroom to get washed. Then go downstairs to get a drink of water or make a coffee. Once every few weeks I treat myself to a lie in; I don't get up until 07:00 or even beyond (shock)!

05:40 - 07:00 is focus time

This is my morning focus time that I use to work on whatever personal projects I need to. Most of the time it will be working on my blog, doing research, editing or writing for example. Just like today when I am writing this blog. If I have something I want to make some extra effort on for my PhD like a presentation or training then I also may do this then, but I try to avoid it. This time is my favourite time of day because I get peace and quiet from everyone else in the house (apart from the cats). I will also do general organising and goal-setting around this time as well. I want to make sure I use this time most productively.

07:00 - 08:00 is getting ready and child coercion time

It's time to get my daughter up, dressed, breakfasted and out the door. Sometimes she'll wake up on her own before 7am, which cuts into my focus time. But generally she won't get up until after 7am. It can be challenging getting her to do everything as she works much more on her own clock. But we're usually out the door just before 8am.

08:00 - 09:00 is spent commuting

It's a 35 minute drive into nursery and university. I get a 10 minute walk to my building from the nursery. This helps get into 'work brain'.

09:00 - 10:00 is getting into work mode

I find I need quite a lot of time to transition from 'mummy brain' to 'PhD brain' (and back again). As such, the first 45 mins to 1 hour of my day is spent catching up with admin work. It could be emails, organising what I'm doing for the day, making some notes, sorting out data sheets or doing some reading about what I need to do for the day.

If I have a busy lab or greenhouse day I tend to bypass the office completely and head straight to the lab. Otherwise I know I will get distracted doing tasks like these when I should be focusing on other things.

Once a week I tend to head to a coffee shop to get a hot chocolate, particularly if I need to prepare a presentation or piece of writing. I find the new situation helps to clear the brain out better and I can focus in a different way on the task at hand.

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10:00 - 12:00 is 'get work done time'

This is generally my most productive time of the day. It's when I get the majority of work done and it often sets the precedent for the rest of the day. I could be doing statistics, collecting data, packing soil or working out my next experiment. This week I've been working on the method and analysing some smelly digestate samples. Nothing to do with my PhD, but a side project we have taken on for a local company. It's also the week when I (finally) launch my greenhouse experiment. (I was very excited when I finished planting up on Friday!)

12:00 - 12:45 is lunch

Getting up at 5am means I like an early lunch. Quite often I will go before 12pm. Sometimes I'll just have a short 20 minute lunch. Other times I'll take it more leisurely and try to get in a bit of reading whilst I eat. I never eat at my desk.

In the summer I tend to head outside more to get some fresh air. Sometimes I go for a walk to clear my head or 'take a brain shower' as my coach says! Quite often my walk is a bit later into the afternoon. Lunch is typically the same thing we had for tea the previous night. It's very rarely sandwiches.

Interestingly, when I'm at home I'm really bad for snacking. At work it's just lunch and that's generally it. Occasionally I'll have a big wodge of chocolate if I'm feeling I want it. I do tend to be worse if I'm at my desk all day too.

12:45 - 14:00 is get more stuff done

This time always seems to disappear somewhere into the day. I'll usually continue what I was working on in the morning. Sometimes I switch up tasks after lunch as it provides a nice divider in the day. So if I was doing office-based tasks in the morning, I'll switch it up and do something in the lab in the afternoon.

It can be quite a good time to gather thoughts around something I was doing in the morning. For example, if something wasn't working, then I may regroup, do some reading or journaling to work things out and have a fresh go later in the afternoon.

14:00 is wishful nap time...

The lull time. I almost know exactly when 2pm comes around as I suddenly have the feeling I want to take a nap; man I wish I could! Sometimes when I'm working from home and the urge is really strong, I will do. I try not to plan anything major in at 2pm if I can. If I'm very focused on something, 2pm can be a lot easier to manage. For example getting an experiment planted up. But if I'm not liking the task I'm doing, I've got to task switch. Or if I had a bad night's sleep, then 2pm can be very difficult to soldier through. It generally helps if I get up and go for a walk or go to have something to eat.

14:30 - 16:30 is final 'get work done time'

OK so I've finally gotten over the early afternoon lull. It's 2.30pm when I feel the day is mostly done. This is because I only have a couple of hours until I pick my daughter up from nursery. I generally try to plan my work for a 3.30pm finish. That way I have an hour of contingency time and because, well things always take longer than you think, it keeps me on time for a 4.30-5.00pm finish.

Sometimes I work a little later if I need to, but my daughter must absolutely be picked up at 5.30pm. It really annoys me sometimes when I'm deep into something in the afternoon and I want to keep in the flow for a few more hours. But I can't. I have to leave it and go.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this but I can generally manage it. In recent weeks I've been doing a strategic management course which finished at 3.30pm. That was pretty much my day done so on days like these I'll take care of boring, 'need-to-be-done-don't-require-my-brain' type tasks. Or tasks like a presentation which I know takes multiple bitty attempts to get it finished.

16:30 - 17:45 is the return commute

The return commute always takes a little longer than going in in the morning; someone often doesn't want to leave nursery! That and the traffic in the evening is always worse.

17:45 - 19:00 is tea and child time

Time to get home, make tea and try and chill out a hyperactive, but tired child.

We tend to eat pretty well. We have all our meals planned out as it is easier for everyone. They rotate around every 5 weeks and we'll add in new stuff occasionally. My daughter is always bouncing around at this time and wants me to play with her. If my husband is making tea then I will indulge her, but otherwise she'll have to wait until after tea.

At this time all I want is 15-30 minutes to decompress from the day but I very rarely get it. Mornings and evening 'feeding times' are always super chaotic. There's toys flying everywhere, a mountain of food that needs preparing and an even larger mountain of dishes that never seems to totally disappear.

19:00 - 20:00 is child bed time

The bed time process. Very occasionally bed time is 15 minutes. Most of the time it takes about an hour all in to get a bath, read a story and get someone tucked up and happy to stay in her bed.

20:00 - 21:00 is wind down time

This is the last hour of the day. Sometimes my husband and I will watch something on Netflix. Other times I need to work on something (e.g. this month, getting to my daily 2000 word count!). And other times I just have a shower and head straight to bed. Occasionally, I'll have enough focus power left to do some reading but as a general rule it's brainless tasks at this time of night.

Once a week I'll go for a walk. I'd like to do this more, but most of the time I just want to vegetate horizontally somewhere. Sometimes I'll sit down and write some blog ideas or do some journaling.

21:00 - 21:30 is time for bed

Bed time probably with some mindless phone scrolling... catching up on Medium for example.

I sleep pretty well as a general rule, so that will be me until my alarm goes off at 5am again. And yes, I even get up at 5am at the weekend!

So there you have it. That's my typical-ish day in my life as a PhD student! This is how things tend to pan out 4 days a week as I am part-time. I get every Thursday off to catch up on household chores and life in general. I love doing a 4-day week and I would highly recommend it to anyone if you can manage it.

You may wonder how I manage to be a parent and do a PhD at the same time ... wonder no more as I discuss some tactics I use to do the PhD-parent thing in a previous post.