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This guest post is written by Katrina McChesney from the Virtual Shut Up and Write Parents Edition Facebook group. Katrina has just finished her PhD through Curtin Universitys School of Education (Western Australia), researching teachers experiences of professional development within education reform.

There’s no easy way to get a PhD, but many doctoral students have learned the power of community for easing the journey in important ways – motivation, accountability, encouragement, celebration of milestones, support with questions that arise along the way.

Previous posts in this group and elsewhere have described various ways this community can look – bootcamps, AcWriMo, retreats, writing accountability meetups and hands-on ‘Shut up and write’ gatherings, either in person or online via social media or web conferencing.

For a large number of doctoral students, though, the tight time frames involved in many of the above activities are problematic. I am a survivor of that highly-frazzled, multi-tasking, socially-absent, time-poor, no-longer-master-of-our-own-time experience: parenting while PhD-ing. PhD parenting was described this way in a recent blog post:

“Whether it is a ‘solid’ work day squeezed into school hours, an important paragraph stopped in its tracks by the needs of a small person, or carefully laid fieldwork or lab plans scuppered by an unexpected dash to the doctor with a sick child, interruptions to schedules are the norm, not the exception. The flexibility of PhD time can be both a blessing as well a curse. Most parents would do anything to avoid having to drag a small child along to a medical appointment or grocery shopping. For a PhD parent fitting these things into your day becomes a breeze. A breeze that is, until you realize that school pick-up is only 45 minutes away and you haven’t written a sentence since 10am.”

In this context, it can be almost impossible to carve out a whole weekend for a bootcamp, or turn up on Twitter at just the right time for #SUAWTues. Instead, we PhD parents need a ‘tribe’ with a whole lot more flexibility and understanding – a place where we can access support, encouragement and accountability whenever we happen to have a few minutes available (without necessarily knowing in advance when this will be!).

Enter: Virtual Shut Up and Write – Parents’ Edition!

In a small corner of Facebook, close to 300 PhD parents belong to the Virtual Shut Up and Write – Parents’ Edition group (an off-shoot of the 1250-member PhD & Early Career Researcher Parents group).

There are no fixed schedules, start times, obligations or expectations here. Instead, it’s a place where someone is always online no matter where you are in the world. Even if it’s the middle of the night (not an uncommon time for members of Virtual SUAW – Parents’ Edition to be writing), you’ll find company, encouragement and moral support almost immediately.

Usually we end up with one or two threads each day where those who are working share informal updates. People pop in and out throughout the day and there is no need to apologise for the realities of PhD parenting.

Here’s a selection of typical recent comments. Together, they reflect many aspects of our stories as PhD parents. You’ll see goals and achievements; successful days and frustrating days. You’ll see group members trying hard to make the most of whatever writing time they are able to carve out; members writing early in the morning, late at night or when everyone else is on holiday; and members putting their thinking and progress ‘on pause’ until family obligations are met for the day.

  • “I’m here! I want to write 1000 words today.”
  • “Got 35 minutes until the kids wake up. Going to sketch out the rest of my analysis chapter.”
  • “I managed to finish my conclusion! The kids will be home soon but I still want to do some further editing on my chapter.”
  • “Morning! I’m really struggling to find my mojo this week, but the plan is that I’m here for around 6 hours, and I’m working on quant stuff … happy to have company.”
  • “I’m around. Thinking I’ll take Miss 4 to a playground so I can type on my laptop.”
  • “Good morning! 5.10am, wide awake, going to see if I can do 4 pomos before breakfast.”
  • “I have to stop as kids are here from school … marathon of homework and driving to ballet, soccer etc … but I now have 8 graphs ready to be described in 700 words later tonight. See you later.”
  • “OMG I finally have results! Yay! It’s only taken me three weeks to get my mojo going – and it’s now 12.45am so I really should go to bed, but when you get on a roll … I need wine or at least someone to share in my joy!” [Response shortly thereafter from another member: “Sharing joy!”]
  • “Checking in for the night shift 😉 hoping to get an hour or two done.”
  • “Five graphs done; now doing another five with the same dataset – and then hopefully some sprint writing this evening.”
  • “Uugh, a slow morning, possibly from a crap night’s sleep with multiple toddler wake-ups … anyway, slowly making chapter 7 stronger. Full draft looming ever closer!!!”
  • “It’s a public holiday here in [city] and I’m spending it writing. Who’s with me?” [26 fellow writers soon respond]
  • “I’ve been here a while. Have picked up 5 year old from school and set her up with iPad. Now I’ve got 1.5 hours of writing until I pick up the 2 year old.”
  • “I am here working on my theoretical framework. Working around kids until 11.00 then I have from 11 to 3 to work by myself.”
  • “If my seven year old ever goes to sleep I’ll be able to do this. Half past Midnight and all bets are off …”

Huge progress is made, shared and celebrated within the group, but there’s also grace and empathy for the days that just don’t go as expected. As many of us work from home, the group also offers a space for adult conversation and a sense of community and accountability we wouldn’t otherwise have (at least not on a daily basis). Together, the group’s members span almost all academic disciplines and all stages of the research journey – from proposal writing to thesis drafting, final editing and post-PhD publication. But what we have in common is our need for responsive, immediate, flexible and understanding peer community as we inch ahead in the challenging PhD parenting journey.

Virtual Shut Up and Write – Parents’ Edition only accepts members who are already part of the PhD and Early Career Researcher Parents group. If you would like to join Virtual SUAW – Parents’ Edition, please start by requesting to join the PhD and Early Career Researcher Parents group here.  Alternatively, why not start your own writing group for parents?

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