GUEST POST from Duduzile Ndlovu

Duduzile Ndlovu (@mandlods) is a third-year PhD student based at the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University ofduduzile Witwatersand, Johannesburg, South Africa. Her research aims to explore gender and generational differences in migrants’ memory making practices through the use of art to remember socio-political violence. Outside of the PhD, Dudu spends most of her time running after an energetic toddler son and balancing her love for music (learning to play the Piano). She blogs at CandidPhDTalk – visit, for more on her research.

Alternative Title: PhD Student and a mother! Really?

When I was asked to write about Supermums and the PhD, I initially thought “wow she thinks I am a super mommy!” Thinking about this blog I reflected on the many conversations I have had with female peers who have no children yet – many ask me when exactly is the right time to have children. It’s always a difficult question to answer because I think it’s possible to have a child and, still complete your PhD; but that is based on my experience. Hence, I will share my experience on this blog, which is by no means a super mom experience, because like anything else in life it’s a process of sometimes getting it right and sometimes getting it wrong.

A little background to my life, I live and am studying in South Africa with my son and husband. The extended family I would depend on for help with childcare namely my mother or mother in-law live in another country and so I do not have that kind of luxury. However nannies and babysitters are reasonably priced and so I have had one since I registered for my PhD. In addition to this my husband works from home with a very flexible work schedule in case of any emergencies. I thought I would give this brief background to contextualise my experience of being a mommy who is also pursuing a PhD. Three things I want to highlight of my experience is that it is by no means balanced, support is central and lastly cut yourself some slack and enjoy the ride.

I have already said it is not a perfect life I am not at all a super-mum. When I began my PhD I had a small chat with my supervisor about babies. It wasn’t a long one, but my role as a mother was once a topic of discussion. This opened up room for me to at times shift our not important chats about the weather to mourn about the crappy week I have had because the baby is not well. I am fortunate in that my supervisor is a mother too and has come through with lots of advice and is very understanding that I am not only a student but a mother too. I wish I could say I am able to divide my time equally to PhD student then take off that hat and now I am a mom. At times it all happens at the same time and at other times one takes up the whole of my attention. Take for example when my son is not well. Try as I may to sit at my desk and work, I cannot! Then comes days when I have a deadline looming and all I can think of is the paper I need to finish. It’s a messy affair but isn’t all of life and it goes on.

All of this wouldn’t be possible without the support and help I have. During the day we have a nanny and my husband takes over on those evenings when I have a deadline to beat. As a first time mother it was not easy to let go of my motherly duties and hand them over to another. Added to this I feared it was an admission of my inadequacy as a mother. But it is in admitting to that inadequacy that I find my balance. I may not be the perfect mother but I am the mother I know how to be. When I was thinking about how imperfect my balancing act really is, I thought this TEdTalk on The Power of Vulnerability is what best describes my experience of being a mother doing a PhD.

I look forward to hearing how others are navigating their lives as mothers and PhD candidates. Please leave a comment below.

Featured Image: Iandeth/Creative Commons Licence