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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

ABCs and PhD's: The five-year plan
February 3, 2010 - 8:54am

When I was pregnant with my daughter and unsure what was going to happen to my academic career, a woman I admire, a full-time mom/scientist, told me that she thought of her life in terms of five-year blocks. These blocks corresponded loosely with her children’s developmental stages, and with each subsequent phase she was able to take on different projects or increase the amount of time she devoted to her own interests. This bit of wisdom means a lot to me (I’ve mentioned it a few times in my blogs) because it allows me to silence the nagging, self-critical voice in my head that questions why I’d want to stay home with my kids after so many years of preparation for an academic career. Thinking of life in blocks makes it easier to say that a particular phase is not forever, or isn’t ready to be finished yet, and that I can focus on what I need to do for right now.

This year I’m marking the beginning of a new five-year block. The delineation is arbitrary, but my daughter (my youngest) recently turned five and I’m in my forty-fifth year. Five years seems like nothing…and yet it’s a lifetime. This new life-block is kind of like an open door at the end of a long corridor… I don’t know what’s coming up, but depending on what kinds of preparations or choices I’ve make, it could be a door into something new and interesting.

So, what have I done to shape the next five years? Well, career-wise things have progressed slowly. However, I have the chance to spend ten days helping a friend who’s teaching a field course early this summer. It’s not a paid gig, but it’s a great opportunity for me to work with students in a fun, informal setting. At the very least, I have the chance to renew my teaching skills, add something new to my C.V., and update my reference letters. I’m nervous, though, to be someone other than “Mama” during the course since that’s my everyday identity. Aside from a weekend away two years ago, I’ve never been away from my children for a significant length of time. It will be fun, but also a little outside of my comfort zone. At least I’ll be able to read what I want on the airplane getting there!

I’ve also started off this new five-year period having met a personal goal. When I came to Vancouver a little over five years ago, I had my heart set on joining an amazing choir I’d heard about even before moving here. After hearing them in person, I knew that singing with such a high caliber group would be a challenge, both in terms of time commitment and my own musical skills. I wasn’t sure I could pass the audition, and with a pre-schooler, an infant, and getting used to a new city, the timing just didn’t seem right. One of these days, I kept saying. In the interim, I joined a university chorus and began taking voice lessons when my daughter started pre-school. Earlier this week, five years after I first heard them, I auditioned for my dream choir…and I got in! It’s still going to be a big time commitment and I feel like I’m a little out of my league. But what an experience it will be!

My sister, who’s a little more direct in meeting her goals than I am, has a different take on the five-year plan. She simply looks at her life, asks where she wants to be in five years, and goes straight there. That philosophy seems to work well for many people. However, I can’t honestly say right now where I want these next five years to take me. I do recognize the importance of creating and being open to opportunities, wherever they might lead. And taking on challenges, even when they’re not directly career-related, keeps my heart rate up and pushes me back out into the bigger world.


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