Some notes on the transcription…
I wanted to provide a transcript of The PhD Life Raft podcast episodes to make the material more accessible.
I have used an automated transcription service to produce this document. These, as we all know, are not 100% accurate. Please excuse the odd typos and grammatical mis-translations. I hope that you will find the documentation of this conversation useful.
Speaker 1 0:05
thank you so much for being here. I’m really looking forward to this discussion. Although it’s we’ve both said, it’s kind of trepidation that we talk about this because it’s very dear to both of our hearts. But thank you very much for because we’re going to talk about being a special needs parent and doing research work at the same time. Yes. Oh. Oh, my goodness. So, yeah. So thank you so much for because, as I’ve already said, this is such an important topic, because it doesn’t get talked about very much at all. But there are lots of people who are on that journey, and it is a doubly difficult one. And so I’m really grateful for you kind of opening up that discussion today.
Yeah, thank you so much for having me. I just love your podcast, I think you’ve had some really inspirational and interesting guests. So I feel really honoured to sort of join that crowd.
Bless you. Well, as I say, I’m just about to have another one. So before we get into all of that, I’m just going to ask, as I do with everybody in terms of tell us a bit about your journey, and in and through the PhD.
Right. Okay, so I just passed my bio. I know, I know. So I feel like I’m in a really good place to look back at the PhD journey. It’s been a really long journey. I think anybody sort of doing a PhD is going to be really curious about things and inquisitive. And if you plan to spend years taking a deep dive into a topic, and I did spend many years, but I just, I love doing research, I have lots of special interest topics, like an obvious one is I lived in quite a few different countries, in my adult life is sort of languages and identities and ideologies and anything to do with them. So I did my BA in Portsmouth and Master’s at Cardiff University School of Journalism. And I looked at Euro scepticism in the UK and Finland for my master’s dissertation. Yeah, this was back in 2014. So, a long time before Brexit. It’s not go there today. Ya so at the time, so that after my master’s, I thought, Oh, I’d like to do a PhD and maybe look at climate change and how its represented in the media. And I’d had a few discussions in my department about doing this PhD. But then, before I went to head to apply, I got an internship working in Chile, for a local newspaper, and will the areola discussion in Sitacles, called tn. So, you know, I was in my late 20s. And I felt like South America was a little bit more exciting than doing a PhD. Yeah. So I then ended up working in the media for about 10 years, until I had a bit of an early midlife crisis. Oh, and had two kids as well.
They connected anyway.
Yeah, maybe. So this, actually this really specific moment that I was in a sauna in west Wales, where I was thinking, you know, what, what am I going to do with the rest of my life? I worked in the media and journalism for a long time. It was lots of short term contracts, a lot of competition. They were new graduates every year, entering the job market, and they were happy to do your job for free. So I thought, well, I’m going to go back into academia. Why not? Yeah. So it sort of appeared to me, so that I should do research on multilingual families. And being in a sauna or being in a spa or just resting or taking breaks. It’s, it’s just this massive theme that I hope we can come back to the next 20 minutes. Yes. So having relaxation or being or whatever you want to call it, it’s just so important for creativity. academic work? Yes, definitely. Yeah. Oh, so a bit bit of background about my research. So my kids speak three languages because of our circumstances. And but then I found that quite a few potentially bilingual or multilingual children and also added adults, they don’t, they didn’t speak their heritage languages or the language of a parent or both parents sometimes they would just speak the majority language of the, of the country that they lived in, right. So quite often the second generation immigrant source third generation immigrants don’t actually speak their heritage languages. So I’m a first generation immigrant. I left Finland to study and work abroad when as a young adult, and then that makes my children second generation immigrants although they have Welsh but you Yeah. So it was kind of a progression of my thinking, to want to seek answers and do this, this PhD, and it just needed this quiet moment in a sauna in west Wales to come up with the idea like, Oh, this is what I really want to do. So, yeah, for my PhD, I investigated 14 Case Study families in Finland and Wales, in Helsinki, and in Cardiff. So it’d be my two home cities and their children spoke sort of the official languages of the country, but also another language, which could be a language of the parents or some of the families they had moved around quite a bit. So that’s why they spoke several languages. And what I wanted to find out was sort of what were the parents or language ideologies? Or why did they want to transmit multiple languages to the kids and what their strategies were, what the experiences were. And then, most importantly, I also interviewed the kids, because there’s not a lot of research from the kids. And, you know, I wanted to see what they perceptions were of sort of growing up with multiple languages. So yeah, I just had my Bible. I know I’m so pleased. It was a really enjoyable process.
Well, that’s good to hear. Yes, yes.
But the whole PhD took me eight years with several breaks. That’s a really long time I had a toddler when I started. She’s now nine. And, and a five year old and she, he’s now a teenager. So yes, it’s been a long journey. But also, I’ve done a lot. In the eight years, I’ve written all these academic and non academic articles and blog posts, and I organised a multilingualism conference with two other PhD students. We have a multilingualism research group at Cardiff uni. I’ve given expert interviews. I’ve done workshops and presentations, I’m organising another conference at Swansea uni, in in January. So, yeah, it’s been a long journey, but really enjoyable.
Amazing. So this is this is the good news story. And I love it. And I love that, just because it took you a long time, because I think people often get really caught up in this is like, it’s taking me a long time to do this. It’s, it’s, that’s how it is sometimes, and like you saying, Actually, you’ve done so much along the way. And you’ve enjoyed that process. There’s nothing wrong in that. I think that there were there’s also which we’ve touched on many times before, but about this culture of kind of three years and done and actually, knowing that there are different ways of doing it. And it can be really beneficial to do it that way is really important to remember. So I’m really interested that your your research really was about a family life too. So there’s been a kind of parallel journey. And so to get to that, and I want to, I want to remember what to keep this SORNA
very important of space
really important and kind of come back to that in a minute. But to just to spend a few moments thinking about the challenges of that and the challenges of parenting alongside and special parenting alongside this journey.
Yeah, so I think we talked about this earlier, you know, parenting is, is really hard work. And when you add special needs to it, you know, that’s like, another level, isn’t it? So where do I start? So I, I watched them? There she goes on BBC iPlayer. Yeah, it’s, it was just a really good programme. It shows the struggles. And obviously my experience as a parent is completely different. But when you have a child with extra needs, you do sort of grieve for the child that you did not have, and you feel really sad for the child for the challenges that they are going to face in their life and your mental load is too so heavy. When we think about hidden disabilities, somebody with like ADHD or autism or like my son, they may appear sort of at times just like somebody who’s neurotypical, but I’ve got quite a good reader now for neurodiversity, but anybody with disabilities, we just don’t know what the massive steps are, than they are the parents have taken just to be outside or in a public place, you know? And then you think about the different therapies and treatments and medications and years of research and hospital appointments and school appointments and therapists and oh my goodness, daily phone calls from school is it can be just really, really exhausting. Yeah, and for me sort of PhD was almost like a break from all of it. That’s the
end So good to have some space for you, as you say it is it is full full on. And yeah, I think most people know, you know, my daughter has cerebral palsy and we have at least one appointment every week and medical appointment and like you say, and that’s, that’s not including all the research and everything else that goes into all of that. That’s a whole nother level of attending to needs. Because of course, all children have special needs, because you have to attend to their particular thing that’s going on for them at the time. But this is a whole kind of another level of caring, and the responsibilities of that. So I love that you found you found sanctuary in your work, because it can be it can be anything else around the sort of the challenges, because you’d mentioned the mental load, though, because it is full on and you’re on high alert all the time. Yes, yeah.
You feel like you are walking on eggshells all the time. Yeah, I think when when my son was first diagnosed, I went to a talk. I don’t know if you’ve heard this, they sort of compared Special Needs parenting to taking a flight and then ended up somewhere different. And I think that was just brilliant. Yeah. So you know, you’re expecting a child, you’re taking a flight, say to Spain, you’ve done all the preparations. Maybe you’ve been there before, you know, you’ve spoken to friends and family who had the experiences. Maybe you speak the language, you’ve done your research about the destination, and then boom, you know, you you land in Iceland? And you think, Oh, wow, okay, so this is different. You need to adjust to the climate and the code and you need to adjust everything, you need to adjust your expectation. And then everything has this sort of changed. And then they said, you know, wherever you end up, you know, that’s Iceland is beautiful to you know, it’s exotic, it’s different. This is not what you have prepared for. And maybe you have different life lessons to learn from this place. And I felt like that was such a beautiful way of describing this special needs parenting.
Yes. Oh, absolutely. I mean, my goodness. And we said, we’re going to try not to cry in this. myself, because I feel so lucky. And I feel like it’s been such a gift. And Shawn has taught me so so much. So I think that absolutely that still tired? Oh my goodness, yes. And I think that this sense of the sense of that the amazing journey that you are on, and it can take over everything. And, and finding places that you can like you say that this work being in your work and the clue because you talk with such enthusiasm, energy about it, the way in which the work has has sustained you. So finding strategies then to to do that work and the things that have helped you in that process.
Yeah. Okay, so I think this applies to anybody doing a PhD and it’s just taking breaks. I’m just back from the Green Man Festival in Bondi profanely. org. And, you know, it was just so lovely to take a break and do something completely different. So I’m ready to tackle my final corrections, which is very exciting. So, yeah, taking breaks, I think it’s quite easy to be sucked into this and unhealthy habits of overworking. Especially when you’re really interested in your topic, like, like I am, you know, I go into this Ph. D. Bubble. And then I realised, I haven’t taken a break, I haven’t eaten all day, my alarm block block is going off because I need to pick up the kids from school. And that’s like a really good way to burn out. So don’t do that. So, yeah, I said, I talk about saunas. So it’s, it’s so important to have a bit of life outside your PhD, but also your life demands. And no, I think it’s important to have a lot of time outside your PhD and, and responsibilities. And I just haven’t always been that great at taking breaks because I just love my topic. It’s so personal to me. And I hyper focus on Sundays, I realise that hours have passed and you know, I haven’t taken a break. I now have a sports watch. And I have a smarter ring as well. And they kind of remind me that take a break, take a break and walk away from your desk. And it’s so important to bid things in a diary like you know, I do a lot of yoga, I go to a gym. I’m going to continue study. Well, she again is September so I just been for a jog this morning because I’m taking part in now on an online retreats after this. So it’s, you know, leave your laptop at home when you go on holidays. It’s really hard for me to do that. But I sometimes just take you know, something that I’ve printed, I need to proofread. So just take breaks and so write this blog post Post about 10 self care tips for the PhD and I think it’s important to think you know, what’s going to bring your joy, what’s going to make you relax. You know, whatever works for you. I enjoy spending time in nature. We go to the beach a lot as a family. I love forest and mountain walks. And I really wish I could do more of that.
Yes, I don’t think I think it is that it’s that low. I love that you started this theme with this sense of being in the sauna and the ideas coming to you because you had space. Yeah. And I think it’s counterintuitive, isn’t it? Because we’ve all done it, we will say, Oh, no, I can’t take it back. I’m really in it at the moment. I’m really, I’m remembering that you can be over in it if that is even a thing. I talked about working in the PhD and working on the PhD. And when you’re working in the PhD, no Dig, dig, dig in. And you’re you’re kind of there at the coalface so to speak. Yeah, you can’t always think the big thoughts. And taking time out is I call it like holiday thinking, you know, when you are at the beach, and there’s this big expanse, and you think bigger, think bigger thoughts. Yes. And exactly. And knowing that that can happen for you knowing that taking a break and not doing I mean, obviously not doing it just to do, because otherwise, it becomes a bit weird. But knowing that that is a gift that you can give yourself as well as I mainly for this sense of rest. And I think especially as you say in terms of, of special needs parenting, it is constant, and if you don’t rest you’re gonna burn out. And if you burn out, who’s going to look after your person? That’s it. So if that’s so important, and I just think it’s such a such a really headline, important thing in terms of relaxation, and as you say, in terms of creativity as well. And then you mentioned that you mentioned just going on a retreat. And I know that before we were talking you were talking about how important retreats have been to your process. So can you say a little bit more about that? Yeah. So
I often found in the first years of my PhD, I find that I was really productive when I was on a train or on a plane, like going to a conference because it was sort of empty time when you’re on your own, but you can’t really do anything productive. And then I think it was on my third year I went on a writing retreat. In Scotland, it was rolling and Marie’s retreat, and he was just mind blowing, you know, my productivity was amazing, I got so much done. So yeah, at my university, there are quite a few online and face to face face retreats, and even residential ones. So it’s definitely worth finding out about that. And especially the rest of the child retreats, I find that they’re just brilliant, you know, when, and then COVID hit, obviously. So I went on quite a few solitary retreats in two nearby hotels, and he was just, I didn’t have to think about the mental load or anything but to my writing. I think this was in autumn in September, October 2020, when the auto hotels opened again. And I’ve been subverting my family full time. And I could just cycled a couple of miles to hotel and be on my own just with a thesis and my laptop and snacks and timetable. And it was a such a beautiful, gorgeous moment, I think I cried a little because it was just like, wow, this is just me. And I don’t have to think about anybody else’s needs. I don’t need to deal with meltdowns. I don’t need to deal with anything, but just my thesis writing and at the end of the day, you kind of stop and you take a proper break that you can’t necessarily do at home. So,
yes, yes, snacks being an important part of that in terms of caring for your body in that in that breaking that treat time. And when Rowena Maria and I had on the podcast, so if people are thinking about retreats, they might want to listen to that episode and find out more what goes on there. But also remembering because I think for some people, they might be saying, you know, but this caring for me is really full on and I don’t think I can get away. And you know, I know for me, it’s very difficult to find anybody who can care for Charlotte because she’s cheap food and all of those kinds of things. But remembering like you said, there are online retreats that still may be possible for you, you know, within the school day, or maybe if there’s somebody who can come and be at least with you in that in the house. And And also remember that retreats don’t have to be they don’t have to be two, three days, it could be three hours. And there’s a brilliant book by Jen now, and I never talked about it before in terms of the woman’s retreat book that is appropriate for everybody. But you know how you can set yourself up for an hour retreat or half day retreat and get it at home. But because it’s that quality of attention to your to your physical needs as well as allowing space for your creativity as well. So I just this is such a gorgeous offering for us. Thank you Kaiser because it is that sense of this is really important time and it kind of becomes sort of like sacred times, isn’t it? That you’re, you’re setting aside?
Yeah, it does. Yeah, I, when I sort of work on my own, I used the forest step as well. But it’s really good when you want to do properly concentrated work, you know, just one step at a time, half an hour, an hour at the time. And even that is progress.
Absolutely. And we’ll put the link we’ll put, we’re talking about loads of different stuff here, I will make sure the links are in the show notes. So we have the links to your blog posts, we’re gonna have the links to Rellenas podcasts, we can do the link to the forest, the forest app, can you just explain it for people who haven’t come across it before, just let us know how that works?
Right? It’s just setting up maybe half an hour or an hour at a time doing a Pomodoro. And really turning off your emails, social media, anything that could distract you. And you decide, okay, I’m going to work for half an hour. And magic happens.
It’s all about the trees and nature. Yes, exactly. And yeah, you can go, you can go leave that as a teaser. You can you can find you can find out if you know, you know. Brilliant, and I’m aware of time. There’s so much that we could have talked about here. I know we there was a massive list. And we were like, focusing. But is there anything else that you’d like to to say or any? I always ask people for top tip or top tips. So any thoughts that people could take away with them if they are if they are facing these particular challenges at the moment?
Okay. Can I talk about interruption of study
really quick? Yes. Yes,
that’s really useful. That’s something I’ve had to take because of life circumstances. You know, I actually, in those eight years, I took three interruptions of study and one extension because you know, my son was diagnosed with ASD, and then lots of lots of thing, things happened, like the pandemic. And you know, and also there were times that I didn’t take good breaks, I didn’t really have a child to take breaks. And that’s why I just had to take a break from PhD. And I think, you know, to avoid burnout, and I think the first time I took it, I was quite worried, you know, what are people going to say? Or how is it going to impact me, but I just had the most supportive supervisors shout out to Yes, yes. Dr. Jonathan Morris, and Professor Gemma Gela creased. They just they said, of course, you need to take a break, you know? Yeah, it was just beautiful. And I think don’t be afraid to take an interruption of study if that’s what, what you need.
Oh, I love that. I love that so much. Because I think we can’t say that enough. Because that seems to be such a sort of weird stigma about we’re not actually probably not weird, a stigma around it in terms of feeling like it’s a failure or feeling like it’s a problem. It isn’t. And it’s, it’s sometimes it is absolutely the right thing to do. And as you say, because it avoids burnout and burnout is very difficult to come back from an interruption not so difficult to come back from burnout, very difficult
to come by. And I, I find that actually taking a break. I took four months at a time and he actually developed my thinking a lot. So it was so much nicer to come back to the whole PhD.
Yes. Oh, yes. And, and we always love a shout out to supported like, so. Thank you for I
was very lucky.
Thank you for that. And anything else then before we?
I’ll give you two tips, if I may. Yes. So a couple of years ago, I wrote 40 Top Tips, but I’ll give you two, if I may. So I think number one, find your tribe and support network. It could be online or PGR. Community friends or family, I find do from this beautiful Facebook group called PhD and ECL parents. And that’s been super helpful. There’s also another Facebook group called Bridging the Gap. It was set up by my friend Rohan and now they have like 46,000 members or some crazy. So yeah, it’s all about looking at the mental load that we do. As women especially, we take on most of the mental load and the emotional load that comes with being an adult and parenting and especially special needs parenting and it’s it’s just exhausting. It’s unachievable. It’s it’s so hard to be perfect. It’s it’s impossible to meet certain standards in our society. And I feel like the Barbie movie really puts it the message across. It’s basically impossible to carry most of the mental load that goes with being an adult and raising a family and also do a PhD. So we need rest and self care and we deserve it as well and life outside of all of this. And second tip, I didn’t write this in the blog. A Postback is to celebrate every step. So when you finish a chapter or when you submit a thesis or graduation or after meeting with the supervisors doing a conference paper or poster, you know, they are all massive achievement. I’ve got this celebration coming up next year. So I’m planning to have a hats party. So yes, so my sister, she’s just finishing her PhD in Finland. And they get to wear a top hat and buy a sword at the end of it. So the plan is that I get to wear my flippy floppy hat and she’ll wear her top hat and the last family and friends to wear hats and we’ll go to somewhere like a nice restaurant and and have her had to pack party because why not?
I love it. I love it. And I think that spirit of celebration and joy. Yes, there’s got to be part of that we haven’t got to be but it’s an important Energizer on the journey. And I think if you’re gonna wait until you graduate to celebrate that is a long time to wait. And absolutely celebrating the milestones along the way really to to cheer yourself on and to let other people cheer you on to kind of say, Oh, come and join me in this because I’m celebrating this is so important. So important. Thank you so much Kaiser for all of this. And congratulations once again. Thank you very much. I say we’ve we’ve touched on so much today and we will have everything in the show notes. Thank you for taking the time. I really appreciate it. And thank you all for listening