Pursuing a PhD and being a mother at the same time

There is no such thing as being “late” when it comes to lifelong learning, or deciding to take up a PhD. Find out what PhD student Neha Tripathi feels about her journey after deciding to take on this path.

Neha (right) showcasing her work on PhD Research Day 2016

I joined NUS Business School’s department of Management and Organisation as a doctoral student in 2014. After completing my Bachelor’s in 2006 and Master’s in 2008 where I’m an engineer by training, the decision to pursue a PhD felt a bit late personally – almost after six years, as I never imagined myself to further my studies. Surprisingly, it was my mother’s ardent desire that I pursue a PhD. I had previously always joked with her that I could not fulfill her dream of me being Doctor. Who knew – Never say never, my mother’s wish will be coming true!

In the initial stages, I was unsure about pursuing a PhD as I felt one had to be guided by a specific topic of interest, and for that to last for my entire life. This made me cautious about choosing something I was not definitely passionate about. To really pursue a PhD, I wanted to make sure this would be my career choice for the next two decades (at least!).

While working in the corporate world in various roles, I felt that human behaviours were very complex. I was puzzled, astonished and intrigued by seeing and observing human motivation, leadership, emotions and behaviours in the workplace.

Celebrating birthdays together in the deparment

Where a project succeeds or fails, the human-aspect plays important roles. I was intrigued by the day-to-day leadership aspect, which can transform whole teams into a path of productivity and efficiency, or doom a project into ashes. With that, I realised deep diving into leadership and organisational behaviours could my area of specialisation for a PhD. Four years down this road, I’m sure this belief is still intact!

Going back to school after working for at least five years was not as tough as it seemed. For me, the transition was smooth and pleasant. I always liked being among books and NUS has a vibrant and supportive research environment.

NUS hosts an incredible research-oriented environment encompassing amicable faculty, resources and numerous opportunities for internal and external collaboration. More so, eminent scholars and professors from top universities across the globe are invited almost every week for us to interact with. Students greatly benefit with these visits – to be aware of the latest research trends, ideas and future directions for their own research interests.

For my department, they have been extremely supportive and encouraging towards students to attend top-tier conferences and to go for exchange programmes. I have been to several conferences, often in USA. I often joke with my peers that I’m utilising my USA visa to the fullest. Jokes aside, these top-tier conferences are very helpful in getting constructive feedback on the working research papers and networking with leading scholars all across the globe, while getting to know the latest research trends on various topics.

Attending the 2014 Academy of Management Conference in Philadelphia, USA

In the NUS Business School’s PhD programme, there is also a great diversity in student profiles. Some of my peers joined directly after completing their undergraduate degrees or some, like me have a family with kids. The most common question I get asked is whether it is tough pursuing a doctoral course and raising a toddler at home. While it’s not easy, I feel I’m more focused due to my strong family bond. For me, I think both are complementary to each other.

Neha and her family

PhD allows lots of autonomy, so I normally am able get quality time with my daughter. There are times when I need to meet deadlines and spent working late in my office. However, I do compensate by spending more time with family other times. I try to keep office hours but then I am also strict for family hours. Work time is for work family time is for family. Its not that difficult. For example, I do make sure to go to park with my daughter, mostly every day evening and play with her. But then I come to office at 8am (being a morning person helps a ton!). Weekends are mostly for family. I try not to extend work over weekends unless something that requires urgent attention. Pre-schools in Singapore are great. Overall, its a pleasant experience with a work life balance.

My advice to aspiring doctoral students is to ‘follow your passion’ and be self-motivated. Getting into doctoral program in NUS Business School, while competitive, it is also enriching and intrinsically fulfilling. The faculty here are superb – very supportive and friendly. I would say taking this path at NUS is one of my best choices to hone my interests and reach out to the best for a great academic career.

To find out more about our PhD programme, please visit http://bschool.nus.edu/phd.

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