30 Aug 2018 Mission Possible: Getting a PhD + Full-time Job + Being a Mother

My name is Lee Ching Li and I was recently conferred my PhD in Medical and Health Sciences by IMU. I represent a growing segment of students who pursue their postgraduate degrees while holding a full-time job and playing an active role in caring for their family.

My PhD work involved helping patients with diabetes lose weight and achieve better blood sugar control, by changing the way they eat. Diabetes is a big health problem and despite advances in research, we still do not know enough to improve the lives of people with diabetes.

The added responsibilities I held during my PhD journey, taught me an important life lesson. Life responsibilities can either detract from or strengthen attainment of the end-goal.

During my PhD, I was (and still am) teaching undergraduate students at IMU five days a week and providing dietary counselling and care for patients at the IMU Healthcare Clinic. Once every few months, I would speak at conferences and facilitate workshops for healthcare professionals. Planning ahead and being disciplined with time were two important elements that helped fit everything I had to do into my daily schedule. Maintaining my full-time job responsibilities reminded me of why I chose to take on my PhD. It provided a platform to reflect on how my PhD activities and findings can be used to improve student learning about nutrition and diabetes, and also help patients with diabetes manage their diet.

The many hats that Ching Li had to wear: Helping patients put nutrition knowledge into practice at a supermarket tour, a speaker, a lecturer and a mother.

At the same time, I was also (and still am) a wife and mother. This means working on PhD activities while nurturing a child and managing a household. There were sacrifices that we had to make as a family and I managed because I had a very supportive husband and son.

As with the juggling of a full-time job and PhD, planning ahead and being disciplined with time are important factors to balancing between family and PhD. Spending quality time with my family gave me the emotional and mental strength to continue. Working without giving up on my PhD provided a platform to role-model tenacity and lifelong learning to my son.

Finally, I endured the intense educational process a PhD requires with good social support. Interestingly, my research supervisors, research nurses, and work colleagues, were predominantly women. Along with providing academic and instrumental support, they provided emotional support and were strong role-models of women who can strike a work-life balance while positively contributing to the field of diabetes care.

Dr Lee Ching Li is currently a lecturer in the Division of Nutrition and Dietetics, School of Health Sciences at IMU and graduated with her PhD in June 2018.

Related article: IMU Celebrates Convocation Ceremony and the Installation of its Chancellor and Pro-Chancellor

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