Life at Lucy: Three Children and a PhD

by Dr Jo Johnson on 13 December 2018

I graduated in Medicine from Leeds University back in 2001 and following this did my post-graduate medical training in the East of England and London. When I applied for PhD funding in 2011 I was a senior trainee in paediatrics. I’m still not 100% sure why I decided to do a PhD but I’m very glad I did!

When I first arrived at the University of Cambridge I had no children. When I left Cambridge with a PhD I had 3! I think I was attracted to Lucy Cavendish College as I thought this would be a supportive environment as a 33 year old female graduate student thinking of starting a family. 

My first impression of Lucy Cavendish was that I had made the right choice. My tutor was welcoming and understanding and I had a chance to meet other similar-aged female graduate students, some also from a medical background. 

One issue I did face was that my personal circumstances meant that I had to commute from Essex and this made it difficult to really feel integrated in student life. This wasn’t helped by the fact that due to clinical commitments I had to matriculate on my own. This was several weeks after starting my PhD and I remember my tutor being shocked at the fact that I didn’t know how to put on a gown, clearly revealing I had not attended any formals!

I had my first child after completing the first year of my PhD. This changed my life completely and I realised I would find it difficult to work full time. So I switched to part-time after a long discussion with my supervisor. I think I was determined to make this work and with the odds stacked against me (lab-based project and commuting from Chelmsford) it somehow did! On top of this I managed to have two more children before completing my PhD!

When I look back on my PhD now, was it hard? Yes. Did I make it harder for myself? Definitely. Would I change anything? No. I am back in medicine now and miss the challenge and stimulation of research, the amazing people I met and the feeling of being in control of when and how I did my work. 

I think if another woman approached me about starting a family whilst studying for an MPhil or PhD I would say do it. Embrace it but get yourself super organised. I wasn’t an organised person when I started my PhD but I am now. I used to plan my day in my head during my communte to work and start my day running. It’s not easy, and I usually arrived after others in my lab and had to leave earlier but I believe by increasing my efficiency and organisation I achieved as much if not more in my working day than my colleagues. 

My other advice would be to choose your supervisor wisely. Mine was a woman of a similar age with two young children and became a fantastic role model for me. 

I am currently working as a Senior Paediatric Registrar at Colchester Hospital and about to take up a Consultant post there next year. I have also just taken up a Clinical Lecturer post at a brand new undergraduate medical school at Anglia Ruskin University where I am lecturing in embryology and genetics and I’m head of undergraduate Paediatrics. I still only work 3 days a week which means I am lucky enough to be able to combine clinical and academic work with for me the most rewarding but often most challenging job of all - being a mum!

In this section

Blog Authors

Agata Kurczynska

Alexandra Alridge

Alice Middleton

Aline Maalouf

Alison Russell

Anna Svegborn

Anna Wong

Annalisa Occhipinti

Annika Brouwer

Anthea Bain

April Bowman

Ateka Tarajia

Barbara Bollig

Barbara Wittman

Bea Aldrich

Bethany Howarth & Ida Svenonius

Bonnie Samuyiwa

Carol Atack

Caroline Sier

Caroline Vinall

Cat Darsley

Catherine Palmer

Charlotte Fiehn

Cherish Watton

Christine Pungong

Clarissa Hjalmarsson

Connie Buettner

Dame Anne Owers

Disha Patel

Donna Baillie

Dorothy Heeneman

Dr Angela Morecroft

Dr Barbara Wittman

Dr Bryanna Fox

Dr Emanuela Orlando

Dr Henriette Hendriks and Dr Isobel Maddison

Dr Isobel Maddison

Dr Jo Johnson

Dr Louise Foxcroft

Dr Sarah Morgan

Dr Yvonne Zivkovic

Elinor George, LCCBC President

Elizabeth Forbes

Elizabeth Jurd

Ellen Gage

Ellen Verde

Eva Simmons

Florence Hazrat

Gem Duncan

Gemma Maitland

Georgia Good

Georgia Hume

Gill Heyworth

Hannah Hutchings-Georgiou

Helen Gibson

Hollie Wells

Ingrid Dixon

Isabel Clare

Jean Cosslett

Jeanette Ariano, Marketing Manager

Jen Aggleton

Jennifer Ellis

Jessica Henry

Jessica Lim

Jessica Phillips

Jessie Ingle

Jillinda Tiley

Jo Harcus

Joanna Walker

Jothi Reddy

Joy Haughton

Judith Roberts

Julia Hayes

Julia Nielsen

Kate Coghlan

Katerina Georgopoulou

Kathryn Handley

Ketaki Patel

Kyaelim Kwon

Laura Shepperson-Smith

Laura Tan

Leona Awoyele

Lindsay Malone

Lizzie Moore

Lottie Greenhaf

Lucia Linares

Mara González Souto

Marianna Kopsida

Marion Beauchamp

Mathilde Whitburn

Michelle Baikie

Molly Yarn

Myriam Goudet

Ning Sang Jessica Tan

Novriana Sumarti

Patricia Vazquez Rodriguez

Poly Frangou, Women's Captain

Raisa Ostapenko

Ruth Haynes

Salma Elnagar

Sarah Godlee

Sheelagh Drudy

Sheila Russell

Shoko Hirosue

Sofia Maroudia

Stephanie Ma

Sulema Jahangir

Susy Jepson

Suzanne Tonkin

Sylvia Lynn-Meaden

Tanya Brown

Teresa Ma

Tianqi Dong

Tilda Bowden

Tim Arnold

Tom Hawker-Dawson

Wai Wan (Vivian) SZE-TO

Wendy Pollard

Yun Chiang