Flexibility and support key to balancing parenting and a PhD

21 February 2019

Taking on a PhD is a major life decision for anyone. But starting a PhD just three months after becoming a parent - that's a daunting prospect few would consider taking on.

Suha Naser-Khdour completed her undergraduate and Master's degrees in Engineering in her homeland of Israel, before working in the pharmaceutical industry for five years. When she arrived in Canberra with her husband last year, she had her sights set on doing her PhD.

"I searched the ANU website and saw this project with Rob Lanfear, working in Bioinformatics. It looked really interesting so I thought I'd just email him and see. He said, 'why don't you come and work with me as a volunteer and see if you like it.'

Suha joined his lab and found that she enjoyed using her mathematics and computer science skills in a field she hadn't previously worked in.

"I'm working with bioinformatics, looking at the mathematical models used to predict relationships between species, and trying to fix existing models and develop more realistic models," she said.

A few months later Suha decided to go ahead and apply to do her PhD. It was a tough decision, as she was expecting a baby. 

"To complete my PhD - that was my dream from the beginning. So there's this dilemma: do I give up my dream and have a child? Or do I do both? I thought 'I'll take my chances and try to do both'."

She advised her supervisor Dr Rob Lanfear that she was pregnant, and was due to give birth a few months before she would begin her PhD.

"He was really supportive. He said if I needed more time with my baby before beginning my PhD that's ok. But I had committed to starting my study in February so that's what I did."

Her daughter now attends a childcare centre on campus, and things are settling into a busy but manageable routine for Suha and her family.