For several years throughout my PhD my father had been sick with a number of kidney and heart problems. And if I wanted to or not, it had affected my personal and work life back then.
Some days were extra difficult, when I knew he had another surgery and his situation got worse. I did not share any of that with my colleagues or supervisor, because I felt this was too personal to discuss and I did not want to discuss these emotional & challenging topics at work.
During all these years I was trying to do my best and still keep up with the tough working schedule I had. And yet again I managed and I did my lab work, meetings and all the other tasks quite well. My father was asking how my PhD was going and he said he was so looking forward to seeing me at my defence. Probably that was my motivation to work even harder.
One day that was not possible for me and I reached my limits, as my father fell in a coma shortly before Christmas. No one could say, if we would wake up and how his recovery would be. That was a turning point for me, as the pressure got too much. It took me a lot of guts, but I disclosed my personal circumstance to a colleague and my supervisor. The feedback was positive and supportive and I felt so relieved.
First and foremost I wanted to be there for my father and my family and did not want to worry about paper deadlines or teaching obligations. It helped me so much, to just be with my family and spent hours talking with each other. Other colleagues, who I did not tell about what I was going through complained about my lack of commitment to work. Since I have experienced this, I am trying to be kind within my working environment, because you simply never know what the other person is going through.
After the Christmas break, in which I already said “good bye” to my father I came back from Germany to Maastricht. I was going back to work, because I simply wanted to take my mind of the situation just for a little bit. In the coming weeks my father`s situation did not improve and at the end of January I received a phone call from my brother that my father has passed away. I went back to Germany to organize the funeral, together with my mother, my brother and my sister. In hindsight that time has been a blur, but definitely has been very hard. To this date, January is the worst month for me. But on the other hand I am more grateful for what I have, such as my own health and two amazing children.
Overall, I can say from my personal experience that opening up about my personal difficulties has helped me and I have continued to speak up, as soon as I felt that the work load got too much. My supervisor team allowed me for a while to focus only on myself and get better again. Locking back I can say that (almost) all my worries disappeared, once I realized that my promoter team was so supportive during several difficult months. From this experience I have learned to be more open and honest in my academic work environment, which at least in my case has lead to only positive feedback since then and has improved the work atmosphere a lot.
by Anna Schueth