Undertaking doctoral study can be an overwhelming process, especially for students who are working part- or full-time during their studies.

Many students are also growing their own families, or dealing with aging parents. How can a firm commitment to a doctoral program be balanced with the needs of the family and a career?

The first step may be understanding that while it’s not always possible to achieve a perfect balance, you can still strive for it. Several Capella University doctoral advisors and alumni offer valuable suggestions.


1. Micro-manage your time.

Capella Senior Doctoral Advisor Michael Franklin says, “You have to be very intentional. You’ve got to micro-manage your time, and be very clear with yourself and others. Getting a doctorate is like having a second full-time job—it takes planning and goal-setting.”

Capella PhD graduate Ardith R. agrees, and describes how she used micro-management to keep the work in control: “I reviewed the syllabus carefully before the start of each class, planned out self-imposed due dates on the calendar as to when I would complete discussion responses, drafts of assignments, etc., so that I had time to review and revise if necessary. I would also do a little bit of writing and researching every day.”


2. Establish school time.

Capella PhD graduate Mark L. says: “Carve out a specific time to focus on your schoolwork—preferably a time when you are at your most productive. Let your family know that this is your time for schoolwork and you don’t wish to be disturbed. Keep to that time each day or week so that it’s easy for everyone to remember.”

Explain to friends and family that you won’t respond to emails, texts, and calls then, and have a system in place for reaching you if an emergency arises.


3. Establish family time.

Plan on having some family time every day, and schedule a special family event once a week. Not only will they appreciate it, but involving your family in what you’re going through might lead to unexpected support, as Capella graduate Alana S. discovered. “When I started my PhD program, my daughter had just entered Pre-K,” she says. “Whenever I asked her about her homework, she asked me about my homework, too. Before we made any plans, she always asked about my school work!”


4. Re-evaluate and reflect.

As much as you may want to plan out every day so that you know exactly how much time you can devote to each part of your life, it’s not always going to work that way. No matter how hard you plan, things will inevitably come up that throw your schedule off kilter.

Re-evaluation and reflection will help you understand what is and isn’t working, so you can readjust schedules and commitments to get back on track.


 5. Connect with others going through the same thing.

Doctoral students often find online support groups helpful. For example, Capella has a private Facebook community for students, where everyone understands what you’re going through. And, in dissertation and capstones courserooms, doctoral students working with a particular mentor can interact with and support one another.


6. Use your time wisely.

Mark L. says, “When you find yourself with a little spare time between meetings, classes, or the kids’ soccer games, use it to your advantage. Do a few minutes of research for an upcoming assignment, check in with your professor with any questions that you may have, make a quick call for work—anything that you check off your to-do list can free up time later in the day.”



Capella University offers PhD and professional doctoral degree programs ranging from business to education and nursing to psychology. Learn more about Capella’s online doctoral programs