Motherhood: Is it an obstacle or a motivation in a Woman’s career?
Motherhood is a feeling; it’s the best feeling. I am Dr Priyanka Verma, and I just started on my journey of motherhood two and a half months ago. After submitting my PhD thesis, I joined the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology in Bhopal, India as an Assistant Professor. It was a matter of great pride for me to be a part of such an Institute of National Importance and teach future nation-builders. I wanted to continue my research on real industrial topics and so I started looking for good post-doc opportunities.
In February 2021, I first received information about the “Marie Sklodowska-Curie Action” (MSCA) SMART 4.0 Fellowship. The main objective of the MSCA co-funded SMART 4.0 Fellowship with the CONFIRM Centre for Smart Manufacturing Research, is to deliver the next generation of Smart Manufacturing leaders. I was really excited when I heard about this, because it perfectly aligned with my life goals and so I started preparing the phase 1 proposal of my application for the MSCA fellowship.
Meanwhile, on the 15th March 2021, when I visited my gynecologist for a checkup, I found out that I was pregnant. There was no limit to the happiness I and my family felt when we got this news. We were all very excited to welcome a new member to the family. The gynecologist advised me not to spend more than 4 hours at a time on the laptop to protect my unborn baby’s health. However, it was impossible for me because I needed to achieve my goals, which required hard work and study, and usually a lot more than four hours laptop time! I was a little worried about this and wondered how I would manage. At that point, my husband, Dr Nitesh Bharot, and my complete family encouraged me and said that: “You can do it; nothing is impossible for you”. With this encouragement, I began preparing my proposal for the MSCA SMART 4.0 fellowship. In the meantime, I was also in touch with my supervisors, Prof. John Breslin and Prof. Donna O’Shea, for guidance to prepare the proposal. As the deadline to apply for Phase 1 of the fellowship was the 30th April 2021 and this date was approaching rapidly, I needed to prepare the proposal.
At the same time, my health was changing day by day, and I also needed to take care of that. I had to make a proper timetable to balance my health, work, family, and fellowship proposal preparation, which was quite challenging. I also had to balance the usual home-related responsibilities, so I tried to manage as best I could. At night, I studied some inspirational stories before sleeping so that my baby could listen and learn good things. Our family is a joint family in India; numbering eleven people, so, with all these life circumstances to contend with, I started concentrating on making the proposal.
Another challenge I had to face was COVID-19, during this period we had a second wave in India, and unfortunately, my husband, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law all tested positive. It was a tough time for my family. On the one hand, I was fully dedicated to my fellowship proposal and needed to take care of my pregnancy. On the other hand, it was challenging to nurse the family members affected by Covid-19. The last date for submitting the proposal was approaching; I needed to put in even more effort. I only sleep about 4 to 5 hours every night at that time and spent more of my time with the laptop than taking care of my family responsibilities. Thankfully though, my supervisors, John, and Donna, helped me a lot to come up with a really good proposal. After incorporating the suggestions from them, my proposal was now ready for submission, and I submitted it on time on the 30th of April 2021. On the 18th of May 2021, my PhD viva was completed, and I got my doctoral degree. It was a great day for my family and me because it was the result of 6 years of long, hard work. It is said that each baby brings luck and happiness for themselves, the family, and the mother, this was the first gift from the baby.
On the 10th June 2021, I received an email about the MSCA Smart 4.0 Fellowship Phase 1 outcome. When I opened this email and saw my result, I was ecstatic. I got through Phase 1 of the fellowship selection process – the second gift from my baby. Now I completely got involved in preparations for Phase 2 of the process, which was an interview; I wanted to get selected for this fellowship no matter what. I received guidelines for Phase 2 from my supervisors, I completed my PowerPoint slides and other preparations, and my phase 2 interview was held on the 8th July 2021.
At this point, I had completed four months of my pregnancy, and then the 15th July 2021 arrived, a massive day in my life. On this day at 9:48 PM Indian Standard Time, I received a mail titled “Marie Skłodowska-Curie SMART 4.0 fellowship, Call 3 – Phase 1,2 result – Priyanka Verma”. When I opened the e-mail and saw the result, tears welled up in my eyes, I was overjoyed. I had been selected as a “Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow”. I shared the good news with my husband and the whole family, and it was a tremendous achievement for us. This was the third and most significant gift from the baby about to be born.
In September 2021, I carried forward my teaching and research work and waited for the contract and hosting agreement to join the fellowship. During this time, three more of my research papers with students of the research group in my college also got accepted. I was very excited about the start of my fellowship, which was due to begin on 1st November 2021. When I met Dr Preeti Devpujari, my gynecologist, for a consultation and informed her about my fellowship selection, she was delighted with the news. I discussed the date of commencement of the fellowship with her and she said that because more than 26 weeks of my pregnancy had already passed, and due to the COVID-19 situation, air travel would not be appropriate for me. I shared this information with Susan Daly (who managed the MSCA fellowship at the CONFIRM Centre) and my supervisors. They congratulated me and said that I could postpone the fellowship for three months, and could start on the 1st February 2022. I was so thankful to Susan, my supervisors, and CONFIRM for this kindness. Officials from the National University of Ireland, Galway, had sent the fellowship contract, and they wanted the passport information of the new arrival for the hosting agreement.
On 8th December 2021, I left for my college at 8:00 AM. Shortly after, I started having severe labour pains. I was taken to the hospital from the college at 10:00 AM, and on the same day, 8th December 2021 at 1:00 PM, I became a mother. I gave birth to a baby boy named “Samarth”. I cannot express in words the feeling that I had after becoming a mother. Motherhood is that ocean of happiness that never gets empty and increases every day. Our whole family welcomed “Samarth”. We were all delighted. I saw the tears of joy in my husband’s eyes for the first time on that day when he held the baby in his hands. We were all congratulating each other.
The doctor advised me to stay in the hospital for seven days. After seven days, on the 15th December 2021, we arrived home. We took Samarth for his first outing to the passport office the next day. My baby was just eight days old, but we didn’t have any other option because we knew that if we wanted to reach Ireland on the 1st February 2022, we would have to complete the remaining procedures as soon as possible. We could only finalise the hosting agreement once we had Samarth’s passport.
On the 23rd December 2021, I received Samarth’s passport, which I shared with the NUI Galway officials. On the 5th January 2022, I received the hosting agreement. After that, we applied for the visa, and on the 18th January 2022, my husband, my son and I reached the Delhi visa office from Bhopal (Distance: 791 KM) after traveling for 10 hours, in the heavy cold weather.
On the 25th January 2022, we got our visa, and on the 31st January 2022 flew from New Delhi to Dublin. On 1st February 2022, I officially became a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow with CONFIRM, the SFI Research Centre for Smart Manufacturing at the National University of Ireland. This success was only possible because of hard work, patience, self-belief, motivation, and passion. It is up to every woman to see her responsibilities and roles as inspirations or hurdles to her life. In my case, motherhood became the source of motivation and encouragement to achieve my goals, not the hurdle in my life.
I am thankful to the CONFIRM Centre, Science Foundation Ireland, and the National University of Ireland, Galway, for providing this great opportunity. Together we all must make efforts to empower women and ensure that women get equal rights in society, can progress in their careers, and give a new direction to the country and the world. I also encourage the world’s women to seek out their careers in the STEM field. You can make your career in STEM, and your contribution supports building a better society, nation, and world.