Memoirs of a Saudi Ph.D. student: The art of stepping back

By : Htoon Kadi

I have always believed that women are excellent at multitasking. It is amazing how they manage to cook, feed a baby, talk on the phone and watch television at the same time with much ease. I loathe those who argue, “But men are creative and more devoted, come and see how many celebrity chefs, fashion designers, makeup artists etc. are there.”

I would say that although they might have excelled in one area but the celebrity chef might end up cooking leaving the kitchen in a complete mess. Not only that he would literally hang in there and would not be able to do anything else. OK, I know I sound a bit overdramatic men-hating feminist. I feel like writing all this because due to my multitasking skills, I had to give up something I really liked.

Last September, I received an e-mail calling on interested people to file nominations for “school representatives.” It’s a voluntary position that serves as an intermediary channel within the social science faculty — coordinating between different departments.

On receiving the e-mail, I had an adrenaline rush and I imagined myself walking between offices receiving students’ complaints and suggestions. In my imaginations I saw myself fighting for the school and insisting on providing all the researchers with new computers and free coffee and snacks followed by lunch. OK, I went a bit too far and to cut the long story short, I really wanted to make a difference and represent my school the way it deserved.

Following the permission from my supervisor, I sent across the nomination and thereafter appointed as the school representative.

I started my new role full of enthusiasm and I used to attend all meetings and in all of them I was a very active member and I used to suggest and participate a lot, until about 3 months ago. I entered a very crucial phase of my Ph.D., which demanded of me to spend more time on my research. I never expected this phase to be so demanding. In addition to my studies, I also write and produce my YouTube show and above all I am a mother of two school-going children.

Of course, as a natural consequence my work as the school representative started to suffer. I could not respond to e-mails on time and started skipping meetings without giving prior notice. Honestly, I got so busy that I did not even know, at times, when the meeting would be held. During that same period, an event was organized titled “Faculty Forum.” Initially, I remained very active and even helped in suggesting the theme and participants but unfortunately due to busy schedule I could not attend the event.

I just kept telling myself, “It’s OK everyone skips one meeting or the other sometime. It’s OK, at least you are better than others who attend meetings but do not participate.” I kept on coming up with excuses until I realized that things were working neither for me nor for my school. I realized that I was fooling myself and being multitasking woman did not mean tasks would not collide. They might not only collide but they might cause disasters. I then decided that it was time to step back and call it off. I e-mailed the head of the Faculty Forum and informed him that due to my poor performance lately, I wish to withdraw and I hope that this position will be filled by someone who can really work with commitment for the forum.

Stepping back and being honest with oneself is not a sign of weakness, it’s a form of strength to accept our weaknesses and limitations as human beings, and what I used to do was not admitting my limitations which resulted in me pushing myself to the extreme limit with a poor performance.

“Stepping back at the right time,” is an art we all need to master.






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