PhD turns work at home mom. You probably know by now that I hold a PhD in biochemistry and used to work in a lab. You might not know that I quit that whole thing right after receiving the grade to go to Morocco where I worked at times for less than 3 bucks an hour. And no, I didn’t do development assistance or important alphabetization courses. I worked to make ends meet. Simple as that.
This post is about my personal journey to being a work at home mom. Please mind that it is not a clever how-to-guide but an inspiration for anyone to make a difference from whatever background you are starting.
My first career – broken and broke
I always had some kind of passion for learning and researching. I can easily get into something and think that there is something about everything. In my life, I have read books on just about anything from child psychology to flight engineering. But I had a hard time choosing the one thing I wanted to pursue professionally. I procrastinated to decide on that literally to the last minute. Finally, I found myself with a university place in the German town of Bochum to study biology. And I did just that solely because I didn’t know anything better. Again, I would procrastinate and just move on through all the exams and all of a sudden it was over. I still couldn’t really decide what to do and did the next obvious thing that almost everybody in life sciences does: work on becoming a PhD.
I was not happy and I was not passionate about what I was doing. After almost five years in an international academic research lab, the research group moved to a new place several hundred miles away. I decided to not go with them but that it was time for me to start writing the graduate thesis and defense my thesis. I had been delaying this for some time and the moving was a chance to finally rule off that thing.
Transitional phase in the land of sundown
Meanwhile, my husband had left for Casablanca, Morocco, to work. I joined him with a suitcase and my laptop. We rented an apartment that was empty and equipped it with a mattress, a couch, a 2-burner gas stove and a big carpet. And the most filthiest used fridge ever. Additionally, like most Moroccan apartments, ours had built-in shelves and closets. And yet, we lived out of our suitcases more or less. But we just had no nest egg. (And no health insurance, either, which is really scary for Germans.) My husband just finished his studies and I had been paid with a small scholarship.
I wrote my thesis on a mattress with my laptop on my knees. When I needed to go online I had to use a wireless USB modem and then wait for AGES for one website to be loaded. It was painful! In addition, I forgot my mouse in Germany and me, the touchpad hater, had to learn to navigate without a mouse. Talking ’bout resilience.
Six months later, I received a magna cum laude PhD and still didn’t know what to do with it. The next obvious thing was either to take on a post-doc position in another academic research lab or go to work in the pharmaceutical industries for big bucks. But I just couldn’t bring myself to apply for either of these. I felt empty. I had invested eleven years of my life, only to reach a dead-end.
So, we finally took the plunge and moved to Morocco completely, with all our stuff in a container. Because my husband was working full-time in Morocco I had to organize this container moving. I tried to move our things by truck but I found that shipping a container was far less expensive if you move from Germany to Morocco. (It was different on the way back later.) Importing the entire stuff in Morocco was painful and nerve-wracking as was preparing everything for being moved in a container over the sea (#bubblewrap nightmare). But finally, we did it and once everything was unpacked I immediately felt at home.
After that, I had a lot of time to fill as my husband was working Monday to Saturday. Additionally, it was soon clear that we needed some extra money, especially if I ever wanted to go and see my family in Germany.
My worst paid job EVER
Not only I then took on an underpaid job but I assume I am the only person in the world that holds a PhD, worked for 2,50 Dollar/hour AND was happy at the same time.
If you are anything like me, personal finances don’t come easily to you. It’s just not in my blood. I don’t think about monetary values a lot. I wanted something interesting to do, be around people and – of course – earn a little extra to make ends meet. So, I sent out a few resumes knowing I will probably never hear back from anyone.
Also, I went to a well-known German cultural association that is mostly recognized for teaching German throughout the world. It was great to talk German again and learn from people who had been living in Morocco for many years. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be employed as an instructor for German as I had hoped. In fact, there are mostly freelancers teaching. But I don’t have a degree in teaching, German philology or some related field. Instead, the manager asked me to help as they have an ongoing demand for committed people. They told me helpers earn 25 Moroccan Dirham (2,50 US Dollar) per hour without a contract. I said I was ok with that. Hey, that is tax-free!
I joyfully said yes and even got the chance to be trained as a lecturer. In the months to come, I spent a lot of time there. I decluttered the storage, wrote a manual for new co-workers, created posters and did everything else the manager asked me to do. I was the perfect helper.
But actually, I did all of this to be employed one day. That day came and I got a four-month working contract for the headquarter in another town. I had to declutter and reorganize the whole totally messy archive and – for good reasons – swear to secrecy. My salary jumped up and they paid my train tickets, too. I was over the moon.
Unfortunately, four months were over soon. I didn’t want to go back being a helper and they didn’t offer anything else at that point.
… and disappointment
My time with “the Germans” was over. My applications elsewhere remained unanswered. That’s when a friend introduced me to Textbroker. I have shared before how I started making 500 Dollar extra each month with Textbroker. I was brand-new to working at home. But I soon realized that this is something great! I discovered that I had more skills than I thought. My broad spectrum of interests now paid off.
Writing and helping others is something I had always enjoyed. Could I really make a living out of this?? From the comfort of my home???
I remember the first progress report I had to write as a PhD student. My professor told me it was unreadable, or to be exact, uncorrectable, because it was not scientific but rather a letter to a friend. Man, that hurt! After that, I worked hard on improving my writing skills and my results did get better. I never thought that this lesson was one of the most valuable ones during my dissertation.
With Textbroker as a stepping stone, I moved on to being a freelance writer with an expertise in natural sciences. And now I work on my blog to share what I have learned and have a creative outlet beyond just writing what others want me to write about.
A fresh start
Additionally, I now could start working whenever I wanted. No commute! That was a huge win because, in Casablanca, commuting costs time, money, and a lot of nerve.
Though it was a rocky road sometimes, I now have freedom and comfort at work. I set my own schedule that suits my needs as a wife, mom, and homemaker. And I can work in any place of the world as long as I have access to the Internet.
Most importantly, I can make sure that my daughter gets all the love and attention she deserves. She comes first and I can decide to have her home with me anytime.
My list of working at home benefits
- No costs of commuting
- I set my own priorities
- No preparing and packing of lunch
- No people harassing me at work or in the bus
- I am around if my little one is sick
- No extra hours for my little one in daycare
- No after work invitations I have to put down
- I set my own schedule
- Not being asked if I was suppressed
- No feelings of not fitting in
- Not being the weirdo that doesn’t drink alcohol
- Not being constantly asked why I don’t drink
- Freedom! Not tied to a certain location
I since live in Germany but I still work from home. And I am determined to keep doing so. Maybe one day we can go back to Morocco or any place we like. Working from home I have the freedom to decide where that home is.
I hope that every mom will have the opportunity to stay home with her kids and still make money if she chooses to do so. And I will share what I have learned on my blog so that maybe I can help others figure out how to stay at home and still make a difference.
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