Hannah McCormack – Can you have a successful career and be a mother while studying?

In this #YesSheCan blog, we talk to Hannah McCormack, an Academic Tutor. Hannah talks to us about her career journey and the challenges of juggling being a single mother and studying.

Can you tell us a bit about you and your career?

My name is Hannah McCormack and I am 37 years old. I live in Cornwall with my three children and my little cat Daisy.

I current juggle working part-time, caring for my children and working towards achieving a PhD. My ultimate career goal was to become a university lecturer and I achieved that goal last year.

Leading up to that, I was previously, a nursery practitioner, an early years teacher and a Special Educational Needs and Disability Co-ordinator.

As I am new to my role, I want to focus on my professional development and continue to progress within it.

What does a typical day in your career look like?

My days are quite different from one day to other. I work from home and deliver face-to-face lectures.

My day can consist of teaching and supporting students, marking their work and giving them good quality feedback, checking and responding to emails and writing lecturers/course materials. 

What made you choose this career/industry/line of work?

I have also had a passion for education and supporting young children. I have gained the experience and knowledge to support others in starting their own career. I want to pass on my knowledge and experience to them.

“We are all human and cannot always neatly compartmentalise work and our personal lives.”

What is an important initiative that you feel passionate about in your role?

The most important initiative in my role is the opportunity to work flexible and not have the motto of  “leave your personal life at the door”. We are all human and cannot always neatly compartmentalise work and our personal lives.

This then transfers to the students I work with as I appreciate that although they are committed to undertaking a degree, life happens and continues to happen around them.

Sometimes their commitment is needed elsewhere and it is my role to support them and make any adjustments to enable them to do that. There is a strong initiative around mental health and well-being, and need to be proactive in supporting ourselves and others.

What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed?

I want to break my family’s cycle of deprivation and wanted more for myself and subsequently my children. I am the only member of my family to have proceeded through higher education and have the drive to succeed.

I have dyslexia, dyspraxia and am potential autistic. I was also told by a primary school teacher at the age of 8 that I would never accomplish anything in life. This statement has stuck with me and I wanted to prove them wrong but also I wanted to inspire others who may not have had the best childhood or afforded opportunities to see that with determination you can become more than anyone may expect of you.

What’s great about being a female in your role?

I am empowered as a female to do my role and I hope that being visual as a woman in a high position will empower other women.

What is your biggest achievement in life?

My biggest achievement is reaching the goal of entering into the sector of my chosen career. It has been my ambition to be a university lecturer and I have achieved that. My next greatest achievement will be to successfully complete my PhD and to gain the title of Dr.

“Asking for help is not a weakness or a failure, it is a temporal thing that will help you to succeed and become stronger.”

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way?

The biggest lesson I have learnt is not to give up, to keep going even though you do not feel you have the strength to do so.

Life is hard sometimes and it can feel like you are constantly being hit with barriers that take all your energy and willpower to overcome. But you do overcome them, and sometimes you need some support from others to do that.

Another lesson I have learnt is to ask for help, ask for advice and ask for support. Asking for help is not a weakness or a failure, it is a temporal thing that will help you to succeed and become stronger.

Have you ever felt that your gender has brought unnecessary challenges to your career?

Speaking from personal experience, I think being a female, working, and a single parent has been one of the significant challenges and barriers I continue to have to negotiate.

The cost of childcare, in addition to the general rise in the cost in living, is another huge impact. Many working parents rely on childcare such as nurseries and before and after school clubs to enable them to go to work. However, this is an additional financial outgoing, as office hours typically exceeded beyond the end of the 3pm school day.

This financial outgoing significantly increases during school holidays, as school is based on a term-time calendar and not always reflective on a working, all-year round calendar.

Furthermore, children get sick, which means they cannot go to school or nursery, which leaves me in a predicament, where I have to take a day off from work to care from them.

My children do not typically get sick at the same time, they take it turns and pass it on as the previous one has recovered, which again further extends the period of time I have to take off from work.

My current employer is very accommodating and flexible in terms of supporting working parents, however, with other previous employers, this has not always been the case.

Although it is only a personal reflection, I do feel that I have been overlooked for promotion because I have been tarnished with the unfair brush of being unreliable due to juggling childcare. I have also turned down promotions because they required me to work full-time, all year round.

Some working parents are fortunate to be able to rely on other family members to take care of their children, but this is not possible for all parents like myself.

Also with the state pension and retirement age steady increasing, more extended family members are finding themselves in work and not able to take over some of the shared responsibility of childcare.

Due to the continuing gender pay gap, it often makes financial sense for women to work part-time to be able to take over the childcare role. At one point in my career, I was working full time but 80% of my earnings were going to childcare.

It did not make financial sense for me to continue to work full time and I also felt like I was missing quality time with my children.

However, by reducing my hours to part-time, I felt I had given up part of my own identity and what I loved to do. Children will always take priority so this was a choice I had to make.

“I have been overlooked for promotions because I have been tarnished with the unfair brush of being unreliable due to juggling childcare.”

Outside your work, what are your favourite hobbies and pastimes?

Outside my work, I am foremost a parent and carer to my children who have additional medical needs and disabilities.

I run a stay-and-play group once a week to support other parents of children with additional needs. I am also studying for my PhD, so a lot of my time is taken up with parenting and academic endeavours.

However, quite fortunately my favourite pastime is reading, finding out more about things and writing – all necessary skills for undertaking a PhD. Some people have taken up a sport or gardening, I take up degrees. It is what I enjoy and is my passion.

Although I do try to carve out some time where I can just be Hannah, I go for a walk and reset my mind in the calmness of a woodland walk or sit by the sea and listen to the waves. Even if it is just 10 minutes out of my day, it is important to do it.

Do you have a mantra you live your life by?

My mantra is to stand up for yourself and others and always treat people as a reflection of how you want to be treated. Show conviction in your own beliefs and values, but respect those whose views may be different to your own.

What three tips would you give to young females starting their careers?

  • You career is personal to you, you need to pursue it for yourself.


  • As you get older and progress through your career, you change as a person and your priorities may change. If it is never to late to change paths or start over again.


  • Utilise every opportunity you are given and fight for opportunities that aren’t.
“Some people have taken up a sport or gardening, I take up degrees. It is what I enjoy and is my passion.”

What is the best bit of advice that you have ever been given and by who? 

My best bit of advice was given to me as an undergraduate student by a female lecturer who said to me to ‘stop worrying about what anybody else thinks of you, do not let anyone judge you who you would not take advice from.’

Only you know what success is to you and only you can be the measurement of that. Your sense of success and accomplishment is different to somebody else’s but it is never less than theirs.

Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

It is very hard to identify just one woman as many women impact my life without me or them realising it.

On a personal level, I did not have strong female role models around me and grew up in a very patriarchal family. However, significant women who have impacted my life are some amazing writers such as Maya Angelou, Margaret Atwood and George Eliot to name but a few.

Their passion to write about issues that they know will be met with retribution, but still, stand strong in making sure their voice is heard.

What are your key motivators?

My predominant motivators is firstly to be a good role model to my children, and instil values in them that will enable them to be whomever they chose to be. Secondly, I want to be an advocate and a voice for others that have been silenced or not been heard.

I am not suggesting that I single-handedly create a utopic society or change government policy through my carer or research where everyone has equity.

However, I do want to strive to create a ripple of thought and start a meaningful narrative where, individuals, policymakers, other professionals – old and new to the education sector to – question their own assumptions and be more active in balancing the imbalance around equality and equity.

“Their passion to write about issues that they know will be met with retribution, but still, stand strong in making sure their voice is heard.”

Do you think enough is being done by businesses to address gender imbalance? 

I do not think it is entirely the responsibility of a business to address gender imbalances. Yes, they can make changes to operational systems, their training and awareness of gender imbalances and improve their work based policies and procedures.

However, it needs to go beyond businesses and more done by government policymakers. There needs to be bigger shifts in societal constructions and ‘norms’ of gender, narrowing of pay gaps and widening opportunities for women, especially working parents.

What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?

Be confident in your own ability and know your value and your self-worth. I still struggle with imposter syndrome and self-doubt at times and something I continue to work on as a point of professional and personal development.

I think typically (without coming across as too gender stereotypical), leadership positions and high achieving individuals in career roles are often occupied by men. Social norms have conditioned us to subconsciously think we have something to prove and need to ‘be as good, if not better’ than our male colleagues, just to prove to ourselves and others that that we have ‘earned’ our position.

So my advice is, the best starting position for women aiming for leadership positions is to be confident in yourself, know your worth and be unapologetic in the belief you have in your own ability.

What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?

Although quite a cliche, I think it still holds significant relevance in leadership; “you are only as strong as your weakest link”.

Leadership is about supporting and leading the team around you. If you want to be respected and valued in a leadership role, you need to earn that by respecting and valuing your team. This very much included supporting other women too; we need to create a working culture where we do not see other women as competition but as an opportunity to strengthen gender equality through supporting each other.

Having this approach supports a healthy work environment and increases the team’s overall well-being and productivity.

“We need to create a working culture where we do not see other women as competition but as an opportunity to strengthen gender equality through supporting each other.”

What would you say to your 16-year-old self?

It gets better, then it gets hard, then it gets worse – but ultimately it gets better and it gets easier. The battles will make you the person you need to be.

If you could do anything differently in your career, what would it be?

I would say I would if I could reset the clock, I would have started my career earlier but then if I had would it of made me the person that I am? It is hard to start a career at the same time as starting a family, and yes there would be times I thought it would have been easy to progress in my career before I had children.

However, I also think they are my motivation for doing what I do.

If you’re interested in reading more about our Role Models in the education sector, you can read Daisy Richard’s blog here.

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