Changing to a part-time PhD…

…by Bethany / from England / studying Classics / 3rd year (PhD)

Postgraduate study is as difficult and time-consuming as it is rewarding – there’s no doubt about that. Add paid work and the desire for a life outside of campus, and it can be tough to balance. What happens when all the time-management workshops and planning in the world can’t stop something from slipping?

I don’t receive a stipend, so I work alongside my PhD studies. The catalogue of jobs I worked over the first two years of my PhD is extensive: conference organiser, tech start-up freelancer, student ambassador, research assistant, disability computing support assistant, graduate tutor. Whilst I managed to pay the bills, and even present at a couple of international conferences, my research output began to slip. My supervisors worried about my ability to complete the PhD in the normal 3-4 year timeframe.

“Whilst I managed to pay the bills, and even present at a couple of international conferences, my research output began to slip”

Something had to give. I couldn’t give up working; despite my strict budgeting system, there are always bills to pay. I knew I was working more hours than the University recommended for full-time PhD students (University guidance), but try telling my credit card provider that! I couldn’t give up all of my free time and social life; some rest and relaxation is essential for mental health. The PhD is an academic marathon, and giving up all self-care would lead to burn-out. But, I also couldn’t give up on the PhD. Getting my doctorate and trying my luck at an academic career has been my dream for a long time.

Bethany cat.jpg
 It can be difficult to balance work and other responsibilities – such as kitten parenting – with PhD study.

This is when I thought about pursuing my PhD part-time. If you can’t meet your goals, I thought, then maybe it’s time to move the goalposts. Generally speaking, engaging in part-time study means you halve the time commitment of the degree. For instance, a part-time taught Master’s student may take half as many modules a semester as a full-time student, and complete the degree in two years rather than one. In a part-time PhD, each ‘year’ would become two years. If you studied part-time from the outset, then a 3-4 year PhD would take 6-8 part time.

“If you can’t meet your goals, I thought, then maybe it’s time to move the goalposts”

The great thing is that many courses allow you to switch between full-time and part-time study. Switching to part-time in my third year of study would give me another 2-4 years to finish, rather than 1-2. I discussed the prospect with my supervisors, and switched to part-time in September 2017.

Now I’m part-time, I’m producing the same amount of work as before, but my research output matches my supervisors’ expectations. Most of my income comes from hourly paid tutoring for Classics and Philosophy at the University, and the rest through a small assortment of side-hustles. And, most importantly, I’m in a much better place for my mental health. The stress and worry around missing targets dissolved when my targets became more realistic and achievable. On top of all that, I still have time for my wonderful boyfriend and our kitten. For me, part-time study has made it easier to balance all of my responsibilities: my research, work, and home life.

If you’re thinking about pursuing part-time study, check that it’s compatible with your visa requirements: part-time PhD study

Bethany Parsons is a PhD candidate in Classics at the University of Edinburgh. She blogs about philosophy, antiquity, and teaching at www.bethanyparsons.com.


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