Fiona Houston, a PhD candidate of First World War Literature at the University of Aberdeen, reflects on the benefits of the part-time PhD road she didn’t initially intend to travel, but now wouldn’t necessarily trade for a more straightforward path.
I’m a part time PhD student.
It wasn’t through choice. I applied many (many) times to get funding, and every time I got rejected I convinced myself that next year would be the year; that I wouldn’t have to juggle research with my part time job for much longer. Two years later, I still have no funding, and I still have that job. But actually, it may not be a bad thing.
In practice: doing research part time actually gives you the best (and worst) of both worlds.
It’s true that when I spend time with my “career friends” (those who graduated years ago, managed to get two feet firmly on the job ladder not long after, are looking at buying houses, choosing fashion outfits for their dogs…) it’s easy to feel a bit disheartened. I struggle to keep up with their (relatively modest) spending habits and often feel like a financial burden; while they complain about mortgage prices, I’m still pre-occupied with the on-going battle between my housemates over the washing-up; and there is always the constant, niggling fear that I will never reach the point where I have a successful career with enough money to buy my shampoo from somewhere other than Poundland.
DESPITE ALL THIS, however, there is something brilliant and rewarding about taking your time with your research. Having a job protects your brain from exploding through constant application to academic enquiry. It also serves as a cure for the loneliness of an empty PhD office day after day (this may be a personal experience, but over the last two years I have found it to be a rare occurrence that one of my office mates has managed to drag themselves onto campus in order to study). Plus, you should never underestimate how vital it can be to escape your thesis and talk to people who have NOTHING to do with research or academia, let alone how beneficial it can be to have a routine enforced upon you by the necessity of turning up to paid work on a daily basis.
Plus, you have the chance to potentially develop career skills whilst working towards your doctorate: I have become a pretty proficient secretary in my time working in administration, and am now much more employable because of this. It’s true that I often feel like I am not able to experience the full PhD life: I don’t have time to attend every forum and I haven’t managed to edit any journals yet. But that’s the best thing about studying part time: I still have three years left to do all those things!
My thesis will (please God!) be the longest thing I ever have to write; why would I want to rush it? Five years gives me time to reflect on my subject matter, and develop as an academic; I hope that my work will be more mature as a result of that.
And so: I’m a part time PhD student. And perhaps that wasn’t what I intended. But I’m not sure now that I would do it any differently.