You’ve thought about it for a while now. The idea of working full-time while pursuing a PhD has been stuck in the back of your mind like gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe. Is it possible to do both at the same time?
You can do a PhD while holding down a full-time job, but it won’t be easy as they will both use a lot of your time. But if you are passionate, have good time management skills, and respond to pressure in a positive way then you can do it. To have the best chance of success, this is best done by people with minimal family commitments. First talk with your boss and PhD supervisor to make sure that you have their support.
We go into more detail about things you need to consider before deciding on if studying a PhD with a full-time job is the right choice for you.
Sacrificing Free Time is Necessary to do a PhD and Work at the Same Time
Even with the best time management skills in the world, you’ll be required to make sacrifices if you plan to work and do graduate study at the same time. Even if you’re a part-time student, you’ll still be expected to devote about 20 hours per week to your studies. That, plus the commitment of full-time work means you’ll be busy for roughly 60 hours each week. You’ll need to accept that this diminishes your time for socializing and hobbies.
Less free time makes it even more important that you see getting your PhD as worth it. This is a years-long commitment. You should be passionate about your course of study and motivated to see it through even though it means changing parts of your lifestyle.
Working While Studying for Your PhD Requires Time Management Skills
Are you organized and reliable when it comes to deadlines? If you plan to work full-time while pursuing a PhD, you need to be able to practice time management. Otherwise, you will struggle more than you have to in order to keep on top of everything you need to get done. The Australian Christian College published a post about important time management skills for students. They include goal-setting, prioritization, organization, and managing stress. Do you already have habits in place that encourage these behaviors? If not, you probably want to work on them before putting too much on your plate.If you are already good at managing your time and avoiding burn out, taking on PhD studies and a full-time job will be less stressful for you, and that means you’re more likely to successfully complete your degree while working.
Discuss Your PhD Plans with Your Boss
It’s easier to work full-time and earn your PhD if you can discuss your situation with your boss.
Talk with your boss about your PhD plans. They may be willing to work with you on rearranging your work hours to fit your class schedule. If you often brought work home after office hours, you should let them know that probably won’t be feasible anymore.
If the job you’re currently working is related to your field of study, then letting your boss know you plan to further your education in that area may even open job opportunities and advancements at your current workplace.
Get Advice about Work-Study Options from Your PhD Supervisor
When accepted into a PhD program, you get an academic supervisor. These individuals have experience in your field of study and are there to help you on your PhD journey. That being said, you need to take the initiative to ensure the relationship benefits you. The University of South Australia recommends students hold regular meetings with their supervisors, be prepared for supervisory sessions, keep notes during your sessions, submit regular progress reports, and discuss your working relationship with them.
Inform your supervisor that you’re planning on working full-time while studying. This helps them understand your situation, and they may have tips on how to study well while working. They might know the best courses to take online for an easier schedule, or, if you’re an international student, what the university’s rules about how many hours a week international students are allowed to work.
A Part-Time PhD Makes Balancing Work and Study Easier
If you’re set on maintaining a full work week while studying, a part-time PhD is might be a better option for you. Your course load will be lighter, making juggling work and study more manageable. Just keep in mind that ‘a light load’ is still extra load. Your going to have to make some changes from to your current circumstances if you take this on.
It will take you more time to reach your degree, and part-time PhD candidates may take up to six years to finish their schooling. And you need to consider potential opportunity cost that comes with that if you put career progression on hold, or things like building a family, until later in life.
Online Programs Are a Great Option if You Have a Full-Time Job
A number of universities have PhD programs that are completely online. These are nice because they fit better around your work schedule. If you like taking courses online, see if your program has an accredited online option.
Online PhD programs may even be more affordable than traditional on-campus programs because you don’t have to worry about needing to move to live close to the university you’re accepted into. That means it’s easier to keep your current job while studying too.
Certain PhDs are better suited for online study than others. Programs that need a lot of research, lab work, or just benefit more from in-person teaching won’t transfer to an online format well (such as medical or art degrees). Other areas, however, fit nicely into an online program, including computer, business, and humanities degrees. So, while it’s convenient for working to complete a PhD online, check that it’s a good choice for your focus area.
Working Can Mean Loss of Financial Aid for Your PhD
Income from a full-time job can disqualify you from certain scholarships or other financial aid. Need-based financial aid goes to students with low income levels. If your full-time job provides you a decent to high level of income, your financial aid will be limited.
On the other hand, if your work still leaves you in the lower income bracket, you need to decide if it’s worth it to continue working full-time while studying or if applying for financial aid and not working so many hours is the better option.
What to Consider Before Doing a PhD While Working
Completing a PhD takes a lot of hard work even when you’re a full-time student without a job on the side. It will require even more time and effort if you are planning to work full-time alongside your coursework and research. According to Australia’s University of Melbourne, students in their PhD programs should expect to spend around 40 hours per week studying if they are a full-time student and 20 hours per week if they are a part-time student. Are you willing to devote that much time to your schooling while also working?
If so, then another aspect to reflect on is how much the area of study will benefit you. Is it a program that helps (or is necessary for) your career path? Is it a better way to reach your career goals than by gaining work experience? If not, it might not be worth the extra cost, time, and stress.
Make a Decision about Your PhD and Work Options
So, can you do a PhD with a full-time job? Technically, yes, but it’s not a situation suited for everyone. Make sure this is what you really want and that you can manage it. If you’re ready to take this path, you’ll need to remain dedicated, good with your time, and willing to work with those in your work and university life to make the experience the best it can be.
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