PhD

Several parts may never equal a whole

The time has finally come to make a decision, despite a number of funding applications that reached varying places in the process, I find myself in June without funding for the new academic year. Luckily, I still have a full time job but I now have two options: To start the whole process again next year or to opt to self fund and start my PhD part-time.

This is something I have had mixed feelings about over the last year, swinging from all for it and it being a preferable option to not wanting to consider it at all. Nadine Muller’s excellent blog Brains, Time, Money has certainly killed off some of my demons about unworthiness of research regarding missing out on funding however one issue still is playing on my mind, that of identity.

You see, for the past four years I have juggled work, life and part time study to complete my BA and my MA. It’s not always been plain sailing but it has worked well for me as I have been able to balance when and how I study on my terms. What I have struggled with is my status as a ‘real student’. Working in education, I don’t have the freedom to take leave when I want to and have a fixed day where I’m not in work in the week. This means the conferences and seminars I can attend are limited. In addition my colleagues don’t see my day when I’m not in work as a study day but ‘my day off’ and my studies as no more than a hobby. Is makes forging an identity as a student harder than if it was a full time endeavour as I often feel I have to justify why my ‘hobby’ has to take priority at times.

The combination of being considered ‘a part timer’ at work, not a ‘real student’ and having to juggle a real life (not exactly being a happy care free twenty something anymore) makes the prospect of carrying onto a PhD as a part-timer a daunting prospect. Yet, I find myself still considering it and actively favouring it over attempting to try again for full time funding again next year.

My thinking on the topic over the last year I’ve been formulating the proposal has grown so much that I can see distinct benefits in part time working in terms of space to think through ideas and not being under the pressure to complete in three years for fear of funding running out. The control I have over the direction of my research without the constraints of funding is also appealing but do these benefits outweigh the challenges the part time route also creates?

I guess only time will tell (however, any tops tips on pitfalls that can be avoided would be more than welcomed!)

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One thought on “Several parts may never equal a whole

  1. How many times have you applied for funding so far?

    The first time my application was rejected my immediate reaction was to give up and tell myself I wasn’t good enough. Then a year passed by, I continued to work full time and try to stick at a “real job”, but knew that the PhD was my calling. I found that the second time round, my application was so much stronger. I’d had a year to reflect upon the weaknesses of my previous application, and had gained more experiences to add to my CV (such as public speaking).

    My second application, despite being a vast improvement on the first, was also rejected. At this point I decided that it wasn’t a reflection on the worth of my project, because you simply cannot know who or what you are up against. I considered waiting yet another year, and my decision boiled down to this:

    – Do I hold out indeterminately for funding, and possibly a) lose sight of my project through lack of time and resources, and b) acquire a large ‘gap’ in my academic CV?
    OR
    – Do I go part-time, continue to work, and ultimately achieve something that I need (for myself and for my career progression), for which I may never receive the necessary funding?

    I went with the latter. If this was your first time applying, there’s no harm in waiting and applying again next year, if the identity is important to you. However after that I think it’s important to prioritise your project, if you have the ability to fund yourself through it.

    People who aren’t inclined to carry out a PhD will never understand why you are, and will always see it as a ‘hobby’. I have the same problem. In the end I tell myself, “When I refer to myself as Dr Sian White, they’ll finally get it”.

    Good luck with making your decision!

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