Part-time studying but full-time thinking

The more I think about it, the more I am happy that undertaking a part-time PhD was the right thing for me. It seems counter intuitive as I often get frustrated at having to juggle a full-time job, work on my thesis and life in general. That being said, when I think about the progress I’ve made over my first year, I don’t feel like I am far behind where I would be full-time. I think the main reason for this is that although I have limited time to devote to reading, researching and academic admin tasks, something carries on beyond this time and that is the difficult part – the thinking. I think that this is nicely explained with a quote from Weber’s Science as a vocation:

Ideas occur to us when they please, not when it pleases us. The best ideas do indeed occur to one’s mind in the way in which Ihering describes it: when smoking a cigar on the sofa; or as Helmholtz states of himself with scientific exactitude: when taking a walk on a slowly ascending street; or in a similar way. In any case, ideas come when we do not expect them, and not when we are brooding and searching at our desks. Yet ideas would certainly not come to mind had we not brooded at our desks and searched for answers with passionate devotion.

This seems to be perfectly applicable to the shift from ‘studying time’ to ‘work time’. Often it is in the midst of my day job, or during my drive to work that the things I have been struggling with suddenly make sense. This is also something that needs to be capitalised upon as often these thoughts go and fast as they come. For this, Evernote has been a life saver, acting as a multimedia notepad that is with me 24/7. Sometimes, I write a note by hand and capture it with my phone’s camera, sometimes I do the same with a document and other times I type direct into it. This mental scrapbook, however, is what I believe has been the key to moving forward in my thinking even when I’m not technically working on my PhD project.


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!)