How to plan your part-time study load

Last week I wrote about what a full-time study load looks like, and how to plan your time so you get the most out of the opportunity to research and to benefit from your campus culture and community.

However, studying full-time is not the right choice for everyone. Part-time study makes real sense if your job, or caring responsibility (which might be to children, elderly parents or to yourself!), conflicts with full-time research. 

I used to feel that part-time study was a second-best option, but I was wrong. For starters, the data from my current university show that part-time candidates often finish earlier than full-time candidates.

Moreover, interrupting your career for full-time study can leave a gap on your CV, leave you strapped for cash, and put a dent in your superannuation. If you might also interrupt your career for other reasons, like having children, then this can be doubly disadvantageous. Part-time study can help you stay up-to-date with your profession and continue to gain work experience. For some people, bringing together your work and your research leads to lots of fruitful cross-pollination. For others, it’s refreshing to balance different kinds of work.

Part-time PhDs take many years, and so keeping the research fresh and staying motivated is also a challenge. But if you plan your time holistically, that seems to work fine for most people!

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So how might part-time candidates plan their research time holistically? What are the various factors you need to plan in?

  1. A part-time candidate will often need to give their best thinking time to their other responsibilities. So you need to intentionally carve out space, and build in a pattern, to sometimes give that time to your research.
  2. Your part-time schedule should also give you time to keep up with the less intense parts of being a researcher. That EndNote library needs to be kept up to date and those books need to be returned to the library! These are also vital parts of keeping your research on track.
  3. You should find time to benefit from campus culture as a part-time student. If you can’t often get to your campus during the day, think about creative ways to still connect. Use video conferencing to attend workshops and seminars, go to public lectures (often planned after work), or plan a research day on campus so you benefit from serendipitous conversations.
  4. Work out your research:non-research priority. Is your job or caring responsibility your number one priority and research needs to be secondary? Or are you planning to balance them 50:50? Knowing the answer enables you to make a meaningful decision when a conflict comes up, which will be frequently! What is your plan B for when there are too many conflicts?
  5. Your ‘between times’ are great for making connections to your colleagues and wider industry (both the global researcher industry and your professional one!)
    What ‘between times’ might be used for connecting to your current job (water cooler conversations) or care situation (checking in on your toddler)? When is it a good moment to connect to your research? Plan to sometimes drop in to the PhD Parents Facebook Group, text your research buddy, or shoot an email to a potential collaborator.

Being a part-time student requires planning, but it shouldn’t mean that you are excluded from any aspect of the full experience of being a research student. At the same time, reflect on the opportunities that exist for joining committees, gain leadership experience or join sports teams or music groups. Is it best for you to explore those opportunities in your work or community? Or is the university a better place for this? Perhaps you can have the best of both worlds.  

I hope this post has helped you think about all the aspects of your time as a researcher: so you can get the most out of the opportunity to think, be challenged and to challenge established ways of thinking; while also keeping up with your other responsibilities and interests. 

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