Completing a Doctor of Philosophy requires some serious dedication. But committing all your time to research can leave a significant gap in your income. So, can you work and do a PhD at the same time? Let’s find out.
We spoke with two UQ PhD candidates, Chelsea Janke and Sarah Kendall, to get some insights into whether you can get a PhD while working – and how to balance your work with your research.
Can you get a PhD while working?
The simple answer is yes, but we wouldn't exactly recommend it. There’s nothing technically stopping you from continuing to work (at least, to some extent) while you pursue a PhD, but doing a higher degree by research is a big commitment. So, you need to think carefully before you attempt to juggle both.
The more complex answer is that it depends heavily on the type of work you’re doing and how quickly you want to complete your research.
Keep in mind: some PhD scholarships are only available to full-time candidates and may not allow you to earn more than a certain amount to remain eligible. If you’ve applied or plan to apply for a scholarship, make sure to check the relevant terms.
For international students, some extra restrictions apply. You can work up to 40 hours per fortnight, but this mustn't interfere with your full-time study load or your academic performance. Further limitations may apply if you're on an RTP scholarship (maximum 270 working hours per year) or being sponsored by your government.
Doing a PhD while working: full time, part time or casual?
Chelsea is quick to warn us that both working and researching full time is a recipe for disaster.
“A full-time PhD could not be done whilst working full time,” she says.
Doing both part time is feasible, but only if you’re happy to wait a few extra years to see the fruits of your labour.
“I know people who have worked part time and done their PhD part time – usually in the same research group or field,” says Chelsea.
“But keep in mind it took them 7-8 years to finish their PhD; it’s not the most efficient strategy.”
Committing to a full-time PhD while doing some incidental work on the side seems like the most popular approach for candidates, in Chelsea’s experience.
“Most full-time PhD students will pick up some casual work tutoring, marking, helping the lab manager, or assisting other researchers with their work,” she says.
“This means they can do a few hours here and there without their own PhD work being too disrupted.”
Sarah’s circumstances allow her to maintain a part-time job while completing her PhD, though she acknowledges you have to be lucky to be in a position to do so.
“PhD candidates can continue working part time while completing their research; of course, this depends on the nature of their research and other work,” says Sarah.
“Both my research and work are very flexible, and I can complete them whenever suits me.”
It’s one thing to ask can I do a PhD while working – actually managing to juggle the two is a whole other challenge. Sarah and Chelsea agree that time management is the most important part of making this work.
Sarah suggests keeping a strict schedule to divide your time evenly between your commitments, as this is what works for her.
“I find that I maintain a balance best by setting specific hours to work on my PhD (usually from 9am to 4pm Monday to Friday) and then on my other work commitments (usually Saturdays and sometimes a couple of hours before dinner),” she says.
“The hours you set to work on your PhD and other commitments will depend on whether your other work has set hours though, as well as when you work best – you might get some of your best research and writing done at 5am!”
Top tips for working while doing your PhD
Only do so if you really want/need to and if you know you can manage the dual workloads.
Tell your boss. Make sure your employer knows about your plans to juggle a PhD with your workload. See if there’s anything they can do to make the journey easier for you. For example, just like Sarah, your employer may be able to provide you the flexibility to complete your work on a schedule that accommodates your research hours.
Consider a part-time PhD if cutting your hours or quitting your job isn’t a viable option. Yes, it might take longer. But if it means maintaining a comfortable balance between your research and your current career, it might be the best choice for you.
Chat with your PhD supervisor. They’ve been there and done that, making them a great source of wisdom when it comes to pursuing a PhD while also balancing your other life commitments. You may also have peers currently doing a PhD who can provide some advice.
Haven’t chosen your supervisor yet? Read these tips for finding a suitable academic. It’s also a good idea to be upfront with your supervisor about your intention to work/research part time, as some supervisors prefer to work with full-time PhD candidates.
Seek casual work at your university and in your field where possible. By keeping your work and research close together (both in terms of location and mindset), you may find it less challenging to keep on top of both.
Make sure you’re passionate about your PhD topic. If your research just feels like a second job on top of your usual work, you’ll likely burn out before long. When developing your research proposal, make sure your thesis is providing that spark of curiosity that’s going to keep you inspired to follow through with your research – even on nights when you’re drained from work.
Ready to get started? Whether you’re dedicating yourself to a full-time PhD or keeping a balance between research and work, The University of Queensland is ready to support you.