How to combine working with a part-time PhD in the UK

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 22 November 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you've already entered the workforce, you may still want to continue your education. One way to do that is to enrol in a PhD programme, after which you might become a doctor of philosophy. There are different types of courses you can explore, including part-time PhD programmes. In this article, we explain the benefits of completing a part-time PhD in the UK and share tips you can use to combine your PhD with work.

What is a part-time PhD in the UK?

A part-time PhD in the UK is an academic programme that covers the same learning material as a full-time PhD, but requires that you spend less time every week engaging in research. The main difference between these two variants is that a part-time PhD takes more time to complete. For example, while a standard PhD takes between three and four years to complete, you can expect that it takes even up to eight years to complete a part-time doctoral degree.

Related: PhD vs master's degrees (differences between them)

Benefits of completing a PhD part-time

A part-time doctoral programme is a more long-term commitment, which can be challenging for some people. Despite this, choosing to obtain your PhD this way has many advantages, including:

Less time-consuming

Part-time doctoral programmes are less time-consuming. This makes them a good option for people who have day-to-day personal commitments, for example, taking care of children. While a full-time PhD often involves 35 hours per week that you spend doing research, part-time PhDs may involve between 10 and 20 hours per week from you. This is great for when you want to combine your studies with working part- or even full-time.

Related: How long does a PhD take? Including additional FAQs

Smaller upfront investment

If you're considering obtaining a doctoral degree, it's necessary that you take into consideration the costs that this decision generates. Depending on the institution and your field of studies, universities may charge differently for PhDs. What's important to understand is that they charge part- and full-time students the same amount. For part-time programmes, they simply spread out the costs over an extended period. This means that enrolling in a doctoral degree part-time is often a smaller upfront investment.

Related: 11 examples of jobs for PhDs that suit any degree subject

More flexibility

In addition, choosing to enrol in a part-time doctoral programme gives you more flexibility. You not only have more time to work, spend time with family or pursue your passions. For part-time doctoral students, it's also easier to change the focus or mode of their studies. For example, they may choose to dedicate more hours to their studies one year if their personal situation allows them. Then, it's easy to switch back to fewer hours the next year or semester.

Related: Finding a job with flexibility (benefits and examples)

How to combine working with a part-time PhD programme

Learning to combine work and a part-time PhD may take some time, but it's a rewarding step if you want to grow as an academic while advancing your professional career. Here's how you can balance out your studies and work:

1. Look for a job related to your PhD

One way to combine your work and a part-time PhD is to find a job directly related to your doctoral programme. This way, it's not necessary for you to switch between thinking about two completely separate subjects throughout the day. For example, as an engineering PhD candidate, you can secure a job as a research scientist in a company's product engineering department. This not only allows you to expand your knowledge of the subject but it might also give you access to advanced tools to use for your studies.

Related: How to write a PhD proposal in 8 practical steps (plus tips)

2. Study a subject you're passionate about

If you're yet to choose what you want to do for your PhD, consider choosing a subject you're passionate about. Learning is usually easier when you're truly interested in something. This can also make your studies appear less demanding and make the doctoral degree feel less like a burden. Instead, you may find it easier to find gratitude in having the opportunity to both work and study.

Related: The 10 best university subjects for earning a high salary

3. Find a job with a flexible schedule

When you're a PhD student, you regularly engage in research. Occasionally, like when you find something unusual through an experiment, your research may require more work. To help you accommodate your research work's needs, you may consider finding a job with flexible hours. Typically, jobs with a flexible schedule allow you to communicate your availability to the employer a few weeks in advance. As a result, some weeks you can work fewer hours to increase the time you spend at the university.

Related: 6 jobs with flexible hours (plus salaries and duties)

4. Research various school's offers

To meet the needs of students who want to work while completing their doctoral degrees, many universities offer distance learning courses. Before you commit to one programme, spend some time researching different universities and the PhD courses they offer. Chances are that you might find a course that interests you that's also less rigorous than a programme from a local university.

5. Ask your employer for support

If the research in which you want to engage relates to your profession, chances are that your employer might benefit from your PhD research. Scheduling a one-on-one meeting with your supervisor can help determine how likely the company is to support you throughout your doctoral studies. For example, some organisations offer employees additional monetary benefits that they can use to pay for their PhDs. Even if your workplace has no benefits for doctoral students, explaining the situation to the employer may help you have a less stressful couple of years.

6. Improve your organisation and time-management

To ensure you can handle working and studying part-time, evaluate the methods you use for day-to-day organisation. Make sure there's always enough time to take care of your responsibilities. You may develop a new daily routine or time-block your shifts at work. It's also helpful to have a relaxing evening routine, which helps you maintain a healthy work-study balance and reset to prepare for what's ahead of you the following day.

Related: Seven tips to improve your organising and planning skills

7. Measure your progress and performance

Switching from just working to working and studying part-time is a change that many people find challenging. Once you've adjusted to your new reality, make sure to regularly measure your progress and performance, both as an employee and as a student. A simple self-evaluation form can give you a good idea if you're handling all your responsibilities well and can easily meet your employer's, the university's and your own expectations.

Related: How to write a self-evaluation: tips, benefits and example

8. Find the right supervisor

Just like you can discuss your plans to continue your education with your employer, it's usually beneficial to find a supervisor who understands your situation and is willing to support you throughout your part-time doctoral degree. Working with the right supervisor can encourage you to push through the challenges and complete the programme with a great research project or thesis. When analysing different professors' backgrounds and expertise, you may want to select someone whose research interests align with yours.

Related: How to write a PhD application cover letter

9. Explain the situation to your family

Completing a part-time PhD and working is a time-consuming process. Knowing that your family fully supports your decision and aspirations can help you feel more comfortable when you're staying late to finish projects or advance in your research. In exchange, you can dedicate one full day of the week to spending time with them. Although combining work, PhD studies and family life requires certain adjustments, effective organisation usually helps.

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