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Working While you Study for Your PhD

Written by Hannah Slack

There are many reasons why someone may choose to work during their PhD. They might need a job to help cover the cost of a postgraduate degree. Or, they may want to learn industry-based skills to benefit their future career. This page will take you through the different types of work PhD students often undertake, and the pros and cons of maintaining a job alongside such an intensive degree.

Can you work during a PhD?

The simple answer is yes, you can work while studying a PhD and in fact, many do. The most common form of work is teaching. But some students may also have part-time (or full-time jobs outside of the university).

Depending on the amount of work you plan to undertake, you will have to consider whether it would be better to do your PhD part-time or full-time. It’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to do a full-time job alongside a full-time PhD. However, it is possible to work part-time alongside a full-time PhD (or vice versa).

What type of work can you do during a PhD?

There are many different types of work PhD students can apply for. When someone says that they work alongside their PhD, most will assume that they have a stable, permanent contract. However, many PhD students work short-term contracts.

Contract work

The most common job for doctoral students is teaching undergraduates. Most departments will offer teaching opportunities to second-year and above researchers, paying you for training, seminar time, prep work and marking. Usually, you'll be able to decide how many seminar groups you wish to take on, allowing you to schedule work around your research. Teaching is an excellent chance to experience the other responsibilities that come with working in academia.

Another popular type of contract work is assistance roles. Many academics run outreach programmes that require more hours than they’re able to put in. Usually, emails will be sent around the departments advertising a short-term role. Jobs often include data entry, content management and research assistance. Again, these can be a great opportunity to build up workplace specific skills and receive a small financial boost.

Permanent roles

Some PhD students may also work more permanent roles. Often, self-funded students have to seek employment in order to financially afford tuition and living expenses. These students usually work part-time in industry. This can be both within and outside of the university. The types of roles students may undertake include admin, hospitality and even marketing. It’s a good idea to search for roles that match up with your skill set and future career goals.

Given the academic pressures of a PhD, many universities advise students not to work more than 16 hours a week. Otherwise, they may find themselves falling behind on a full-time PhD programme.

Pros and cons of working during a PhD

Working during a PhD can be a great opportunity to learn new skills and refine your current ones for future job applications. In fact, many Research Councils often require their funded students to undertake some form of work experience in order to build industry related skills.

However, managing a job on top of your own research can be stressful and limit the amount of free time you have available. Here are some of the most important pros and cons to consider before applying for a job.

Pros

  • Gain more industry related experience
  • Helps reduce financial pressure
  • Regular forced breaks from your research can help refresh the mind
  • Make connections with work colleagues, reducing the isolation often associated with PhD research

Cons

  • Less time in the week to work on your PhD
  • Schedule clashes could mean you miss out on academic opportunities, such as conferences
  • Potential feelings of isolation from the academic community if you’re committed to an industry job

Managing the workload

The main thing to consider before applying for a job during your PhD is how you’re going to manage the workload. The PhD already comes with a hefty amount of work and so adding to that can cause additional stress.

The key is to set your priorities and manage your time effectively, taking regular breaks. Just like a job allows you to take holiday, do the same for your PhD. If the workload gets too much, be willing to consider the necessity of your job or whether it would be possible to reduce your PhD from full-time study to part-time.

You should also discuss your situation with your supervisor so they’re aware of your wider responsibilities and time restraints. They’ll then be able to better advise on your progress. Additionally, you should make your industry boss aware of your PhD commitments. They too may be able to assist you. This might mean offering flexibility to your hours in case of last-minute academic events or allowing extended holiday to prepare for the viva.

Last Updated: 24 March 2022

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