Working while you study (or, in search of cash and kudos). Whatever else you do in your time as a PhD student, you must exploit the status it affords as much as possible. Let’s face it: you may be a bankrupt nobody, but your university may be rich and prestigious. By association, you may be able to appear more respectable and trustworthy than your financial status would otherwise indicate.
An excellent way of doing this is to get a job – any job – in the university. This means that you can always be ready with the handy bluff that you ‘work at the university’. Even if you are just sorting the mail, the status associated with work will open many more doors than being a student, especially with irritatingly curious people like prospective landlords. They always want to know what you do. Even though you may be a mature 30-something who already had a successful career in a respectable industry, for some the simple word ‘student’ can conjure up nightmarish visions of a juvenile cocktail of vice, vomit and vermin.
Being able to say you ‘work at the university’ (even one hour a week moving furniture) gives you instant status, catapulting you from social class E (unemployed homeless non-person) to A (alpha-grade graduate employed in education sector). When working on securing that all-important flat, you can mention that you ‘have to get back to the lab’ even if all you are doing is washing the test tubes. The fact that in your ‘spare time’ you are working in rocket science will cut no ice with a prospective landlord who does not know or care about your labour of love nor want any share in the financial house of cards by which you propose to fund it.
Getting a job in the university – especially in your own department – can also be a way of getting the foot in the door – literally. If for some reason your PhD registration expires, or you are left in some bureaucratic limbo, which means that you are no longer technically a student (which means no student card, travel discounts, etc) it can be very handy to have your university staff card to let you in the building out of hours, and to use the computer that your status as a researcher (even a part-time one) affords you. And of course getting a job in some way related to your academic discipline is even better.