Written by Mark Bennett
The main difference between part-time PhDs and full-time study is the length of the course. By the end of the PhD you will have completed the same amount of work and produced a full length thesis.
While most students in our Pulse survey data are interested in full-time PhDs, those in the upper age groups (45+ years) are more likely to consider part-time (37% versus 15% between 18-44 year olds).
There are many reasons why you might do a PhD part-time, each with their own benefits and drawbacks.
This page will take you through everything you need to know about doing a PhD part-time. By the end of this guide you will understand the positives and negatives of part-time study, how your doctorate will work and the costs and funding involved.
A part-time PhD isn’t that different from a full-time PhD. The main difference is that you spend less time researching each week. But remember, no part-time PhD looks the same. While it is common for students to work on weekends or in the evenings, your schedule will entirely depend on what works best for you.
Can you do a part-time PhD?
Most universities offer part-time programmes for PhD students. However, whether studying part-time is an option for you in particular will depend on the stipulations of your specific project and on your funding. Some studentships and scholarships are only available for full-time students, or your funder may require that you complete your PhD in a set period of time.
How long does a part-time PhD take?
Traditionally, a part-time PhD will take double the time of a full-time doctorate. In the UK, the standard PhD is usually between three to four years. Part-time students should expect to be studying for six to eight years. But it is not unheard of for some to finish after five years. How long a part-time PhD takes most depends on how much time you are able to dedicate to research each week. However, if you are in receipt of funding then your funder will likely determine the length of the course.
How many hours per week is a part-time PhD?
If you work on the basis that a part-time PhD takes twice as long as it would full-time then you should expect to work half the weekly hours. As a standard, universities recommend full-time students to work 35 hours per week, though many may study more (and some less). Therefore, a part-time student might aim to work around 17 hours per week.
However, there is no set amount of hours you’re supposed to put aside for research when studying a part-time PhD. The decision is up to you. People work at different rates and so it’s best to consult with your supervisor if you worry you aren’t doing enough or are feeling burnt out. The best thing is to be consistent. Instead of choosing to study as and when you have time, you should choose regular days or hours to be repeated each week.
Is a part-time PhD easier?
A part-time PhD has both positives and negatives making it hard to determine whether it’s easier than studying full-time. How ‘easy’ a part-time PhD is will heavily depend on your long term motivation and available time.
Here are a few of the positives that studying part-time offers:
- Less time is dedicated to studying each week, freeing up more time for work or personal commitments
- It gives people the option to research their passion who might not be able to study full-time
- Fees and additional costs are more spread out making the degree more financially manageable
And here are some of the negatives:
- It can be hard to motivate yourself when the degree can take more than five years to complete
- There is more time for personal and work issues to crop up and take precedent over your studies
- You may find it harder to interact with the research community if you’re balancing work
Should I do a PhD part-time?
There are many reasons why students opt to study a PhD part-time:
- Study around current commitments: People intending to do a PhD may already have a full-time job. By studying part-time you won’t need to compromise other areas of your life. Many universities offer part-time study so that people in these types of situations are still able to follow their research passion.
- Spread the costs: Even if you’re in receipt of funding, costs such as travel or personal equipment can add up quickly. By doing a PhD part-time these costs become more spread out. Instead of travelling into university five days a week, you might only do two. Or you may be able to study at home, only going in when necessary to use resources or meet with a supervisor.
- Flexibility: Not only can you balance your life, career and studies more easily in your day-to-day but your mode of study can be changed too. Depending on your course you may be able to change from full-time study to part-time if you desired, and vice-versa. If you find that your personal situation changes, adapting your study situation could be a better option than dropping out.
The big questions when it comes to studying a part-time PhD are whether or not it’s cheaper than full-time study and if there is funding available. This section will take you through everything you need to know about financing a part-time PhD.
How much does a part-time PhD cost?
Essentially a part-time PhD costs the same amount as a full-time PhD, the costs are just spread out. Usually, yearly tuition is half the amount a full-time student would pay. Technically, as some students have worked enough to hand it their final dissertation after five years, rather than six, it is possible to pay slightly less towards tuition overall. However, both life and research can be unpredictable and so we don’t encourage students to enter a part-time PhD assuming that they will be able to finish early.
Can you get funding for a part-time PhD?
Though funded opportunities for part-time students are less common, there are scholarships and studentships out there. Some may come from Research Councils, others from the universities themselves. You can search for funded part-time PhD opportunities on our website.
Unfortunately not every PhD student is awarded a studentship or scholarship but there are many alternative funding options. Part-time students may be able to find financial support through charities and trusts or may choose to apply for the government’s postgraduate student loan.
Currently you can borrow up to £27,265 to cover the entirety of your PhD. The loan is not means-tested and the amount you choose to borrow will be given in equal instalments throughout the degree. Payments are made at the start of each term. So, if you apply for the full loan to cover a six-year PhD then the yearly amount you’ll receive will be around £9,100. This will then be transferred to your account in three parts, meaning that you’ll receive around £3,030 at the start of each semester.
The nature of part-time study also makes it easier to work during your PhD. Many students choose to self-fund their studies. Completing a PhD part-time makes this a more accessible option.
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Last Updated: 23 February 2023