In defense of being part-time


Today I’ve made a resolution.

I will no longer use the word:Onlywhen telling people about my Phd…. “oh I’m only part-time”….It’s a subtle word, but has a lot of connotations behind it; that part-time is somehow lesser or not as good as full-time (it’s not) , that it’s not a big deal (it is) or doesn’t take a lot of effort (it does). I realise I’ve been doing it unconsciously from the very beginning, but today I am going to start using a new vocabulary when describing my PhD.

You see, being part-time isn’t easy, but there are plenty of positives about it that simply don’t get discussed much – so if you are a part-time student / academic, or considering going part-time, this post is for you. It’s my defense to those who don’t understand why someone might choose to go part-time. I hope that it starts some re-thinking in conversation among other part-timers too, that we perhaps begin to reassess how we view our status: that part-time is better than full-time in a whole lot of ways:

1) We have time to be better networkers

Some things take the same amount of time regardless if you are full or part time (ethics approval, paper review and publication, grant reviews etc). Think about it – a paper that takes 6 months from submission to publication in a full-time load becomes the equivalent of 3 months from a part-time perspective. You’ve just saved yourself 3 5912303770_a60cd8ab88_zmonths!

Today I read that scientists are increasingly expected to add sales executives to their list of job description (as if project manager, administration, writer, teacher etc were not enough). But developing your “brand”, or even simply getting to know who’s who in the zoo – both within your field and within your institution – takes time.

This is one of the BIGGEST advantages I see for part-time PhD students that so many don’t seem to take advantage of:

We are around for so many years, we have more opportunity to meet with people; at conferences, seminars, and especially on social media.

We can get to know the people in our respective fields of interest and to become known as well – “oh you’re the one who studies x and y at University Z – I’ve heard of you”.

So use the time you have to stand out from the crowd and develop your network!

2) We have the advantage of perspective

2533582879_ffafcde459_zBeing part-time means that for the rest of our week we are either in full time employment, involved in caring for loved ones, or may have a medical reason for which full-time is not preferable. For whatever your reason for being part-time, it means that all of your studies are just a “part” of your life. On the tough days when you face disappointment, frustration and rejection in academia, there is the rest of your life outside to help you put that negative emotion in perspective.

For me that is my family, and caring for young kids – finding a frustrating error one morning that puts me back hours in my analysis doesn’t seem to be as devastating when I have the chance to share in my daughters new-found ability to read later that afternoon.

This also means I’m more willing to take risks – apply for that grant, or science communication event; sign up for that class; start that blog; pitch that idea; dare to fail – because when I do fail I know that academia is just part of my life. It’s a wonderful part, but I have a lot of other wonderful parts that I’ve grateful for, and that provides a sort of safety net to catch me if I crash and burn. (Hence I’m more likely to try and fly).

3) We are determined

That’s not to say that our full-time friends don’t require determination to complete their PhDs, but I do think there is a dogged determination required to stick at a topic over so many years. Especially when you get to the half way point and the full-time peers you began with are sadly in the home stretch and submitting soon – and your submission date still seems so far in the future.

But life doesn’t stop.quotes-sail-louisa-may-alcott-480x480

Over a 5 or 6 year period there are more chances that big life events – physical or mental illness, death of a loved one, marriage, birth of a child, perhaps even breakdown of relationships – will happen, than over a 3 year period. Especially given that the average age for starting a PhD is 33 (or it was when I started – first time I thought to myself “hooray for being average!”)

Being part-time helps develops in us a determination to persevere and a resilience to overcome these and other obstacles.

This is not celebrated enough in the discourse of part-time study!

Today I want to challenge us part-timers to change the way we see our work. To start “selling” the brand of part-time as one that allows for better networking, puts our work in perspective and allows us to be risk-takers, and develops determination within us. I’m no longer playing down my part-time status, but I want to let others know that going part-time actually has a lot of benefits they may not realise….

How about you? Can you think of any other benefits that part-timers have? Would love to hear in the comments below.

6 thoughts on “In defense of being part-time

  1. Interesting – I was a PT Ph.D. – took me eight years, the cycle of reading, research and practice (as a behaviour support teacher, PRU teacher, CAMHS staffer, trainer, dad, divorcer, recoverer, down and out, gardener, solution-focused practitioner, and something else I’ve forgotten) was just wonderful, in the sense of being full of wonder. Marginalised (res, training was in the working day when I couldn’t turn up), free (paid my own fees so couldn’t be directed), wonderful supervision ( Prof Ivor Goodson and Dr. Barbara Ridley, blue skies and organisation respectively). Viva binned a big piece of my thesis, I worked with children who struggled and they kept me focussed, rewrote and wore my floppy hat (2 sizes too small because someone had pinched mine). New book out last week, all because Ivor took me on.
    We should make this better known – nothing like (my son’s science 3 year structure) a FT Ph.D. not better but different.
    Thanks for your thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment Geoffrey! Yes a lot of “life” can certainly happen over eight years. But congrats on sticking with it and on your new book. I think excellent supervision is another factor I should I included, as I know without my own supervisors advice at various stages over the past 3 years I would probably not still be here!


  2. Thanks for this article and your comments, Dr Geoffrey. I miss people pointing out the obvious to me like online citation progs. Spent ages doing hand notes till I found that out. Totally agree about distance from the organisation lends creativity. And my thinking has been profoundly influenced by people who have no connection to academia. Writing up now but uplifted by the chaos of family life.


  3. Being a part-time also allow more time to think the topic through (since we have more years). Also by having a lot of time not working on the subject, we will have a clear mind when we return to it, so we never get tired of the project and being desperate to take a break from it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes! And I don’t know how many times I’ve been working on a problem and its only when I have left the office and taken that time away from it, that when I return for my next block of work (refreshed) suddenly the solution is right there and obvious (or I’ve had a chance to mull over what I might do while I’m doing something else). Its definitely another part-time advantage! Thanks for sharing.


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