Work & PhD

Working Alongside a PhD

by Krystina Osborne

Whilst it would be wonderful to be able to devote more of my time to research, working alongside the PhD is a financial necessity for the majority of students like myself who are not fully funded (and possibly even if you are fully funded, depending on your individual situation). In this blog post, I outline some strategies that help me juggle my academic and non-academic work commitments.

Establish regular shift patterns

If you work shifts, request to work the same hours – or at least the same days – each week, where possible. It is incredibly difficult to arrange meetings with your supervisors and students if you don’t know when you will be at work until the next rota is finalised. Establishing regular shift patterns allows you to allocate specific days to your different commitments, making it less likely that you will muddle up your schedule and turn up at work on your day off (which is THE WORST). Of course, this regularity is not always possible and it really depends upon how accommodating your managers are. For example, a fellow PhD student works in an administrative role at our university, meaning that his managers are very understanding of his wish to schedule his shifts around his PhD. Conversely, in a non-academic environment, your manager might not be too impressed if your PhD work constantly gets in the way and infringes upon your ability to focus on your job. There have been occasions when I have had to swap shifts or even use up my holiday allocation in order to be able to attend conferences and other academic events. Whilst this is annoying, I have to acknowledge that if it wasn’t for my job, I probably couldn’t afford to attend many of these events in the first place. Overall, regular shift patterns allow you to compartmentalise your life, enabling you to focus on your research and the job you’re being paid to do, thus benefitting both you and your manager!

Don’t be embarrassed if your students find out

Personally, I make a point of telling my students where I work, thus avoiding the awkward moment when they unexpectedly run into me at my other job (as we know from Mean Girls, seeing a teacher outside of school is ‘like seeing a dog walk on its hind legs’). When I do encounter students in this manner, some happily approach me for a chat, which is fine, whereas some panic and try to avoid me, which is also fine (and this is still less awkward than bumping into them on a night out!). I am aware that other PhD researchers worry that students seeing them working outside of academia might undermine their authority (‘Why is my lecturer working in a shop/ call centre/ bar?!’). However, I think it is important to be open with undergraduates about the realities of postgraduate life (whilst not putting them off further study altogether!). Furthermore, I can empathise with students who struggle to balance their studies with a part-time job. I’ve heard senior academics offering little sympathy to undergraduates who have missed lectures or seminars due to their work commitments outside of university. Ideally, students should prioritise their studies above their job/ nights out/ everything else in their lives, but this is clearly unrealistic. Some students may be financially reliant upon their part-time jobs and I can definitely relate to this.

Focus on the positives

As I suggested in my post on PhD Downtime, there are some (not always immediately apparent) advantages to having a non-academic job. These positives include being forced to think about something completely separate to your thesis for a change, in addition to the always helpful reminder that there’s a whole world out there that is unrelated to academia. A friend of mine worked as a waitress whilst completing her PhD, and found it strangely liberating that patrons did not give two hoots that she was studying for a doctorate as long as she brought them the food that they had ordered. Furthermore, my commute affords me the time to read for pleasure, a rare opportunity that should always be appreciated!

Do you have any tips on juggling academic and non-academic work? Get in touch via Twitter or Facebook!