Thursday, 18 May 2017

28 Things No-One Tells You About Being a Part-Time PhD Student

How fitting: in my last post, I wrote about having to learn to say 'no' to things. And as my circumstances have changed, and the months have gone on, one thing I've had to consistently say 'no' to is this blog. 

It's not so much finding the time to blog. Instead, the challenge has been finding the mental space to blog. Starting a new job, in a new industry, in a new function has been a steep learning curve. Combined with the ongoing learning curve of my thesis, it's left very little mental space for reflection.

After 10 months of radio silence, I'm not promising gold. In fact, all I'm offering is a buzzfeed-style listicle.* And a very specific listicle, at that. But, some words are better than none. So here we go.

Here are 28 things no one told me about becoming a part-time [self-funded, working full time] PhD student:

  1. People at work will tell you: "I don't know how you manage it - I can't imagine studying as well as working!" 
  2. Full-time PhD students will tell you: "I don't know how you do it - I can't imagine working full-time as well as studying!" 
  3. In both situations, you'll feel both flattered and uncomfortable - all you can think about is the long list of things you haven't done both at work and in your studies. 
  4. Then you realise that all the working academics you know work about the same hours you do. You wonder if this will ever get easier.
  5. This will probably make you very anxious and mean you handle a well-intentioned compliment quite badly. 
  6. You'll develop a good "elevator pitch" of your thesis more quickly than other students - mostly from explaining your thesis to colleagues. 
  7. Staying up past 11 or sleeping in past 6.30: you are allowed to pick one, not both. 
  8. You'll learn how to manage your time, more because you NEED to, than because you WANT to. 
  9. In fact, time is now your most precious resource. You'll start hoarding it protectively pretty quickly.
  10. You'll also develop a routine that works for you. Again, this is not neccesarily because you want a fixed routine, but because it works.
  11. You can get more done in 2 hours than you think you can. 
  12. You can get less done in 2 hours than you think you can. 
  13. The timescales seem dauntingly vast - 2 years to upgrade!? 6 years to finish!? 
  14. This is made more clear by the way other PhD students are moving at a much faster pace than you. 
  15. This will bring back horrible memories of anything to do with running at school, where you always brought up the rear. Your ego will have to learn to cope.
  16. If you work in a field related to your thesis, be prepared to answer questions like "how you can possibly spending all your time on that once niche?"
  17. If you work in a field unrelated to your thesis, be prepared to answer questions like "How can you possibly enjoy both?"
  18. When paid work is hard, you'll appreciate your academic work. 
  19. When your thesis is grinding you down, you'll appreciate your achievements at work. 
  20. Either way, you'll find the skills you develop in your thesis work could well help you at work. And vice versa.  
  21. You'll find yourself talking to your supervisors about your paid a lot. Then you realise it's because they care about you as a whole person, not just a word-producing machine. At this point, you feel very lucky. 
  22. You finally understand what people mean by the term 'support network.' Mainly because you now rely on it in lots of small ways.
  23. The bitterness of not being eligible a discount on your Council Tax will not fade. 
  24. The novelty of getting student discounts won't fade either. 
  25. This is despite the fact that every time you hand over your NUS card to get a student discount, you quietly pray they don't ask any questions like: "how old ARE you?" 
  26. In fact, questions like "You're still a student? At your age?" and "You're going to be HOW old when you finish?" will become a pretty standard part of small talk with anyone new. 
  27. Sometimes you'll kick yourself because it feels like you've chosen the worst of both worlds: more hours, more responsibility, more stress. 
  28. Other times, you'll be grateful because you feel like you've chosen the best of both worlds: a steady income, development, and pursuing your passion. 
  29. But most days? This is just the way things are. And for the most part, it works.

*What a hideous word. I apologise.

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