I’m doing my PhD part-time while I work full-time in a management position at a University. As my PhD is about doing a PhD I’ve learned a lot about what people say about doing a PhD. But what am I learning about myself?
I’ve learned that I’m more precious about my writing than I thought I was. I’ve taught academic writing and I’ve worked as an editor; I understand about drafts and rough writing and using phrases like [XXXcheck this later – not sure] and [XXXget more refs] in drafts. But I’ve found I’m surprisingly vain about what I send to my supervisors. I keep polishing and polishing, not wanting to send them anything that isn’t as near perfect as I can get it. I really struggle sometimes to press the ‘send’ button on my drafts.
As I have eight years to do my PhD (I’m presently nearing the end of my sixth year), the time can seem to stretch to infinity; in the earlier years, months could go by and I wouldn’t have done anything much. So I’ve learned not to let that happen – I need to set goals. I’ve learned that I have to prioritise my PhD. I’m not an academic, so I get a very small amount of study leave – 10 days a year, which I take one day at a time, interspersed with SDOs. This means I can work on my PhD every Sunday and every second Monday. So the time that I have outside my paid work is precious; I need to use it well. If I have a few days off work (say, the Easter or Christmas break), I split the time roughly half and half between PhD and relaxation. I have even taken a week‘s annual leave to work on my PhD in a block from time to time. This is a hard thing to do, but the satisfaction of having a draft moved along or a chapter knocked into a better shape has made it well worthwhile. But I’ve also learned that I can pace myself (most of the time). If I have a weekend ‘off’ (usually after I’ve had a good block of time on PhD) I don’t have to chastise myself or feel guilty: I needed the break and the work will get done. In fact, when I return I am often excited and energised by my work rather than dispirited and depressed.
Finally, I’ve confirmed for myself how stubborn and determined I am, and how important those attributes are if you want to do a PhD part-time. You really have to be a bulldozer. Having a totally supportive partner is a bonus for me; she sometimes helps when I’m flagging by giving me treats to make it all go a little easier – she cooks on Sundays and does all the washing and ironing, for example – and of course she’s giving up Sunday picnics and some social events too, so her commitment to my PhD is crucial. But, in the end, I’m the only one who can do this, and I just have to get on and do it. I can’t blame or credit anyone else: it’s mine, all mine!