By Ellie Ralph |

I am now entering my fourth year of teaching and the second year of a PhD. To balance both at the same time is difficult, but it is possible. I have put together some tips below based on my experience. I am not saying I am perfect at this as we are always learning, but these are my top four tips.

  1. Organisation and planning

If there is anything you take from this post, it would be this tip! I recommend you get organised as soon as possible and separate your PhD from your teaching. I have separate folders (both digitally and physically) for my PhD related materials and teaching materials. Make sure you take note of the deadlines around submitting work (both for yourself and for your students), key information in handbooks (again for both yourself and for your students), and your timetable for the upcoming semester. Staying organised is important, especially for around the end of the semester when you get a student email asking a question about a slide you had in a tutorial in week 4!

  1. Routine and time blocking

Linking with the first tip, I would recommend that once you have planned out all of your deadlines and important dates, you begin to identify the days and times which you can put the most into your PhD. In my experience, a full day teaching means that no PhD work will be getting done that evening! I would recommend taking a look at your month and blocking some days where you will solely focus on one thing (for example, teaching preparation, thesis writing, or admin tasks). This way you can ensure that you are staying on top of things throughout the week.

  1. Taking time off

Your teaching is part-time and your PhD is full time – you cannot do both to be the of your ability without allowing yourself time off. As well as being organised with your time and materials, it is important that you prioritise a healthy work-life balance and give yourself time for self-care. Sometimes it is easy for us, especially when working alongside the PhD, to fall into the trap of working (in some form) for seven days of the week. Proper rest and relaxation is something you should build into your week – a tip for every PhD student, regardless of how much or how little teaching you are allocated that semester.

  1. Setting boundaries

Something I struggled with in my first couple of years of teaching was establishing boundaries and recognising when you are doing too much. Remember that the PhD is your main priority and focus whilst you’re at university. Personally, I noticed things were getting out of hand for me when I was up at 1am replying to a student email I had received at 12:30am. If you feel overwhelmed by the pressure you place on yourself, a fellow PhD student and dear friend of mine took the decision to remove the mail app from her mobile and stick to replying to emails during normal working hours Monday-Friday. I would recommend you find what works for you early on and be aware of what you can do to help yourself if things begin to slip.


I hope that these tips have helped prepare you for your first-year teaching or given you some ideas if you are already a seasoned veteran. Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below the blog post.


Ellie Ralph is the Editor-at-Large for Pubs & Publications. She is a second year PhD student at Keele University in Politics and International Relations, exploring Lebanese local NGO management of the Syrian refugee crisis. You can find her on Twitter here.

(Image © Michael Zapf, flickr)