by Ellie Ralph |

When I started my full-time PhD, everyone around me would agree that I was very against switching to part-time study. Now I look back on it, I am not sure why I was so against this. I think that within my mind, I felt like I could push myself hard enough to manage everything going on at the same time and I didn’t need to ask for help. During the start of my PhD, I also had not yet addressed some mental health issues I was dealing with, so asking for help was a foreign concept to me. Unfortunately, I allowed myself to get to the point whereby I became mentally unwell and switching to part-time was the only way I would be able to carry on with the PhD. Looking back, I wish I would have taken the time to consider the pros and cons of this decision and contemplate them before I had gotten to that point.

In today’s post, I will be discussing the three main pros of making this decision. By focusing on the positive outcomes, I hope to move the discussions surrounding this topic to one that is less of shame and more towards how you can take advantage of other opportunities alongside your PhD. There is a significant amount of discourse online on the cons to this decision (taking a long time to graduate, motivation may fluctuate more frequently, delaying your career), however, I think that these can also be turned into positives in themselves.

  1. Time

This point, although often seen as a con, can be turned into a positive – particularly in the times of COVID. By switching to part-time, you move your graduation and thesis hand-in date ahead (sometimes even by years). During COVID, many of us who have fieldwork to undertake have had to delay our plans due to restrictions (whether that be through travel or contact with people). Originally, I had planned to be undertaking my fieldwork abroad (I should have been there as we speak!), but by switching to part-time, it has allowed me to delay my planned fieldwork dates by 6 months. By this point in time, restrictions may be different and although the fieldwork will inevitably have to be adapted to some extent, it may mean that I can undertake it without having to change too many aspects of my original plans. If I stayed full-time, the alternative would have meant I would have to change my fieldwork significantly or not undertake it at all.

2. Employment opportunities

By cutting down your working week from 40 hours to 20 hours with the PhD, you are left with a large window of time whereby you can seek employment opportunities to ease your financial circumstances, gain experience in your desired field, or give yourself a bit of a mental health break. Since going part-time, I have been able to undertake research opportunities that have helped me grow as a qualitative researcher but also allowed me to explore my fields of interest and save money to help for the future. Even if you do not undertake work related to your field, there are many transferable skills you can apply to your PhD and future post-doc career.

3. Fees (self-funded students)

This point is particularly relevant for those of us that are self-funded. As with many other people, I have lost employment opportunities and seen a reduction in my income because of the pandemic. By switching to part-time, not only does it give you time to get your finances together a little more, but it takes off some of the pressure of having to source that amount so suddenly. I recommend working with the income office/department at your university to see how they can best accommodate the changing circumstances we find ourselves in – however, switching to part-time and having half of the fees to pay was a great benefit to me.

Reflecting on my time so far, I wish I had had someone lay out the pros of this decision for me. Now I have switched, and taken advantage of the three points made above, my mental health has improved drastically, and I am in a much better place to graduate with a PhD that represents the best of my abilities rather than something I am rushing to finish.

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Ellie Ralph is the Vice Chair 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.