are we all part time now?


Being a part-time doctoral researcher is hard. Part-timers are generally already in work, professionals, “mature”, doing the doctorate to upgrade quals and/or further an interest. There’s a lot of part-time in my field of education, and in other areas like law, nursing, social work, business. Part-timers often self-fund.

Getting the doctorate done part-time generally takes twice as long as your average full-time doctorate. So choosing to do a doctorate around other demands means being in for the long haul, and it’s no mean feat to maintain the necessary commitment and interest for a very sustained period.

All doctorates are hard. So why is part-time any different? Well, for starters, your average part-timer has to squeeze the reading, writing, data generation, analysis and writing in and around the day job and home life. Part-timers therefore have to get organised and stay organised. And the part-timer’s family has to be very forgiving during the six to eight years when their loved one locks themselves away to try to get the required work done. Weekends go by, holidays are missed. Everyone has to be patient through the part-time PhD as endurance sport.

But one thing that has struck me very forcibly this month is how the current work-at-home situation evens out this situation, just a little. Everyone who is not required at work is now at home. Staff and full-time doctoral researchers. And of course part-timers are also not at work but at home. They may now be able to organise their time a little differently. Some part-timers may even be able to carve out more week-day time for their doctoral work, time that they didn’t have before. ( Some of course may have even less time.)

By contrast, the full-time doctoral researcher may now well find themselves with less time than they are used to. Other people at home want and need to spend time with them. And as one person said to me the other day, there is just so much more domestic work to get done when everyone stays at home all day. And that means less time to spend on research. So the full -time doctoral researcher may find themselves having to carve out time for their study in ways they didn’t need to before.

The full-timer also needs to manage the way they are in their house. Some people may have had to move out of their temporary home near their university while others can stay where they usually live. Whatever the situation, once at home many full-timers will find that they can’t leave the books and laptop all over the house in the same way they could with a desk at university or in their little flat. And even if they are still in their doctorate-geared accommodation, the fact that they have to stay in, all the time, may mean that they now want to make work and living space more distinct.

And the full-timer can no longer just wander to the library when they feel like it. They can’t take out a physical book or sort an inter-library loan, they have to rely on the ebooks and journal subscriptions that are available. The full-timer now can’t just spontaneously decide to go off for a coffee with peers, they have to make a time and connect on screen. They don’t accidentally bump into their supervisor or go and knock on a door on the off chance, they now have to make a time. And again, it’s a screen.

On campus workshops, seminars and masterclasses have now stopped and instead there are some online courses and some new (hastily put together) online opportunities. These might include Shut Up and Write and virtual coffee mornings. But no matter how much the full-timer appreciates the effort that has gone into these, they aren’t really a replacement for face to face. But they are certainly better than nothing.

Maybe the full timers are now just more part-time than they are used to…

I’m sure the part-timers reading the list of changes that full-timers are experiencing will have other things to add. But I am equally sure that there may be the odd quiet smile. There’s a fine irony here. All of these things – squeezing work into time and space at home, restricted library access, limited opportunities to socialise except by appointment, supervision only at appointed times and online, a limited range of workshops, classes and seminars – are the norm for part-timers.

Of course, all universities have been working on extended support to part-time graduate researchers. And some universities and some disciplines do do much better than others. And  institutions – and various groups and individuals – have stepped up their social media during the pandemic to fill in some gaps for everyone.

But really. Really. If there’s one thing I hope we might seriously think about post-isolation it is how to maintain and extend what we are doing with open access and online provision. We have to consider how what we learn now might help us offer both full- and part-time doctoral researchers a more equitable experience. Surely once we have experimented with the opportunities afforded through distance and open learning, and the ways it might be more inclusive, then we won’t go back. There really isn’t any excuse for going back to full-time rich provision/part-time scanty.

Part-time doctorates are just as important as full-time. The people who do them sacrifice a lot. They deserve our best efforts. I’m not entirely sure – yet – what it is that we can do better and differently. But I am sure that we just have to put more effort, time and money into closing the gap between full and part-time support.

I certainly hope to find out more during this period about better and different support for part -time doctoral researchers. And I really hope my institution, and yours, do too.


PS It wasn’t the point of this post to talk about part-timers who are key workers. But of course, some are. They are too busy doing what is vital to society to focus on study right now. And we all depend on them to do their essential work. But work is not usually a good enough reason to give people leave from their research. But if I could, I would give all of you part-time doctoral key workers leave, no questions asked.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in academic writing, part time PhD, space and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to are we all part time now?

  1. Roomi says:

    All the best from a former part-time (mature) doctoral student.

    Thank you for bringing this subject up.


  2. KT says:

    Thank you! As a part-timer on the verge of throwing in the towel because it is so very hard – this simple acknowledgment gives me new hope!


  3. Pingback: are we all part time now? · Lizzy Mu, PhD

  4. Jenna says:

    As a part time researcher, I have lost even more of my time to work. My young daughter has stopped going to daycare, so 2 days that were for research and writing and now for her. I think a lot of researchers with children are finding that, despite being home more, there is far less time than there ever was before.


  5. Pam Wall says:

    So well said Pat. Part-time is very challenging especially when family is at home full time. I’ve started to hand write pages as it really demands my focus. Would like to keep going like this but not sure time will allow. Would like to find some guidance or discussion from others who have done it this way. Thanks again Pat. I look forward to your post every Monday.


  6. Maria says:

    Thank you, Pat, for acknowledging all those who have a job in addition to doing their PhD (which I know is a privilege, and it’s an opportunity for which I am very grateful). I love your posts, and I hope that you and yours are keeping safe and healthy.


  7. Kim says:

    As a part-time researcher, I really appreciate the sentiment of this post. My institution would not have a best supports for part time students who largely work remotely as well as managing a full time job such as myself. I agree there is a need to review gap between supports for the full time and part time researchers, and such a situation has highlighted the need for this.

    For all students right now, although we can carve out a bit more time in our day here and there, it is important to maintain a balance in our lives of work and rest, particularly through this pandemic. Some part time researchers may wonder why they aren’t being more productive during this time because they may not be commuting, they may be working from home etc. But we must remember, 2 hours not commuting to not necessarily equate to 2 hours of productive PhD work. Furthermore, if you are working from home and now studying from home too in the same environment, this makes doing the work that bit more difficult. And similarly for full time researchers who now find themselves at home all the time too, their routines have been drastically interrupted, as has the research designs of many students.

    However, as an occupational therapist who supports students with disabilities in higher education who now need to study from home, and as someone who now has to work from home too, I want to emphasise the importance of self compassion and acknowledgement of the small wins during this time. This is a difficult time, and hence it is normal to find ourselves less productive. Setting realistic and achievable goals is important now more than ever, to ensure that we keep on track but do not create unrealistically high expectations of ourselves during such a tough period. For all those researchers, part time or full time, who get one paragraph written, one paper read, one new tiny idea on how to approach some data – that is a great win for today and you should be extremely proud. And for those who can’t even think of their research right now due to many ways this pandemic has impacted our lives, such as illness or loss of a loved one, loss of a job, having to managing caring commitments etc., My thoughts are with you during this tough time, and I hope you are able to access the formal and informal supports you need right now.

    We do not know how long this situation is going to las for, so each and everyone one of us need to establish a routine to find some normality in this period of abnormality. Thinking of all those effected, in different ways. Kim

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Rob Thompson says:

    Great words from you all. I am an EdD student and as Pat said earlier… all the domestic procrastinations have shown up with full force and are attempting a life-coup. Having said that, I often find that knocking down the garage and rebuilding it from scratch (ok…I’m repainting it) is superb reflection and ‘processing’ time to think about the things I have read, the people I have spoken to and perhaps most importantly – articulate what I’m trying to say or write. I agree with Kim that small wins are important, keep reading, keep writing, keep connected to your subject. I am about to do the things I said I would do ages ago – create networks with specialists (my field is in coaching in education) and make better contacts with a wider arena of people that may be helpful outside of my own university and lifeworld. Don’t give up KT…I’ve been there and it is hard you are right…all I know is that the more I keep going, the more significant the reward when I make it through the stages of the process. I stay in touch with my other EdD’s via WhatsApp and they are going through it too.


  9. Lucy says:

    Thank you Pat, you have given part-timers a voice here!! I have felt so guilty that I was not able to be full-time and network, meet supervisors, join support and really good qual/quant meetings, or even read papers like everyone else seemed to be able to do. Doing part-time, and yes self-funded PhD seems to leave most people around you feeling like they get less of you – which can then make you either try harder in all areas or leave a little giving up energy to fester away. I hadn’t realised what a few days without a to-do list felt like until this weekend when I submitted a next draft of a paper to my supervisors. There was nothing to do (well there was actually heaps to do but I chose to take a weekend off) and I slept, walked, I actually did a puzzle, listened to podcasts, danced to music as I cleaned the house with my headphones on (not everyone was in the mood to dance or clean for that matter!) cooked and ate as a family. The part-time PhD is a big commitment and if I didn’t feel so passionately that the research was needed I would stay and enjoy those other commitments. Back to work this week, well, working from home but, back to work with a renewed sense of balance in my body. Day one – and I actually read your post rather than file it to read when I had more time – Success for the week no.1:-)


  10. th says:

    Thank you so much for confirming that part-time doctoral students are important, giving their best and strive for the same standards of quality, despite having substantial work and/or family demands and severely limited access to their universities’ resources, something which full-timers may take for granted (and I wouldn’t blame them; feast while you can). Now in my eighth year of a PhD and I was supposed to have the first half of my final examination in two weeks, but it’s been pushed back six months due to the pandemic. Without daycare, babysitters or grandparents, and with ever-changing online work policies and new challenges they bring (“New opportunities!”), those six months are looking rather short, maybe too short, to complete all my doctoral work in time. I wish I had all day to hang out on campus and do my research, meet with peers and advisers etc., like I did during my master’s. Thank you for recognizing that part-time research is hard and requires loads of patience, something which family and funding sources need to understand.


  11. emmafriesen says:

    Thanks for this great read.
    My part-time and remote candidature PhD took 9 years. The hardest part I found was having to hold not only my PhD research, but my part-time work projects, all in my head at the same time. My work projects were huge and multi-faceted, had many moving parts and intermediate deadlines, and were in operational teams where day-to-day work continued. When I wasn’t working on something very concrete and specific for the PhD (e.g. revisions to a peer-reviewed manuscript), it often got pushed aside in my head and in my timetable.


  12. mikebwtaylor says:

    Being a full-time classroom teacher (a life in itself) and a part-time remote PhD candidate is sometimes insane! I wonder whether there is a possibility I can ever get the best of both at the same time? This post has really helped though Pat thank you. I have noticed the world of full-time PhD students losing their minds a little with the advent of remote working. I just look around now and welcome everyone to my world! I am determined to make th emost of this lockdown however and the new facilities that Universities have quickly created which now mean I can have some support. 🙂


  13. susannahwrightbrookesacuk says:

    I’m a postgraduate research tutor in the UK and finding these posts really helpful as I’m trying to support students in whatever strange version of full-time or part-time they find themselves in at the moment… Thank you!


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