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Seven Best Tips For Part-time PhD Candidates

Seven best tips for part-time PhD candidates

In my lab in the Netherlands, we see more and more part-time PhD candidates. At my university in Ecuador, we also see more and more faculty members getting their PhD part-time next to their position. So, if you are considering doing a PhD, but on a part-time schedule, or f you currently are doing a PhD part-time, this post is for you.

Many PhD candidates who work on their PhD part-time either already have research and/or teaching experience, or have a solid career in the industry or government. If you are about to embark on a part-time PhD journey, know that this experience is valued in academia. When your university rules seem to be ill-fitting, remember that this situation results from policies that are written for full-time PhD candidates.

As a supervisor of part-time PhD candidates, I can say that I deeply value this experience and point of view that part-time candidates bring to the research, and I recognize that they require a different type of supervision.

If you are a part-time PhD candidate, here are my 7 best tips to make your trajectory a successful one:

  1. Agree on long-term expectations: If you are going to do the PhD part-time, then it’s not realistic to expect to finish in three years. Instead, your research project will need to be planned on a longer timeline, depending on the time commitment you can make. In this timeline, make sure you can free up the time to dedicate to your PhD for periods where you are intensively working in the lab or when you need to travel for fieldwork. Plan your trajectory in a realistic way.
  2. Clarify weekly time commitment: Together with the long-term expectations comes clarifying the weekly time commitment. Will you be working a few hours here and there after/before work and on the weekends? Will you dedicate a certain number of days per week on your PhD?
  3. Plan for this time commitment: Once you have this weekly time commitment clear, block this time in your calendar for working on your PhD. Having a weekly template can be very useful to identify when you will be dedicating your time to your PhD, and, in more detail, when you’d be reading, writing, doing analysis, or responding to emails.
  4. Set regular meetings: If you are a part-time PhD candidate, you may just be around university less than your peers. Especially if you are in a research-only program, working on your PhD next to a full-time job, you may be working mostly at distance. To keep your supervisory team in the loop of your process, and hold yourself accountable, plan in regular (at least bi-weekly) meetings with your main supervisor.
  5. Leverage your skills: Take advantage of the skills you have developed in the workplace or as an experienced teacher. Don’t hesitate when you want to delve further into recommendations for practice or policy recommendations – you are the right person with an excellent understanding of the world outside the ivory tower. Bridge academia and practice through your experience.
  6. Understand policy: Some university policies may be developed with having full-time PhD candidates in mind, and may be difficult to fulfill for you. Understand the policies, what they mean for you, and if there are potential exceptions that would better fit your situation. Discuss these obstacles with your supervisory team, so they can assist you in helping you navigate the required paperwork for your trajectory.
  7. Invest in relationships: As a part-time PhD candidate, you are most likely pressed for time. However, people are always a good investment of your time. Spend time during your PhD trajectory to reach out to your full-time peers, to discuss with them, to make yourself part of the research group and the university, and to develop your academic network. If you work remotely, see if you can travel to campus every now and then to meet with your peers and colleagues.

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