Turns out I like studying, I’ve been studying part-time my whole adult life, whilst working full-time and balancing everything else.
Acquiring new knowledge, developing ideas and new understanding about the world around us is exciting, empowering and useful. Right now, I’m writing up my PhD thesis that I embarked upon part-time whilst working as a full-time Lecturer. "It's a marathon, not a sprint" was the sage advice many academic colleagues gave me when I started. “Treat it like a job, don’t let yourself get burnt out”. But hang on I thought, I’ve already got a job?!? It was certainly a challenge to balance the demands of these two time-hungry roles. Something I couldn't have done without the unflinching support of my friends, family, and colleagues. But then there was the unthinking colleague who muttered under his breath about how “he’d have LOVED to do his doctorate part-time” as if this was somehow the soft option, the easy way to do it. He clearly just doesn’t know.
Because the truth is ...... Part-time study is hard, your time and your mental energy are divided. Competing priorities make undertaking any study whilst also managing a demanding home life or challenging job almost impossible. The hardest thing about part-time study is the time it takes. It sounds obvious, but if you’re only studying part of the time, it takes a hell of a lot longer to finish. You spend so much longer working at ‘optimum stretch’, with no wiggle room and no margin for error. It’s no wonder so many of us get ill or burn out. But you’re also much more likely to experience big life events. During the 6 years I have been undertaking my part-time PhD I’ve moved to a new house, got married, had 2 children, and supported family members through difficult illnesses. Is that terribly bad luck? no. It’s life, and with each new life event, another short gap in your studies opens up, and the final submission moves further and yet further away.
Yet, thousands of people do it, every year. Year in and year out, achieving the seemingly impossible they study part-time. Part-time night courses at their local FE college, part-time degrees, postgraduate qualifications, MBA's, distance learning through the Open University and yes, even part-time PhD’s. Yes, given the right resources and opportunities I sure would have loved a pop at a full-time PhD (typically 3-4 years study in the UK). But like many, I haven't had those chances, but I have chosen and continue to choose to study part-time. It might be harder fought, but I've had the opportunity to really think about my research. To reflect and learn from the things revealed within my data. To watch my area of interest, grow and develop, that extra time has also given me a chance to grow alongside my understanding. The depth of learning achieved part-time is often worth the wait. So, next time someone tells you they're studying part-time, remember they are not taking the soft option. They are the elite athlete, juggling it all and running not just a marathon but a long-distance endurance race.