Being a self-funded and part-time post-graduate student is a balancing act. But once you find the right balance for yourself, this way of studying has many benefits. Apart from my dual institutional identity and the challenges of managing study with work, the benefits well outweigh these negatives. My job role and my student role complement each other well and provide a wonderful balance. It allows me to build a dual professional identity. Working in a library has supported my own research skills, including, for example, my knowledge of using electronic databases effectively. My working knowledge of library systems means I now use library and archival resources more effectively as a reader. I see my job role and my study role as mutually supportive and find many areas directly overlap. I also hope my own experiences as a student help me to understand better the needs of library patrons. The dual role allows me to build my dream career in education, whilst gaining practical skills which support both research and administration.
Working while studying also prevents me from becoming isolated as a distance learner. Being based within an educational environment has enabled me to create support networks of people who understand the challenges of research degrees. Waking up for work in the morning, having a planned week and an active job provides me with a great structure, motivating me to study. It prevents me from mulling for hours and hours over a problem, gets me away from my desk and allows me to study in bite-sized chunks.
Time, as always, is the greatest challenge of studying and working. Facing a twenty thousand word draft after a full day at work is demanding. Mustering inspiration to continue researching and writing is mainly a challenge of motivation. I am regularly found reading books in my lunch hour, weekends are spent chained to my laptop and fifteen-hour days are just normal. I think it is important to find an effective working rhythm and to be very organised around your study patterns. Having the understanding of those you live with is very important. Part-time study puts time, emotional and financial pressures on ones family and friends. Being grumpy because a key source is in a library in Northern Siberia can easily spill over into rows over washing up. Blocking time off to hoover, cook or just meet a friend for coffee allows one to maintain a sensible perspective that life is not all about the very small but significant strand of knowledge you are researching.
Part-time study also means that your research project progresses more slowly than full-time students’ work. It can sometimes feel daunting looking at a six-year deadline, so setting mini-goals and plenty of motivation are a must. However, taking a longer time to write up my thesis gives me time to mull over ideas. It will also enable me to attend more conferences, workshops and develop my skills at a leisurely pace. One of the most common problems is explaining the fact that I have been at university for seven years to friends. It is a dauntingly large chunk of time. Enjoying one’s research is probably one of the most important factors for motivation.
Being a distance learner also proves a challenge sometimes. Attending workshops or going to events at my university involves a four-hour train journey. This makes you feel slightly separated from your university environment, and there are lots of interesting events that I cannot attend. However the use of electronic resources, lots of emails, and online research training courses have helped me greatly. Being a distance learner has some benefits. When I do travel to university in the beautiful town of Chichester, I stay in a lovely little hotel, visit some tourist sites and get a little holiday!!