It’s an odd thing, doing a part-time and self-funded Ph.D. Having many scientifically-minded friends, some of which have completed or are undertaking a Ph.D. in a scientific field, my situation seems entirely bizarre to them. They, for a multitude of reasons, are funded, and able to complete their research full-time.
I’m currently in my second year of part-time Ph.D., but it’s been incredibly difficult. Firstly, I guess, I should deal with exactly why I’m part-time. Unfortunately, it comes down to money. The difference between part-time and full-time fees is quite significant, and I don’t have the income to commit. In fact, funding part-time has required the use of credit cards. I know there are probably others out there who are funding their postgraduate studies with a successful job, but the types of employment I’ve been undertaking are distinctly less flexible and not as well paid.
This is perhaps due to the nature and time frame of my studies – going straight from a BA to a self-funded MA and now Ph.D., I’ve been working my way through the qualifications to achieve my goal. That’s right – I have a career path in mind, contrary to what some people believe. I aim to be a lecturer, an academic; researching and publishing papers and teaching young minds. To be able to do this I needed to undertake these qualifications, which I guess is why the whole thing can seem incredibly frustrating sometimes. I am putting so much of myself into this work and this career that to have little recognition can sometimes be painful. There are those lucky few who had their humanities Ph.D. funded, and I’ve had points where I’ve wondered, ‘Why not me?’ Understandably, there isn’t enough funding to go round, and no one should be stopped from learning as much as they can if they have the talent and tenacity, but for those of us who need to get this qualification in order to move forward with a career, it seems like a giant hurdle.
The department in which I work has become more receptive, especially since I’ve been giving papers at conferences in the last year or so. I’m passionately committed to and fascinated by my research, and as a result I have amassed more work than the other full-time students I know that have been undertaking their studies for the same time. My department has also allowed me to teach undergraduates, which has been experience that I’ve been desperate to gain. This, along with writing research papers and working on my thesis, has cemented my belief that I’ve found my future career.
It has been incredibly difficult at times. Although to some I may seem young (on the cusp of 26), my friends around me work full-time and have careers, or are at the start of one. They also have a disposable income, which can be frustrating and leave me with a somewhat childlike feeling that I am still a ‘work-in-progress’. This feeling can be difficult, but I do wonder if that’s more universal than I believe. The most difficult part about undertaking my studies was the attempt to stay afloat: I worked full-time, undertook the Ph.D. part-time, all whilst trying to maintain a home and a social life. Sadly, it resulted in too much stress (to the point of my hair literally falling out), so I suspended my Ph.D. for a year. I realised I had to put my health first and part-time study was the only way it could be done, providing I could afford it.
I am hoping to finish my research in good time, regardless of the 7 years which part-time students are allowed for completion. Whilst I’m aware there are many ways to undertake a part-time, self-funded Ph.D., I worry how many people are putting themselves under huge amounts of stress in attempts to further their career as it’s the only way they can take the path towards it, like myself. However, whether this means more governmental support is needed should be questioned. Of course some may argue that it is our choice to study for a postgraduate degree, and not everyone has a job they like. But this is incredibly reductive an argument, and fails to understand the idea of research, of furthering debate in a field, of the academic culture on which aspects of our country thrive. To give more support would surely increase the depth and breadth of academia.
Perhaps it’s my penance for undertaking a humanities Ph.D., but I am still devoutly committed to completing my thesis and beginning my career. Though it isn’t a perfect framework for undertaking research, at least it allows me to be able to just about afford to undertake it at all.