I chose to embark on my PhD knowing that I would have to work full time to pay the bills. I had done two part-time distance learning Master’s degrees before so the idea of working on something at home, in the evenings and weekends had become second nature. However there was much more structure to the Master’s degrees, modules to complete with set assignments and broken down into easy to schedule sections. Embarking on my PhD journey is turning out to be quite different to this!
I will be the first to admit that some days I don’t make any progress. I class progress as reading, writing, drawing, working with a group or organising something project related. I have all the best intentions because it isn’t far from my mind but some days it just doesn’t happen. Sometimes progress only feels like progress if it has been written down and there is a tangible result to what I have been doing. Part of the problem is also that I enjoy working on my PhD and so it isn’t a chore and that feels like cheating! But also, I am not Wonder Woman and I need to give myself a break and maintain relationships with real people and family.
I am lucky in that I work at a university and have easy access to the library, online resources, printing and how the university works. So printing off articles and searching for literature is something I can fit into my lunch break ready for later reading. I prefer to write into a notebook rather than type directly onto a computer which might should like I am adding an extra step. But that extra step allows me to write whilst sat on the sofa, away from screens and I can be a little social during this time. It is also an extra editing step. When I type up my writing I am adjusting, revisiting and reformatting. The extra questioning makes me think harder about what I might have written in haste when an idea was fresh and maybe not quite fully formed.
I also get distracted. By so many things! Housework, cooking, social media…but these things are thinking time. If my brain is not in my PhD at that time I am not going to force it. If I have done a full day at work and tried to cram in a few hours of writing when my brain is tired, I would not be doing myself any favours. Sometimes planning is all that happens, quite often I just switch off for a bit. Then I try and ignore the feelings of guilt. I am also a thorough planner. I plan around my supervision meetings, they are my new deadlines. Getting something ready to for us to discuss is important to me. I also use those couple of days between emailing in a draft and the meeting as a break from writing. That time could then be a weekend away with friends or watching an entire series on Netflix!
Sometimes work is so busy I don’t get anything done for days. October is a very busy month and might be able to do some fieldwork during this time but very little writing due to long days, travelling and just brain fatigue. Luckily my supervisors understand. The hard part is getting back into moving words from my to the paper afterwards. I am sure there must be techniques I could use to make some of this easier!
Overall the benefit of part-time studying is that I have time. Working with local communities, local organisations and families means that somethings don’t go to plan and we have to reschedule and replan. If I was working on a tighter timescale I would be panicking all the time about running out of time! I am writing and doing fieldwork at the same time. Conversations I have through work often benefit my PhD. Someone once said make sure everyone knows you are doing it, have pride! While I am sure that some people are sick of hearing about it and it sounds like I am boasting, but conversations in passing have lead to help from unexpected areas, teaching experience and getting new supervisors!
I don’t know how it all fits in, but it does. There isn’t a formula, but I think I have got a balance between work, studying and being social. I have declined weekend plans to make sure that I have time to write, recover from work or just make the house habitable. I won’t pretent there hasn’t been some sacrifice. It has made me pick my social activities more carefully!