Working while doing PhD

Hello all
I would like to know your opinion.
I have started writing PhD thesis however, i am working in a completely different field to make my ends meet.
After finishing my job, i am left with little to no energy to concentrate on my studies n writing, at the end of the day.
what should I do?
My dissertation is in humanities which I am not sure will have many job options once I graduate.
I am 36.

I want to full time focus on my thesis n finish by the end of next year…
& after that work n earn in area which is related to my PhD…
your opinions n suggestions are welcomed.
Thank you.

@Kavita, I will address first the easier things.

You mentioned you are 36. I am 38, just left a Ph.D. program after the first semester because I hated every single aspect of it and I intend to apply for the other two at the end of this year. Moreover, one of the programs I am going to apply to has an enrolled student who applied when she was 40 years old. What I want to say is, that I can not assess your personal goals and how they balance with your age but when it comes to research, stay cool about your age. It’s not a matter of age, it’s a matter of experience and ability to contribute. If you are able to weave your experienced years into your job presentation, you are cool.

Now about your balance between job and research I gotta a couple of questions.
Considering your finances and the lifestyle you are able to bear, are you able to work part-time? If you can accommodate that, that could be an option.

Have you talked with your advisor/professors and your colleagues about your goals and the lack of job opportunities you are facing? As someone who was an international student during my master’s, I graduated in the middle of the pandemic, my cohort was only two other students in a very different career moment than I was and most of my professors were retired from the market and focused on teaching only. So I had no network from them and I went through tough moments trying to find a job position after graduation. My suggestion is to talk with them and see if they have any connections that could help you. Even if it is just for talking about the marketplace so you prepare yourself.

Are grants a reality in your field? They are not in mine because I am in an organizational behavior domain doing action research where it is very common for people to work as consultants, but maybe that is an option that could help you make ends meet all together with a part-time job position.

Overall, I will ask you to forgive me in advance because it is not my intention to startle you, given you are spending your energy in a position unrelated to your studies, and you are planning to finish your dissertation in 1.5 years, I am concerned if you will graduate with no experience related with what you want to work with. And please don’t get me wrong here!! I am only raising that question because I am right in the middle of this situation and I know that is very frustrating!! My recommendation is to call for all the help you can get from the experts in your field (professors and colleagues) and be able to make some changes in your lifestyle (sharing an apartment with someone maybe).

P.S.: I was just reading your post before posting mine and you mentioned you are not sure you will have many job options once you graduate. I am going to raise some tough questions here so here it goes… Considering what you want to do, and the changes you want to create through your career, is the Ph.D. the only way to do that? Is it worth it to go through all that you have been through and the future burden of writing the thesis? I know it is kind of unthinkable to make these kinds of questions at this point of your program but maybe it could be good to reflect on it. Because from what you have been describing, your degree is leading you nowhere. And please forgive me if I am making you feel sad or frustrated because it is not my intention.

My conclusion is that you either need to have a better understanding of your field and where are its job positions, and starting shifting your life style to accommodate the necessary change of course. Otherwise, your Ph.D. will just be a very expensive hobby.

Thank you so much for sharing your insights!!
I think you are right, I need to take my professor’s colleagues opinion on the jobs in the market…

I had once talked to him about this, but there seemed to be not many options .
My seniors who were foreign students they graduated and are back to their home countries Besides my senior who are natives after graduation they are postdocs with meager stipends…

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@Kavita I am going to be brutally honest with you and say that my first thought when I read your reply was “Yikes… :tired_face:”. But having a better understanding of that, other ideas came to my mind:

  1. Considering your faculty can not yelp you much, you can try to pull the crazy one and reach out to faculty from other programs similar to yours asking for 30 minutes of their time to talk with them about the field. Explain your situation that you talked with your faculty, leading you nowhere and that you want to know if this is a program or a field-related issue. With this same approach, you can take a look at who has been authoring with the faculty from your program and reach out to them too. I said you would be pulling a crazy one with this move because I don’t know how are the politics in your program but after stressing your options with your faculty you would pretty much have no more options right?! And you already have their “No”…

  2. Reaching out to the international students, even if they are in their home countries, could be an option for at least see if they are in a position outside of the postdoc “cult”. Maybe this could be an option to have at least the name of some job positions you can land after graduation.

  3. You can also try to go through your LinkedIn connections (I don’t know if it is popular in your field) and see if someone from your connection might know someone you are interested in talking with to know about your field. You can ask your connection to introduce you to them or maybe reach out out of the blue asking for a couple of minutes to ask for their opinions about the field. This sounds a lot of “American” for me but I did a couple of these when I was in the US and it was somewhat helpful.

  4. The next one might be difficult if you are in a similar situation that I am right now not knowing which way is up or down but it can help you find your compass. You can try to do this backwards. Think about a job position you think good be a good fit for you (forget about the Ph.D. for a while) and look for people on LinkedIn in a similar one. Reach out to them to ask if your profile would be a good fit for a similar position and if your Ph.D. would increase your chances of landing on that. Let me tell you that this is a thorough task and you will have to power through the frustration because you will hear a lot of "No"s and with a high chance of not hearing anything at all.

Let me tell you that I know some of these options are kind of utopian to work out but I wanted to stress all the possible options that went through my mind. The more the merrier right?! I honestly think that stressing the options with your faculty, their colleagues outside the program and, similar programs is the best way to leverage your degree. Going to the industry might be a good way to feel the water but you probably will not like what you see :sweat:.

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@Kavita I have similar issues. I am 49, work full time and have two teenage boys with significant sporting commitments. I found after getting home from work after 8 hours, then running the boys to training, doing my own training, eating, cleaning up etc it was 9-9:30 pm before I had a chance to sit down and attempt something on my PhD. Was never going to happen as I was too exhausted.

Instead, I changed up my day and now get up at 4:30 am (which is easier for me as a morning person). I get 2 hours of focus time just on my PhD each day before I need to walk the dog, prepare for work and leave home for the day. My evening routine is the same, get home, kids, eat, clean but instead of sitting down to attempt PhD work, I simply go to bed. Luckily I work in the same field as my PhD, so I do not have to mentally change gears too much but if I had to, walking the dog (or any form of morning exercise) would help do this.

Can’t advise on the Job prospects as I am in a completely different field but I have found persistence, patience and hard work will generally result in your desired outcome. Working full-time and doing a PhD at the same time generally indicates a high work ethic which will stand you in good stead when chasing something.

Hope that helps - good luck.


Thank you so much for explaining me in detail…I am looking for various options currently…Lets see what works out. I will share here in case of any new development.

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Thank you so much for sharing! It helps hearing from people in somewhat similar area…

Hi Kavita,

I’m in the same position and totally understand how you are feeling. I’m in my 40s, working full-time and doing my PhD part-time and distance. I took a new job post-lockdown which was a few grades lower than my normal role, the idea being that I could still pay all my bills and would be less “taxed” at work… so have more bandwidth for my PhD. It didn’t work! My boss kept pushing me to be more involved at work with internal projects, etc. and it made me even more stressed because I just kept thinking how I could be spending that time on my PhD!

It might work for some but I decided to leave and was even considering moving closer to my university and taking a part-time job. I even scheduled a call with my supervisor to chat about it…But, fate always has a way. I’d been applying for all sorts of roles, including a “dream job” which I thought I had no hope of getting. I got offered the job, in a similar field as my PhD! Great news because a) it was similar enough that it would keep me up to speed and I could do some reading at work b) not so similar it would drive me nuts or conflict with work and c) brilliant for networking and building a group of like-minded people. I’ll add that it did take a long time of constant looking online, being spammed by LinkedIn and, well, keeping at it for over a year. There was a lot of stress (I changed universities in between and even thought about leaving the PhD programme altogether) but I hung in there.

I’d say too that asking for help when you need it is fab! I really recommend using the careers advice and any other support your university has. They can recommend jobs that are similar to your topic and which pull out the skills you want to use of the areas which give you the most purpose and motivate you. I had a couple of appointments with my university careers advisor about re-writing my CV (long story short, my old company had told me to re-write my CV but massively undersold me, which was having an effect on me getting a new role). Their advice was fantastic and the changes I made, which highlighted the skills I was using on the PhD programme more, got me the job!

A lot of it is getting into a rhythm to stop burnout. I like to work in bursts (not everyone does) and usually get up around 8am on a Saturday and get a few hours of writing in, same on Sunday, leaving me time for friends and family later in the day/evening.

One huge thing to remember is not to be too hard on yourself, I used to think I was only working on my PhD if I was sitting in front of a computer either writing or reading but… the best “work” I did was having a cup of coffee staring out the window thinking about my subject, chatting to friends about ideas, of listening to a podcast and thinking “wow, that idea totally applies to my topic, even though its from a totally different field.”

I also found I was losing a huge amount of time (causing more stress) when I did lock myself away and sit down to my computer just answering emails or making completion plans. But really, that’s stuff you can multi-task while family are watching TV or something. While they are watching TV, you can be putting together a spreadsheet or sorting out your filing at the same time as feeling you are having time with family and friends, not locked away on your own. It might not feel like it at times but your also motivating other people, best of luck with your plans and let us know how you get on :grinning: