03/01/2017

Is it possible to do PhD and work full time?

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Source: own resources, Authors: Agnieszka and Michał Komorowscy

I decided to return to my series about Ph.D. studies and write about sharing a time between a job in the industry and scientific work. According to my experience it is quite a common scheme here in Poland (at least if we talk about the computer science). A vast majority of my colleagues had additional job during their Ph.D. studies. In this post I'll try to answer some question on this topic.

A short clarification. By working in the industry I uderstand engineering/technical work that in general doesn't have scientific part. However, I'm aware that there are positions in the industry that required scientific qualification and I'll also write a few words about it.

Why a Ph.D. student may want to work instead of focusing on his/her research?

Well the answer is trivial and it is money. Let's start with the fact that many MSc / BsC students work during their studies. It means that they may have 2, 3 years of experience when they start Ph.D. studies (I assume here that they start Ph.D. just after MSc). With such an experience their salary in the industry could be 2x, 3x, 4x times higher than on the university.

Is it feasible at all to work full time and finish Ph.D. Studies?

Short answer is yes it is possible. I was working full time for almost all my Ph.D. studies and I did it.

What about money from grants and additional projects on the university?

Someone may say that Ph.D. students can also earn additional money by working for their doctoral advisors. It's true but it depends strongly on your advisor. Some of them have grants, projects etc. and will allow you to earn additional money and sometimes this are quite good money. However, not all advisors have such possibilities. Besides you have to remember that grants/projects will end at some point. So you may have good money for X months and then poor money for another Y months.

Another option is to get a grant on your own. There are even dedicated funds for young scientists. However, I couldn't say much about that because I didn't have such a grant. The problem may be that in order to get such a grant you have to have good results. And in order to have good results you should focus on your research. And in order to focus on the research you can't have a full time job. But if you don't have a full time job, you'll have to live for considerable smaller amount of money...

How did a full time job affect your scientific work?

I'm convinced that my Ph.D. thesis would have been better if hadn't worked full time. I have no doubts here. It may sound trivial but the main problem is that scientific work required a lot of innovative thinking, much more than average programming work. And this kind of thinking is difficult after a day of work not to mention about a time for family.

I have one more, not so obvious, observation. I think that because of my full time job in the industry my Ph.D. thesis has engineering inclination. Is it good or bad? I'd say that it depends. We have to remember that Ph.D. is mainly about doing science and engineering part is less important.

I know the case when Ph.D. student didn't defend his thesis because it was too technical! On the another hand if you know the industry your work may be potentially more useful or it may be easier to find practical applications. To sum up it is important to preserve a proper balance between engineering and science with the focus on the latter.

Last but not least. If you work full time during Ph.D. studies you may not have time to take part in additional courses, trainings... that are dedicated to Ph.D. students.

What kind of job will be the best for Ph.D. student if any?

At the beginning of my Ph.D. studies I was working part time. It was a very good idea. I simply had more time for my research. So, if you need to work I strongly recommend you to consider the part time job. The problem is that not every employer will agree for that.

Of course a full time job can sometimes help you in doing Ph.D. i.e.:
  • when it is somehow related to your area of research
  • if the industry is paying you for doing research
  • if the industry is paying you for doing Ph.D.
In this situation you actually don't have 2 jobs but ideally only 1 job, or maybe 1.5 but still it's better than 2. Unfortunately, according to my experience it is difficult to find such a job.

Do you have tips for Ph.D. students who want to work in the industry?

Except what I've already written it'll be good to find a job with flexible working hours. Thanks to that you will be able to go to the university, meet with an advisor etc. without problems. Besides avoid overtime like the plague. It's another think that can kill your scientific work.

I also recommend to have a rule that every week we have to do something related to our Ph.D. It could be reading some articles, doing an experiment, implementing a tool... It's important to do that despite everything. Thanks to that you will constantly see some progress and you will not lose sight of the main objective i.e. Ph.D.

The last advice might be surprising because I did something different ;)

If you seriously think about the scientific career forget about working in the industry. The only exception is if a job in the industry is related to your scientific work.

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