Whatever the reason for doing your doctorate part-time, the following tips may help you. They include quotes from a Vitae film offering tips and advice gathered from part-time researchers who have successfully completed their doctorate. They will probably prove useful to full time researchers too.
Be tenacious, because a PhD is a long haul thing
Keep work, study and ‘you time’ separate
If you are working from home, go through your diary with your partner, family or friends, and plan in the times you can spend with them and times when you need to work alone. Are you able to create separate physical space for your doctoral work?
You need to set aside chunks of time for your PhD to do it effectively. So enlist any help that you can whether in work or with the family in enabling you to get full days set aside for your PhD
Don’t stress out over time when you are not actively working on your PhD. Even though you are not directly thinking about it, your brain is working on the issues and you don’t need to sit there and deal with it 24 hours a day, seven days a week in order to get there in the end.
Use a package like Endnote in order to keep your references well organised because there is nothing worse than searching through piles of journals for something you know you saw three weeks ago.
Communicate with friends, family, … people at work, your boss so they know what you are doing with your spare time and why you seem to have disappeared from social life. Communicate to them how important it is what you are doing.
Remain connected with your research community
Maintain good contacts with your supervisory team. Try to have supervision meetings face to face or at least using Skype or other video conferencing tool. Other collaboration tools may be available at your university.
Maintain a presence, even if it is only a virtual presence, wiht your supervisor. Make sure that you have regular appointments in the diary, maybe fortnightly to start with.
Join or start face-to-face or online communities based on research field, socialise with others from your institution, to gain support, sounding boards and share experiences with others studying for their postgraduate degree.
If your university organises research days with poster presentations and talks of on-going research make sure you participate if at all possible. Not only will you get feedback on your work, but you will also get practice in presenting and defending your research and more chances to build a network.
Get the support you need
Find out about training programmes, counselling services, and other services for groups with specific needs that are available to you in your institution. If you are local to the University, make full use of all facilities for sports, social life and study. The relevant administrative offices are often open into the evenings and the libraries open at evenings and weekends during term time. If you are distant from your University, make the most of face to face visits – check on available seminars and training courses during your stay and arrange to meet up with other (part-time) researchers.
What is available on-line at your institution? Videos or slides from seminars or training courses on a Virtual Learning Environment?
Manage your doctorate like a project
Appoint a family member, or someone you live with, as your project manager, if you do not see your supervisor very often. Tell them in advance what you hope to achieve on a given day or week. You will have someone who can check on you, encourage you, and celebrate with you when you have reached a goal.
Try to demonstrate progress to yourself.
Learn to say no to unrealistic demands on your time at work as well as in research – don’t be afraid to say no, each area of your life will take priority at different times.
Carry forward into your new life (as a researcher) the sort of disciplines of self-organisation and time-management that you’ve learnt in your professional life.