Part time, if only – Helen Palmer

Helen Palmer

Am I really halfway through my first year as a PhD Researcher? I don’t feel like I’ve achieved a great deal yet but then I must remember that I’m not on the same timeline as the rest of my PhD colleagues.

So how does it work being a part-timer? I’m not sure I fully considered what it would be like trying to do a part-time PhD at Warwick, when I live in South Manchester, and am a co-director of a business that means working all over the UK.  I managed to complete a Masters whilst working full-time so what’s the difference?  Well now I know, it’s like comparing apples with oranges!

Balancing act

After the first term of attending seminars, skills training sessions, research methods group sessions, talks, conferences and tutorials, I wasn’t getting much time to really get stuck into the research, let alone kicking off the writing.   So in discussion with my business partner, who also happens to be my twin brother, from the start of 2013 I decided to allocate one day in the working week to devote to my PhD, as well as trying to grab time at the weekend and the odd evening.  In doing so it has given me much needed focus but has also meant there have been some weeks when I’ve spent every evening and weekend catching up with my paid work, but that’s the joy of being self employed…

I deliberately chose to do my PhD as a follow-on from the work I’d done for my Masters dissertation, which in hindsight was clearly a smart move, as I would definitely have struggled with a new topic.  Many friends and colleagues assume that I’m doing a PhD directly related to my work or to further my career, when in fact it’s for purely selfish reasons – I just love film!  It’s been my passion since I was a kid, and that’s a long time ago, and I feel very lucky and privileged to be able to indulge that passion.

In two minds

I know that trying to achieve a work-research-life balance may never quite be realistic, particularly when work or PhD deadlines are looming.  I’d never really achieved the work-life balance before starting my Masters or PhD.  I’m lucky that my chosen professional work is in the arts, heritage and tourism sectors so no two days are ever the same, but it does often mean that my social life is spent going to the theatre, museums, galleries etc alongside colleagues – otherwise commonly known as ‘networking’.  It can therefore be difficult to switch off from my busy work schedule, multiple paying clients and constantly delivering marketing and communications activity, and switch into a quieter reflective mode, focusing on reading and writing about the same subject.

I now realise that I need to use the skills I’ve developed in my work life and adapt them to my research – setting deadlines, being task oriented, organised and multi-tasking, skim-reading, scan-reading and writing – but that will be the topic for another blog post…

Sometimes I feel like I’m the only mature part-time PhD researcher at Warwick as there aren’t any others in my department – Film and TV – but if there are any others out there, what’s your experience?


This post was originally published on the PhD Life blog in 2013

Feature Photo: Creative Commons/DB photography

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