I took a while to tell my colleagues that I was studying for a PhD in my spare time. I was concerned that they might question my ability to balance a full-time (and full-on) career with doctoral studies in a topic completely unrelated to the industry I work in.
But I began to realise that, although the topic I am exploring is not directly connected, the skills I am acquiring are hugely valuable. The process has given me new perspectives and added value in ways I had not expected.
My approach to innovation has evolved, for example, as I apply academic questioning and analysis to business problems. I have completely refined my prioritisation skills. And mentoring graduates and helping them to realise their potential has inspired me to solidify my own thinking about progression.
Studying part-time for a doctorate can be a lonely experience; I have met only a small number of people in the same position. What’s more, there isn’t a huge amount of advice on the topic, so here are lessons I have learned about managing it so far:
Choose a topic that you love
Your choice of subject has to be so appealing that you can keep yourself motivated for the duration of your studies, in the face of the stresses and strains of work. This project may take six years (or more), so it needs a topic that you can’t leave alone. I’ve come to realise that much of a PhD is just getting through it, proving to yourself that you can persist and keep going.
Find the right supervisor and the right programme
Before you begin, it’s important to spend a significant amount of time finding the right supervisor - someone who can appreciate and support your approach. They will need to understand your priorities and your study pattern, which is likely to involve short bursts of activity. Look for someone experienced and who can understand your end goals. You are CEO of your project, so choose your supervisory team well, just as you would do in business.
Set the ground rules
Agree the minimum face-to-face and remote contact required with your supervisor. Document a clear plan of work and activities to reassure people around you - your supervisor and your colleagues - that you are in control.
Take real holidays
Much of the leave I take from work is focused on catching up on studying, but a break away from everything helps to clear the mind and restore the balance between work, study, home, family and friends.
Help is there if you look for it and are open to receive it. Once I started being more open about what I was doing, the support I received from my colleagues hugely increased.
Only do what you need to
Accept that you cannot do everything. If your studies are not intended to further your career, you don’t have to give papers, or participate in teaching unless you want to. You need to be clear about the reasons for pursuing your studies. If it is not for a career in academia, then why put yourself under that extra pressure?
Work out how your studies will make you different - value the unique perspective they will enable you to bring to your organisation. Being able to articulate the extra benefits that you bring to your role may be useful if you need leniency around working hours or have to ask for study leave. There are more options than ever before to study remotely or part-time. Pursuing something that you are really interested in can be intensely fulfilling and help you to move towards a rounded and holistic approach to life.