What’s It Like, Then?

Being a part-time student is a whole different kettle of fish, I tell you that. And I thought I’d write a quick post about it now that I am pondering the topic in my head. This topic is something I will return to later on, no doubt.

One word immediately springs to mind. Confusing. I used to work a shift job, 12 hours shifts that went from days to nights to days off at a relatively fast pace. I used to head off to lectures straight from nightshifts, memorably falling asleep in a quantitative research class. Luckily my lecturer knew my working life and was quite gentle when whispering to wake me up when I as supposed to be calculating things on the dreaded SPSS. Still I managed to pass my course, and eventually get my highest grade in my University career in a statictics examination, which still astounds me.

Nothing that kills you more that doing an 84 hour week, with a 12 hour nightshift followed by heading straight to Uni for a full day. Luckily the lectures and the deadlines kept me somewhat aware of the weekdays, since I frequently did not know where I was, or what I was supposed to be doing. Days melt into one big lump and the seasons tend to pass, because for postgrad students, there’s no real summer holiday, just work with more or less undergraduates around. That still happens – I vary between thinking it is April and being completely sure October is around the corner. I frequently do not know which weekday it is, either, thanks to my shift work.

But I did manage. I passed two Masters degrees part-time with the full-time job. Most probably there is some sort of a masochistic tendency going on, because really, TWO stints in grad school? Sheesh. I do however admit that I did my second one mainly to help me to get into my PhD programme.  And here I am – part-time PhD, third year in full swing. I have achieved the status of a PhD candidate quite recently, and got a very cheery e-mail not long ago informing me that my final submission date is the 30th of September 2021. I nearly burst into tears in the lift at work because it really feels sometimes that the slog is never-ending. But I honestly would not change this for the world.

Right now any feelings of discontent less about the PhD and more about the feeling of being stuck in life, a kind of suspended animation because the PhD is stopping everything.

 And that is the overwhelming feeling – repetition. Every year is the same, every month is the same. I read books, find new articles, write, re-read my writing and think it’s rubbish, confuse myself and my supervisors about going on in circles, then re-reading the writing again and being surprised at how good it is. E-mailing myself key words and new ideas while I am at work, then prompty forget what they mean when I finally remember to look at them in my University account. At the same time, my arguments are getting more sophisticated, and I am beginning to see how things link up.

However,  I have to admit I have battled the staleness of everyday life in the past month and done things such as travelling to a country I one day want to work it and returning to the gym to fight fatigue. And it has helped immensely. Routine is good at times but you need to challenge yourself atleast occasionally.

Do I envy those peers of mine who work on their doctorate full-time? Occasionally, yes. I miss knowing my fellow doctoral candidates and always missing out on things going on in my Department. And the coffee and cake in the staff room, let’s be honest!  I’d love to have an office but there is no space for part-timers so all the research is done either in my flat or in the library, neither which are massively good for productive work. There are also days when I feel that I am ‘in the zone’ with my research topic, and would like nothing better than being able to sit on a computer and write for hours. But then I have to face the reality that at 4 am I am getting out of bed to head to work to deal with temperamental workers . Such is life.

 There is a silver lining in everything, however. Work allows me to not think about my research, and acts as a reminder that my research will not in the greater scheme of things really save the world or pay my immediate bills. Working gives me a different perspective. My research is serious, and deals with serious issues. But it’s not a matter of life and death for me. If I mess things up in my research and have to correct them, it does not feel catastrophical. And there advantages in working over a longer time period. The brain never stops working on things, so there is more time to think of things – getting them on paper is whole different matter, I admit. And there is certain satisfaction in knowing that I may indeed have paid off my student loans before the end of my PhD which is a definite bonus.

 As I am typing this it’s 23.30 on a Sunday night. In the next few days I have a diary to sort out, two gym classes, a write-up of 23 articles into my existing chapter on research context to fight through, a trip to the launderette and the shop to do plus two training courses at the University scheduled. Oh, and the library wants me to return two books by Tuesday that I have not even started. On Wednesday morning I’ll jump to the bus at half past four in the morning to start my four days of work. Another normal week.


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