Balancing a part-time PhD with paid work

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As a mature self funding part-time astronomy PhD student I cannot be accused of taking the easy option, though I rarely have a dull day. It is certainly enjoyable to come in to research and back to university after 20 years of working in the finance industry. Spending time working on a problem to do with young stars is more personally rewarding, if not financially, than writing a specification document for a computer program to convert a file of financial data from one format into another.

To fund my PhD I work part-time as a self employed computer programmer and business analyst. The volume of paid work varies from week to week, and I find myself constantly balancing work and research priorities. This can make it difficult to keep a clear dividing line between work time and my time spent on research. I have days when I am working from home but also spend some of my time analysing stellar spectra or computer model results, while on the flip side I will occasionally get an urgent email from a client while I am at university which can take a few minutes to deal with. This leads to a good variety in life, but it does mean I have a lot of different things going on in my head. Creating lists helps me, even if I do not always keep them up to date the process of listing tasks helps my mind to organise the work.

I also do my best to have some time off in the evenings. The kind of work I do often involves emails in the evening, so I draw a line to allow myself some proper downtime each day by turning off my phone and computer at about 8 or 9 pm each day.

I find I look forward to the time I spend on research. Often I will be deeply engrossed in solving a particular research problem, but I must then find an appropriate place to pause so I can pick it up again in a day or two. This can be disruptive, but it is not all bad as having a break from a problem can often help to solve it.

Working while studying towards a PhD is not an easy option, but I do not regret it for a moment. The opportunity to do original research in an area that fascinates me outweighs the challenges of the balancing act I perform.

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