Is it possible to earn a PhD while working? The brutal truth

Working alongside your PhD seems like an attractive proposal until you look at all of the different commitments you need to make to actually get a PhD and submit your dissertation. Working part-time may help PhD students financially but it often comes at an academic cost.

It is possible to earn a PhD while working. However, it requires strict time management and can be very complicated. You have to balance any other significant commitments inside and outside of your PhD.

A PhD is typically the equivalent time commitment as a full-time job. The majority of the PhD students I know work at least 40 hours a week. So, trying to get a PhD while working is very time intensive – 80-hour + weeks.

Some students drop down to a part-time PhD in order to balance all of the particular commitments of a PhD program and working hours.

Whether or not you are a part-time PhD student or you are studying your PhD full-time, here are all of the aspects you should consider if you are considering working alongside your PhD research. This is what you need to know if you are considering getting your doctorate while working.

Can you work during a PhD?

Some institutions full-out ban their PhD students from working full-time alongside a full-time research commitment. They want to make sure that you’re working 100% on your PhD because balancing work isn’t easy.

Although it may not be banned in some institutions it is generally expected that students focus on their research and coursework full-time during a PhD and are therefore not typically able to hold down a full-time job.

Some programs may allow for part-time work, but it is generally not recommended as it can interfere with academic progress.

Additionally, many PhD programs offer funding in the form of stipends or fellowships which can help support students financially during their studies.

There are a few things to consider if you are thinking of working during your PhD.

The first is whether or not you will have enough time to dedicate to both your work and your studies. You don’t want your work to suffer because you are spending too much time on your PhD, or vice versa.

Another thing to consider is how working will affect your funding.

If you are receiving PhD funding or a scholarship from an external source, they may have stipulations on whether or not you can work while receiving their funding. Be sure to check with them before taking on any paid work.

Lastly, you will want to make sure that the work you are doing is related to your field of study. Working in a related field can help you with your research by giving you real-world experience that you can apply to your studies.

Even though some institutions allow you to work, should you?

Should you work during your PhD?

Some students feel that they need to work in order to support themselves during their PhD, while others feel that they can focus solely on their studies.

There are pros and cons to both approaches.

Experience outside of academiaDistraction from completion
Improved financesTakes much longer (at least twice as long)
Escape from academic workIncrease risk of burnout
NetworkingExtra people to coordinate with
 Increase in time pressures
 Balancing expectations of job and academia

Working during your PhD can help you to cover your living expenses and may even allow you to save some money. However, it can also be a distraction from your studies and may make it more difficult to find time to do research.

I know that I wouldn’t be able to balance the pressures of a full-time job with my PhD studies and, therefore, decided to not have any jobs during my first year – this included jobs inside the University such as demonstrating in undergraduate laboratories.

Therefore, it is possible to do a PhD whilst working full-time but you really have to consider the impact of the extra pressures and commitments

. It is much easier to work alongside your PhD if you have a strong research-based masters degree and your job outside of your degree is flexible enough to allow you to attend different academic commitments such as attending seminars, meeting with advisers, and travelling to conferences.

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to work during your PhD is up to you.

Consider your financial situation and how working would impact your studies before making a decision.

It can be difficult to juggle work and study commitments, and you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed and stressed. You may also have less time to socialize and enjoy your student life.

So, it’s important to think carefully about whether working during your PhD is right for you.

What type of work can you do during a PhD? Part time or Full time?

During your PhD there are a number of different options that you could consider if you want to (and you are allowed to) get a job.

I do not recommend working full-time alongside your PhD but, there are some options for part-time work to earn a little bit of money alongside your studies.

Full time work

My recommendation is that you do not try to fit a PhD alongside full-time work. Trying to work full time is asking for trouble.

There will be so many more pressures on you that it will not be a very enjoyable experience.

A PhD requires you to be creative.

Creativity comes from having enough mental space to allow your mind to connect new and interesting ideas together. If you are busy with work you will not have the mental capacity to be able to do this effectively.

Therefore, I recommend that you consider at least dropping down to part-time work if you are insistent on pursuing a PhD alongside employment.

I have seen PhD students complete a PhD part-time supported and partly funded by their current place of employment.

Part time work

If you want to know more about the best PhD student part-time jobs check out my full guide – click here for the full article.

There are a variety of part-time jobs that can easily supplement your income during a PhD.

The best PhD student part-time jobs will have flexible hours, provide you with a reasonable hourly rate, and not distract you from your primary goal of completing your PhD.

I have highlighted in my YouTube video, below, all of the different side hustles that PhD students can try if they need to earn a little bit more money.

The common part-time jobs for PhD students include:

  • Hospitality
  • Customer service
  • University-based jobs – such as tutoring, marking exams, student services and working in laboratories
  • Online jobs such as user testing, notetaker, and translating.
  • Freelancing. Selling a skill that you have two people on services such as Upwork.

Why Should You Worry About Working During Your PhD

There are a number of reasons why you should worry about working during your PhD.

The most important is balancing workload, the fact that you were extending your time in academia by a significant amount, the increased risk of burnout, and ensuring you have enough resources to keep you going for multiple years.


A PhD is just like a full time job.

Therefore, getting a PhD while working full-time will be incredibly difficult. Both commitments will require at least 40 hours per week each.

Nonetheless, if you are able to have full flexibility on your work schedule and you are capable of distance learning for some part of your PhD it may be much more possible.

Many PhD students struggle with just the commitments of earning a doctorate. Consider working alongside your PhD very carefully.

Time it takes

A PhD will typically take between three and seven years. During this time it is extremely stressful and you need to make sure you’re capable of researching at your best for the entire time.

I have always said that a PhD is a marathon and not a sprint. Adding extra years to your PhD if you need to can be worth it. However, you must consider the amount of time it will take you to get your PhD and the potential return on that investment.

Unless you have a particular career secured or in mind for after your PhD the extra years it takes to complete a doctoral degree part-time are generally not worth it.

Burn out

Burnout is a real consequence of doing a PhD.

By working alongside your PhD you’ll increase your chances of burnout significantly. This is true even if you like to study.

If you are prone to feelings of being overwhelmed I would stay away from earning a PhD whilst working full or part-time.

Slowly introduce part-time work if you need to once you have settled into the general routine of your PhD.

Tips for Earning Your PhD While Working

Here are a few general tips that may help you if you find yourself having to work alongside your PhD:

Talk to everyone involved

Everyone involved in this process needs to be on board. There will be times when you need to ask favours from your supervisor, colleagues, work supervisor or others.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help: Whether it’s from your supervisor, colleagues, or friends and family, don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it.

This is not a sign of weakness, but simply a recognition that we all need assistance from time to time.

Stay Organized and on Track

Find a routine: Try establishing a set schedule for at least most days of the week and stick to it as much as possible. This will help you to stay focused and make the most of your limited time.

Get Involved in the Research Community

Remember to stay in touch with your research community.

Working part-time or full-time can mean that you miss out on the exciting recent advancements and collaboration with people in your field. Make an extra special effort to attend seminars, talks, and networking events to help progress your research and your academic career.

Don’t squirrel yourself away!

Work with your strengths

Know yourself: Be honest about how well you work under pressure and how much free time you realistically have.

If you know that you work better with a tight deadline, then try to structure your work schedule accordingly.

Personally, I need as much free mental space is possible to perform at my best. Just do what is best for you.

Wrapping up

This article has been through everything you need to consider if you are tempted by earning a PhD while working.

Your PhD programme may dictate whether it is possible to work alongside your PhD. Whether or not it is a good idea will be down to you and if you are able to balance an insane amount of commitments and work.

My general recommendation is that you should focus 100% on your PhD journey and although it is definitely possible you’re going to be at risk of burnout.

Combining part-time PhD’s, part-time jobs, and finding a flexible job that will help keep you focused on the primary goal of finishing your dissertation is the most sensible way of working alongside your PhD.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.