The best PhD student part-time jobs [Full guide]

Having a part-time job as a PhD student can be a way to earn more money and live more comfortably but, it also has a downside. It can also be a huge distraction and stop you from focusing on your primary goal which should be working towards your PhD.

The good news is that there are job options that allow you to build valuable skills for the future and not get distracted. My favourite jobs, during my PhD, were teaching in laboratories and tutoring.

The best PhD student part-time jobs include university-based jobs such as tutoring, marking exams, running workshops or laboratories, and working in student services. You can also do online part-time jobs such as user testing to earn a small amount of extra income per month.

Having a part-time job as a PhD student is essential if you are a self-funded PhD student. Without the extra income, you will be relying on savings and eating away the money in your bank account.

This article will cover everything you need to know about the best PhD student part-time jobs and provide you with some options that may suit your current availability and interests.

Can I have a side job as a PhD student?

In all the universities that I have worked at, there has never been any issue with PhD students having a part-time job as long as it did not interfere with their research and it was approved by their supervisor.

PhD students are able to get a stipend which will support their basic living costs throughout their PhD. For example, I was supplied with AU$20,000 per year as a PhD stipend in Australia.

This amount provided me with enough money to afford a reasonable rent in a share house and run a very old and tired car. Nonetheless, I often had plenty of money for entertaining myself with my friends. There wasn’t a lot of money saved but it meant that I didn’t have too worried about the basics (food, accommodation, travel, et cetera).

Some PhD students find that their stipend is not enough for their desired lifestyle and, therefore decide to get a part-time job.

But should you get a part-time job during your PhD?

Should you have a job during a PhD?

Even though there are no explicit rules in many universities for students having part-time jobs it can be a huge distraction.

A PhD takes up a lot of brainpower and time. Trying to balance the demands of a part-time job may be too much for many PhD students.

In general, I would recommend that a PhD student does not have a part-time job in at least the first year of their studies.

Ensuring that your mind is fully on the research will help you start strong – the work performed in the early years are the most important for a timely finish.

You should definitely get a part-time job during your PhD if you are under financial stress. Worrying about where the next meal will come from will do nothing but distract you from the research. Going down to a part-time PhD is also an option if you are struggling financially.

Do what is best for you and the general rule of thumb is to dedicate as much time as possible to your PhD whilst also balancing other aspects of in adult life such as obtaining money for a basic lifestyle.

If you do decide to get a job during your PhD here are some of the best options for balancing with your research.

Best PhD student part time jobs

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.

There are, of course, many more options than I was able to highlight in my YouTube video.

Typical common part-time jobs in hospitality and customer service are a great place to start if you need to start work quickly.

Common part-time jobs

Even though it can sometimes feel like a bit of a backward step in your life, getting a job in hospitality or customer service can be the perfect balance for your PhD schedule.

Think of areas of employment that employ undergraduate students. These employers are often understanding of student timetables and are often more flexible with your rostering.

Hospitality

Working in a bar, restaurant, café, or other hospitality area can be a fantastic way to earn money as a PhD student in a part-time job.

The benefits include working outside of 9-to-5 and being relatively flexible with working hours.

Unfortunately, hospitality can be very physically demanding. Standing up all day, serving customers, and delivering food can take its toll. Ensure that you are able to balance this role and rest appropriately to allow your mind to be on tiptop form when you are doing research.

Customer service

Customer service is another awesome job that often employs university students.

Working in a store on weekends may be the best way to balance your PhD and your work.

In high school, I worked in a department store and I was also able to earn commission on top of my regular base salary. I sold suits.

Looking for customer service/sales roles that have an extra commission on top of the base salary may be a good way to maximise your earning potential in a part-time job.

University-based jobs

One of my favourite areas to work as a PhD student was within the university itself.

Having a part-time job in a university means that you don’t have to travel very far. It is also very easy to fit in around your other research responsibilities.

There are a number of university-based jobs including tutoring, marking exams, working in student services, and more.

Tutoring

One of my favourite ways of making money as a PhD student was fired tutoring.

If you enjoy working with students tutoring may be one of the most lucrative things for you to do with your time.

I used to offer students “cram sessions”.

Towards the end of a teaching semester I would offer chemistry students the ability to go through past exams with me. I would break down all of the common questions in the past exams and the best way to answer them.

This was valuable for the student as it focused their attention towards passing an exam. I was able to earn a lot of money in two weeks because of the demand for extra tutoring.

Simply placing in advertisement on a high traffic student area is all the marketing you need to do. Alternatively, you can place ads online in the appropriate forums and Facebook groups et cetera.

Marking Exams

Marking exams is something that senior PhD students can consider.

I used to mark lecturers’ exams because they did not have the time to do it themselves.

I approached several lecturers and asked whether or not they would be interested in outsourcing their marking. I was provided with an ideal answer marking sheet to mark up to 300 papers.

Once I got into the swing of things and memorise the answers it was very easy to go through the exams and pick out the areas in which the marks are awarded.

Workshops/laboratories

In the chemistry area, undergraduate students have two do laboratory assignments.

It was very common for PhD students to sign up for demonstrating in the labs.

The job would involve attending a lab, demonstrating the activities, supervising the students and answering questions, and marking their lab books.

Even though the role was performed throughout the day it only happened a couple times a week and was easy to fit into a typical PhD workload.

I also ran the chemistry tutorials.

These were where students asked questions about the lecture material and we went over many examples so that they were able to fully understand the, sometimes very complicated, material.

If something like this interests you, reach out to

Student services

Other PhD students in my cohort often signed up for contract roles with the student services office.

They would help undergraduate students with activities like:

  • Maths
  • Statistics
  • literature review writing
  • article writing
  • finding and citing sources
  • and other academic activities

Often these services were for international students struggling with academic English.

Have a look to see if your university offers the services and how you can get involved.

Best online jobs for PhD students

In the modern world, it is possible to earn money online. It isn’t necessarily the easiest way of earning money and it can be very difficult and time-consuming to earn money online.

Nonetheless, there are some options for you if you need to be location independent and have a desire to earn your money online.

The great thing is that you only need a laptop and a stable Wi-Fi or Internet connection to earn money.

Here are some of my best ways of earning money.

User testing

User testing is when you provide feedback to developers and website owners on the usability of their website or app.

I did this for a while and it earned me anywhere between US$200 and US$300 a month. Not a lot but enough for a little bit of a top up of your scholarship.

The onboarding process was relatively simple and you have to submit an example of your work. Speaking aloud clearly, and following the brief allows you to get the highest reviews back from your clients and ensures that you are recommended for more tests.

Check out a service like usertesting.com.

Translator

If you can read and write in a foreign language fluently and understand the basics of translation you can make a good money as a freelance translator.

This is brilliant for international students who are doing their PhD in a second language and it can make you up to $29 per hour. Your pay will vary based on your experience and the complexity of the project you work on.

Notetaker

An interesting way of making money as a PhD student is to become a notetaker for a service like studysoup.com

You will be able to earn a lot of money whilst helping struggling college students with their notetaking in difficult classes.

If you are someone who loves organisation and learning this may be the perfect opportunity for you to earn some money alongside your PhD.

It could be a little bit time-consuming but will also help you revisit the basics and foundations of your field. Something that is quite valuable for PhD students who are getting lost in the specifics of their research.

Search engine evaluator

Search engine performance evaluation can be relatively lucrative for PhD students but it can be lonely and demand a lot of your time.

You will be evaluating whether a search result is timely, relevant, and accurate to their search intent.

You’ll be providing a human perspective on the results to help inform their algorithms.

It has excellent flexible working hours and often employs new evaluators.

However, the workflow can be very irregular, just like most online ways of earning money, and may involve training periods and non-compete agreements.

If you’re interested in other ways to earn money check out this YouTube video, below.

Best freelance jobs for PhD students

Getting a freelance job can be relatively difficult. Unfortunately, building up your reputation as a reliable and capable freelancer is a full-time job on its own.

However, if you have got a particular skill that is highly valued you can earn good money.

Freelance jobs for PhD students include:

  • writing
  • translation
  • video editing
  • graphic design
  • search engine optimisation
  • website development
  • coding
  • and many other skills

You can use services like Upwork to find clients but these services are often a “race to the bottom” for pricing. You may not get what you deserve and you may be better off finding clients through your own networks and connections initially.

Choosing the best PhD student part-time jobs

If you decide to take up a part-time job as a PhD student is important that you follow some simple rules to ensure that it does not take over your life.

Balancing the time commitments required for a PhD student with a part-time job is difficult but certainly not impossible.

Good communication with your employer, supervisor, and direct manager will ensure that you are able to balance everyone’s expectations.

Here is everything you need to do to make sure that you choose the best PhD student part-time job.

Time commitment

Part-time jobs can become a massive time sink.

Ensure that you write out your schedule and dedicate as much time as humanly possible to your PhD studies.

Look for a job that has the smallest amount of time commitment for the largest amount of hourly pay so that you can be as efficient as possible earning money.

Skill building

The one reason I loved getting a part-time job in my university was that it allowed me to build up skills that helped me later in academia.

Learning to teach, explain, and help students certainly look good on my CV and it was something I enjoyed. It led to me lecturing as a postdoc and allowed me to build up evidence of quality teaching.

Try to find a part-time PhD student job that allows you to build skills that you enjoy. For me, that was teaching, lecturing, and interacting with students.

Agreements

No matter what you decide to do, make sure that everyone is on the same page.

You need to be explicit with each person involved. Whether that is your research supervisor, your boss, manager, or family, you need to make sure that everyone knows what you are able to do and the time that you can dedicate to each activity.

People can get confused about your motivations and asked too much of you as a PhD student.

Remember to write down your agreements and have everyone sign off on what you are committing to. Jobs can easily take over a lot of your life if you allow them to.

Wrapping up

This article has been through everything you need to know about the best PhD student part-time jobs and all of the options available to you.

I have shared my experience during my PhD and found that a university-based part-time job was the best way to balance the time commitments of both a job and my research.

I also really liked lecturing and, therefore, built up skills which enabled me to bolster my CV and position myself later in my academic career.

No matter what you end up doing, make sure that everyone understands the commitments you are able to provide to each role and that you are explicit with your supervisor and your boss.

Earning a little bit of extra money throughout your PhD will help you stay away from financial anxiety and provide a little bit of extra spending money on top of your PhD stipend.