Following my previous post, here are the remaining items from my suggested Top 10 questions to ask yourself…
Question 6: Are you financially able to do this?
Mortgage, car payments, dogs, family, spouse, partner, life insurance, pension payments, bills, bills, bills. As a bit of a control-freak, I have a spreadsheet for everything! If you are going to be forking out University fees, or perhaps cutting your income, you need to make sure that you are able to meet those commitments that we all tend to have as adults. Financial strain can add a lot of pressure, when you also consider the time aspect…do you still want to live as you did, enjoy holidays and days/nights out? I gave up a lot of my time and social aspects of my life, but it was all so that I could keep to my scheduled completion. Are there scholarships available and, if so, what are the contractual terms (see question 8). There was often extra marking to pick up – but this is sometimes an area, depending on your institution, that will offer a source of income.
Question 7: How will you schedule your time across all aspects of your life?
As I said previously, I made a plan at the start of my PhD – it was very wishy washy, and obviously fluid. From that, I made smaller lists of what I thought I could achieve. If I looked at the PhD as one thing, I’d never have completed anything. By breaking down the chapters into manageable chunks, I could set myself goals for each month, then each week. I also made sure that everything I did was in my Outlook Calendar, and was linked to my phone. I couldn’t link these with my work BlackBerry, so my whole life was organised on my iPhone. It’s important to make sure you have a day off, whether for your own sanity, or to spend with family if that applies. You need to retain some aspect of normality, and pitch in at home too!
Question 8: What commitments are within your PhD Contract?
I was permitted to continue working as it would hopefully give me access to a population for data collection, relevant to the contextual setting of the PhD. You need to check what your own PhD contract entails and what, if any, restrictions are in place. The school that I was part of at Heriot-Watt University was efficient – PhD students were included in the Global Workload Model, so my teaching and marking commitments were made clear each semester.
Question 9: Where will you do your PhD?
Trying to fit everything into your life can be eased by careful consideration of which institution you will attend. For me, I had a 45 min to an hour drive each way, but to me it was the quality and recognition of university that was important. I lived equi-distant between Glasgow and Edinburgh so either would have been similar for travel. Remember, if you have to travel you need to factor in the additional fuel/transport/related costs. I was doing up to 20k miles a year so the dealer servicing, wear and tear, etc started to mount up. However, it was all worth it and, come June, I’ll be proud to be a Heriot-Watt graduate.
Question 10: Will you be able to achieve what you wanted to in the time that you have?
So, whether part-time or full-time, working or not, you need to go back to my earlier posts and consider planning! Remember, it’s a big old coursework that can be achieved within the timescale. I studied full-time, worked almost the same, and completed 3 months early. Perhaps consider how relevant the data sample collected is if it takes longer than anticipated to complete and submit. Not all institutions will offer the same extension policies if you run over. Dependant on your institutions contract (stipend, fee waiver, scholarship, etc) you need to remember that you could incur additional fees to extend. For me it was about proving a point – I can do anything I set my mind to and “pah” to those who don’t think it’s reasonable to complete a PhD within 3 years.
Picture by jakeandlindsay under CC license.