New Year 2020 (little did I know the isolation that was coming), I spent the best part of a week, a rare week off work, filling in funding applications, stressing about the deadlines and the fact that I needed references from people who were themselves on holiday. I knew I was unlikely to be successful, but felt I had to try, to know I’d given myself the chance. It was a gruelling process but I got through it and a little sliver of hope persisted, that I might be supported to carry out this project I so wanted to bring to life… Some weeks later, I heard back: fallen at the first hurdle. I wondered why I ever thought it possible that in such a competitive process and with so little research experience, I might somehow stand out. I was then faced with the reality of my options. No point, I realised, in waiting and reapplying next year, so I took a step back and reconsidered. I couldn’t have the dream of being funded to do this research, but really wanted to do my PhD and it felt like now was the time, to catch this wave of initiative. So, Plan B: self-fund, work part-time. I was already working as a psychotherapist, would just need to reduce my work hours, make space for the PhD alongside and save up what buffer I could between now and starting.
I’m now just over a year into my part-time PhD. Five years to go, up to seven with extension. It’s strange to think so far ahead. Part-time wasn’t my first choice but it does have some advantages I hadn’t foreseen when I originally applied. Foremost, is that I like the sense of diversity and balance it confers on my weeks. My focus and time is not all on one thing, which gives a kind of perspective to each. It also means I feel relatively unpressured (so far!) in taking my time to really develop and conceptualise my research. I may not be putting in any more conscious hours than I would be if full-time, but it does give me more time with it in the background, my unconscious working away at it. Given that I’m in Counselling Studies, it also feels helpful to stay grounded in my clinical practice alongside my research.
On the downside, I often worry that I am not doing enough on the PhD. While I aimed to gradually reduce my client numbers, I have too many still to have the 2.5 days I should for the PhD. I end up going into the PGR office most weekends. I often find myself with a few hours free before or between clients, but it’s hard to chop and change. I need a good few hours to really get into and profit from the ‘zone’ of thinking and writing. I keep telling myself I will reduce my client numbers further, create more blocks of PhD time, and maybe I finally will, but I am conflicted. I don’t want to create any premature endings, I don’t like turning people away, especially not returning clients. And, inevitably, I feel a tension in the fact that less hours seeing clients means less income. Working in private practice, I have no set income, it is unpredictable, hard to plan. How much will be enough? (Never mind in the cheery post-Brexit, post-Corona, Russian-Ukraine war world of inflation, cost of living crisis and recession). It is all a balancing act, a juggle. Connecting with peers can also be a challenge. There are so many events and courses I can’t join because of my work commitments. And I’m aware that as time goes on the friends I made in my first couple of semesters and I become increasingly out of sync with where we are in our projects. I will watch them complete their PhDs while I still have a long way to go – I’ll need to keep making new friends.
On balance, the benefits of spaciousness, variety and perspective feel like they outweigh these challenges. I like knowing that I still have plenty of time to find my way and that I can continue to enjoy the sense of belonging and community that studying confers on me. I might decide to switch to full-time in future if I can afford it and want to speed up the process, but for now I am happy with how events unfolded and being part-time. Let’s see how it’s looking in another year or so!