Finding balance during the part-time doctorate

Mr Grebo balancing work and sleep. Except it's my work with his sleep...

This post is from Selina Griffin. Selina has worked in data and project management and now works at the Open University and is in her mid (I can still say mid right?) thirties. She started a Doctorate in Education in October 2020 combining her love of data (in the guise of learning analytics) with one of her hobbies – Toastmasters. She tweets as @psylina and blogs about her study, her running and her cat (@MrGrebo) on Psylina Psays 

Why an EdD? Why now?

I chose to pursue a Professional Doctorate because I wanted to be able to “hold my own” and show that I can do what I do (have expertise in data, online learning and education) at an academic level. The difference between this and a traditional PhD was explained early on in our materials – a Professional Doctorate makes you a researching professional, a PhD a professional researcher. I considered that a Doctorate on Toastmasters may help me to “save time” by combining my hobby with my study; activities could in some way be linked to my study and so tick two boxes. In a Professional Doctorate this idea isn’t so unusual, except people usually are combining their work with their study. 


This is the big question isn’t it, how? How do you work 9-5 (ish), do all the home-life stuff and find the 18 or so hours a week needed to study? Well if that is your aim – to just work, study and do family commitments you’re going to have problems. There’s another important category you need to consider, You.

1.Enjoy your study

Firstly, I do enjoy studying. And you have to at this level. You’re not in compulsory education, you’re making a choice so I’m afraid you are going to have to enjoy it or you haven’t got a hope in hell. I’m not saying I always enjoy it obviously, particularly when I’m struggling with an assignment or grappling with a paper or a concept I can’t figure out, but you need to be excited about what you’re doing and enjoy it. I would almost class study as a hobby; which is perhaps demeaning, but by this I mean when I have free time, study is an option – it’s a choice and not the same category as work

2. Belong

Being a part-time researcher, you can struggle with your identity and your motivation. It can feel isolating and like something “extra”, rather than who you are. You are just as much a researcher as someone who is full-time. Own it (it’s all over my blog!). Make it part of your identity (I put it in my signature after my job title and on Twitter!). Networking with your cohort can help, I do this by attending a monthly seminar – it works for me because there’s a seminar to listen to, it’s not “social chat” and it involves students in all years so I can get a sense of progress and the wider community. A weekly pub quiz may not work for you, but find something – or set something up

3. Find your you

That doesn’t mean all I do is study, I have this “You” category too: I do Toastmasters. I hug my cat. But I also exercise and run (including marathons). I run because it helps me to run. What I don’t do is watch hours of TV – there are a few shows I watch and films, but I don’t “veg” watching TV, it has to be doing something for me.

When you work at a computer, then study at a computer and it’s lockdown, I need a break! I might pop out in a lunch hour (I usually do some sort of exercise at lunch, a 15 minute exercise video, just something to take a physical and mental break and still have time left to eat!) or when I close my work laptop for the day. But I also enjoy it, it feels decadent, I can listen to podcasts (and Zombies, Run), enjoy my own space my own ability (separate from work or study) and set and achieve challenges (the satisfaction of a virtual race is still a huge thrill for me!). 

4. Balance

I use running as a motivation (just read 1 more paper then you can run) or a tool to help me focus (now you’ve run you can study for a couple of hours) – the approach depends on the priority for the day and other commitments.

5. Allow for Eureka moments

It’s a cliché, but I do think clearly when I run and a work or a study problem will often unpack itself and present a solution, so once I’m back, I make notes. I have a Trello board for study and I add cards (even on my phone so I don’t have to go through the hassle of turning a pc on) to ensure I capture and remember key ideas or trains of thought as I come to them for processing later in my study time. This also helps my “completionist” tendencies because having separate cards (or lines on a to-do list) I can tick them off as I move through and address the point.

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