Studying for a Part-time PhD Challenges and Benefits

5 minute read

Are you a master’s student? Or are you an early-career professional, with a desire to further specialize in your subject area? Then a PhD is what you must be considering. Regardless of your subject: Computer Science, Humanities, Data or STEM, enrolling for a PhD is a long-haul commitment. We all know that it can take up to 5 years – even more in some cases due to data collection problems, or personal issues, which can slow down the completion of the PhD thesis. 

So, it may take 7-8 years to get the PhD degree from the time of enrollment. But wait! There are other models too! Some universities offer Part-time PhD, Online and even Fast-Track PhD programs. So, how can you choose what is best for you? In this Blog, I am going to address these questions so that if you are a PhD aspirant you can consider the benefits and challenges of each model, compare them and then make an informed choice about which model of doing a PhD suits your goals and your circumstances.  

My objectives in this Blog are to present some clarifications which will help PhD aspirants to weigh their options and then find the universities which might be offering that option. In the paragraphs below I will first compare the full-time and part-time options, evaluating their advantages and challenges — both at the professional, as well as personal levels. This Blog is based on several years of teaching and mentoring experience at universities in India and abroad, especially in the United States. My comments below also reflect my journey of having completed a PhD, and published my thesis internationally as a book!

Full-time vs Part-time PhD: Which is Better?

  • Regardless of whether you are a student of Computer Science, Humanities, Data or STEM, enrolling for a PhD is a long-haul commitment. It can take 3-6 years. Many universities require coursework from their full-time PhD students. This is especially the case in US universities. In other geographical locations, this may vary.
  • A full-time PhD also requires a certain frequency of staying connected with the supervisor and having in-person meetings. This also brings exposure to peers who are also PhD scholars.
  • During a full-time PhD, a student may be required to make paper presentations on campus, as well as during in-person conferences. Through all these activities a student gets feedback and progress reviews. These interactions with professors and peers keep high levels of motivation during the process of research and thesis-writing, which helps towards the timely completion of a PhD.
  • In contrast to this, a part-time PhD program imposes fewer requirements. It is assumed that a part-time PhD scholar may have other commitments, either related to a job or other compelling family responsibilities. Research supervisors are also less demanding in the case of part-time PhDs, and the pace of work is more relaxed.  

Is the Flexibility of a Part-Time PhD Beneficial for the Student?

There is no right answer to this! If you are sure that you cannot do a full-time PhD because, for financial reasons, you need to remain in an employed position somewhere else, then the part-time option might work. However, there are many drawbacks to a part-time PhD program:

  • Too much flexibility results in a lack of structure which slows down many students.
  • Many students do not progress well because there are very few deadlines imposed on them.
  • Funding and grants are available for full-time PhDs but rarely for a part-time PhD.
  • It is hard to stay motivated for 6-8 years about one subject area. Some part-time PhD students drop their PhD programs because they are unable to sustain self-discipline for so many years.

Also Read: Importance of Publications During PhD

What are the Challenges and Benefits of an Online PhD?

If you are unable to relocate to the city where your chosen university is, then an Online PhD is your option. This model has all the advantages, as well as challenges, associated with remote learning. For example, you can communicate with your supervisor in flexi-time and they can also respond at their convenience.

However, all interactions are limited to platforms in the digital space. No real meetings! Many scholars have reported that an online research program lasting 3-5 years can become very challenging without any in-person interaction with the research supervisor or with peers, especially because a PhD is about developing your ideas and interpreting current knowledge in a particular field. Therefore intellectual learning can suffer if it is in isolation.

What are the Challenges and Benefits of a Fast-Track PhD?

This is a relatively new option because universities realize that many students are attracted by the time-saving option to complete a PhD study program in just one year or perhaps 3-4 semesters. However, as a scholar who has been through a PhD journey and also observed many other students go through it, I do not recommend a Fast-track PhD. 

This is because most reputed universities and scholars understand that one or two years is not sufficient time to immerse yourself deeply into a subject area and become an expert who can make an original contribution to the field. Your expertise after a fast-track PhD will probably not command the same respect as a regular PhD which has evidence of sustained work and analysis. So, while a Fast-track PhD might bring you the title of ‘Dr.’ it will not be valued by recruiters or research institutes who evaluate your work.

This blog has examined the various models of undertaking study for a PhD. The choice that you make will depend on your circumstances – can you relocate to be at the university with the best program? Can you make a full-time commitment to a study program for 3-4 years to finish your thesis? Are you able to handle the financial responsibility of paying for a full-time PhD? Can you get a scholarship or assistantship to support you? The answers to each of these questions will help you to decide which of the above models fits your own goals and circumstances.

We will be back next Friday with another amazing blog from Dr Maina Chawla Singh. Till then, if you have any questions or suggestions, just drop us a comment and we will get back to you. Want to study abroad? Our Leverage Edu experts are ready to assist you in narrowing down the best course and university options according to your interests and preferences.

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