10 Ways to Balance a Job with Further Study
Combining a job with further study can have a lot of advantages.
The most obvious is that if your funding, loan or grant doesn’t stretch as far as you’d like, a job – even if it’s only a handful of hours a week – helps to pay the bills and might even give you some cash left over for luxuries or to accumulate savings. But there are other benefits too. You get to build up your CV, gain work experience and skills, and maybe even get your foot in the door with an employer who’d consider hiring you full-time once your studies are complete.
The advantages also come with challenges. Further study, whether it’s a Masters, PhD, MBA or any other postgraduate qualification, can take up more hours per day than a full-time job, so finding the time and energy to work as well can be tricky. That’s especially true if most of your friends are focusing only on work or study, so may not understand the workload you’re juggling. Here are some ways that you can reap the advantages and avoid the disadvantages of having a job as a postgraduate student.
1. Work in the holidays
If your university term schedule allows it – and many don’t – one of the easiest ways to combine further study with a job is confining your paid work to the holidays. This almost always means earning less than you would do working year-round, so if you primarily want a job for additional income, then this might not be the best solution for you. But if you just want some work experience without the need to juggle multiple time commitments, then it’s a lot easier than working in term-time.
There are all kinds of seasonal work available, too. If your university is located in a tourist centre, then you might be able to get a job as a tour guide, for instance. You could use your academic background to teach at a summer school, or tutor sixth-form students for university interviews. Or if you’d like a clean break from the world of academia for the summer and want some fresh air, there are always agricultural jobs available both in the UK and overseas during the summer months, though they’re seldom well paid.
2. Take on a tutoring job
It’s not just in the summer holidays that people look for tutors, and it’s a job that many postgraduate students choose to supplement their income. It’s an obvious fit: as a postgraduate student you’re likely to be well-qualified already, and as a PhD student you might even have teaching experience too. The kind of work you’d need to do for university interview practice in your subject might not be too different from what you do each day in your studies, cutting down on the amount of preparation you need to do for tutoring. What’s more, tutors usually work relatively few hours but with a high hourly rate, so you should still have time to do something other than study and work.
If you’re looking for a tutoring job, your university’s noticeboard (either virtual or physical) can be a good place to start, whether to add your own advert or respond to those left by others. Your student union might also help connect students with people looking for tutors, and it can even be worth contacting the reception of local secondary schools, as there may be noticeboards or newsletters there where you could advertise.
3. Work in your university or student union
Universities, and especially student unions, often take on staff from within the student body. That could be running events, working in the on-campus café, the university library, or the student union’s second-hand bookshop. These roles should be well-adapted for student lifestyles, including a relatively low number of hours and the flexibility to work around schedules of research, meeting with your supervisor, and exams where relevant. The disadvantage is that you’re unlikely to have many hours, and unlike a tutoring role the pay is often at minimum wage or only a little above. That means this is really only an option if you want a relatively easy job to pay for luxuries, rather than a role that will support you financially.
These roles are usually advertised in the locations themselves, but also in student union email newsletters – so if you unsubscribed from those back when you were still an undergraduate, it might be helpful to sign up again to find out what kind of jobs are available.
You might also find that your student union flags other jobs that are particularly student-friendly.
4. Do freelance work from home
Being a student and having scheduled working hours can lead to awkward clashes, such as when you have a meeting with your supervisor scheduled and then you’re added to the rota for some extra hours, and have to figure out which of your supervisor and your employer you least want to annoy. That’s why many students, especially at postgraduate level, choose flexible freelance work to supplement their income.
Freelance writing can be a good option: as a postgraduate student, you’re probably doing a lot of writing already, and your specialism might be marketable – for instance, if you’re doing an MBA, you might be able to make money writing about business news and economics. Another perennial favourite is proofreading; it’s seldom well-paid, but you can do it in your pyjamas at 2am if you want and no one will be any the wiser. Take the time to think through your skills, as there may be other things you can do as a freelancer, such as calligraphy for wedding invitations, producing handmade jewellery, or web design.
5. Do a part-time degree
If you need to support yourself entirely while studying rather than merely topping up your existing income from funding, grants, loans or parental support, doing so while completing a full-time degree can be very challenging. Thankfully, most universities will give you an alternative option: completing your postgraduate study part-time. With some universities, such as the Open University, this can even be designed so that you can hold down a full-time job alongside studying (though you won’t have much time for anything else). With others, you’ll at least be able to work a full day three days a week and follow a programme of study that’s designed to fit around those work commitments, rather than competing with them.
If you’ve gone from undergraduate study into full-time work and now wish to resume studying, you might find that your current employer is willing to be flexible while you gain postgraduate qualifications and skills – at least if what you’re learning as a postgraduate is potentially relevant to your work with them. It’s always worth asking, as this can also provide career opportunities for you once your further study is done.
6. Look carefully at your financial entitlements
If your studies are not solely self-funded, but instead you have a loan, grant or other funding for your studies, look very carefully at the small print before you take up a part-time job. You might find that these financial entitlements depend on other factors: you might only be allowed to work a certain number of hours per week or not have additional earnings above a certain amount, or risk losing some or all of your existing financial support.
If that’s the case, it might be time to get a spreadsheet out and figure out what your financial entitlements are getting you and what you could earn instead. If you’re confident that you can get a job, you might decide that you’ll have more money by cutting the financial entitlement and relying on income you’ve earned, despite the extra time it will take. And if your financial support is provided by your university, it can be worth picking up the phone and asking if there’s any flexibility for students with jobs; they may be prepared to give you some leeway.
7. Be honest with your employer and your supervisor
Juggling work and study is hard work. Juggling work and study while trying to keep it from your employer or supervisor is much harder. You might worry that you won’t be able to get a part-time job if your employer knows that you also have study commitments, or that your supervisor won’t be impressed if they learn that your focus isn’t entirely on your postgraduate study – and those worries may well turn out to be justified.
But in both cases, the alternative is a lot more stressful, and the people you’re misleading will be even less understanding if they think that you’ve been lying to them than if you level with them from the start. Being honest means that they know what your other commitments are and they can adjust what they ask of you accordingly.
8. Prioritise jobs that welcome students
Some employers prefer not to hire postgraduate students, for understandable reasons: if you’re working in a café and completing a postgraduate degree at the same time, you probably have your sights set on other careers in the long-run, while they would prefer to hire and train up staff who are going to stick around. But other cases, the fact that you’re a postgraduate student will be a boon – for instance, with tour guide companies in your university city who like to have students as authentic guides, or in any role where your academic background will be perceived as a particular advantage.
If you have a good choice of employers, it makes sense to apply for roles where your status as a postgraduate student is an advantage, not a disadvantage. Those roles will have more experience of the needs of student employees, and so are more likely to give you leeway when you need it, such as reducing your hours at the time when your dissertation is due.
9. See what your university advises
You might not think of your university as an ally in finding a good part-time job, but they should be: universities want to minimise their dropout rates and ensure that their students succeed. Helping students find appropriate work is part and parcel of that role. Your student union also has a duty to look after students, and can sometimes have a more accurate understanding of your financial needs than university bureaucracy.
So for any difficulties you might be having with finding work, getting the support of your supervisor in scheduling your studies appropriately, balancing your time or working out the consequences of taking on a part-time job for your financial entitlements, it’s worth asking your university and your student union. There may well be a university careers service that can put you in touch with possible employers, or agreements that the union has negotiated with the university for students with part-time jobs. Your student union may also be able to support you if you come into any conflict with the university about having a job while completing your studies.
10. Give yourself some time off
The danger of working while doing a postgraduate degree is that you’ll go straight from the library to your workplace without much time to do anything else. If scheduling your time starts to feel impossible, you’re not getting any time to relax and socialise with your friends, or you’re simply exhausted a lot of the time, think about ways in which you might give yourself some time off. In particular, if you’re earning money for luxuries or to build up your savings, rather than because you need it right now, take the time to weigh up whether it’s worth it, or whether you could live more frugally and cut back on the hours that you’re working.
A postgraduate degree is a marathon, not a sprint – it won’t be worth the effort if you have to drop out from exhaustion before you complete your course. So make sure that however hard you’re working, there are regular breaks and holidays included in your schedule too.
Images: lifeguard; tutor with student; woman working on laptop; man in times square; student loan form; tour guide; girl gets advice from two women; relaxing with coffee and book; man on laptop with books around; diary and pens