At undergraduate and masters level, where students spend just nine months of the year studying, working while studying is perfectly possible, particularly between the months of July and September. A full-time PhD however, is like a full-time job, which requires around 35 hours of study per week. Any less time spent on it means you’re potentially compromising your work.
For those on a fully-funded studentship, there (theoretically) should be no need to subsidise your income, as fees are already paid and the stipend is intended to match a typical graduate salary after tax (funding from a studentship is not subject to income tax). If you are studying full time you may also be asked that you do not take on more than six hours of work per week.
However, students with less than full funding or who are supporting a family while studying, may look at their budget and find a shortfall. In these cases, if extra funding cannot be found, another source of income may have to be sought.
You may be able to find work in your place of study; PhD students can take on limited undergraduate teaching duties, if available. Duties are likely to include taking seminars (usually first-year undergraduates) and assignment/exam marking. Others may find suitable research assistant work in their department which may even complement their academic work and give them valuable contacts for their own line of research. PhD students may also find that work is available in the university library.
Student halls of residence often have wardens who are assisted by a team of assistant and/or sub wardens and these are quite often PhD students. Sub wardens are usually required to be ‘on-call’ for certain periods of time and may go for days without any residents needing help, only to be woken at 3 am with a situation to resolve. The first week of term tends to be particularly busy. It is a reasonably long-term commitment (usually two years) so if your research is likely to involve long trips away from campus, this may not be for you.
If you’re prepared to give up a day or a couple of evenings a week of free time, shift work is reasonably easy to pick up in shops, call centres and pubs/restaurants. This kind of work isn’t likely to pay much more than the minimum wage; however, some students find task-based work a relief from the intensity of their PhD work, and also provides an opportunity to socialise. Other occasional-hour work that can fit around a PhD includes bookselling, market research and journalism.
Many PhD students study part-time, particularly those who are self-funding, in order to maintain a steady income throughout the study period. Those already in a full-time job may be able to request flexible working in order to enable part-time study. It’s important to get the right balance so that work and PhD get enough of your time while still allowing you time to relax.
Working while studying – tax implications