Part Time PhDs – Everything You Need To Know


Whilst the core activities of a part time PhD are identical of that to a full time PhD, its arrangement is different. This difference is not only in programme duration but also in fees and funding opportunities. In addition to this, part time study also has different benefits and challenges. Therefore, whilst your personal situation may not be ideal for a full time PhD, it could be perfect for a part time one. We’ve outlined these differences as well as the pros and cons of part time study to help you decide whether it’s right for you.

Why Do a Part Time PhD?

Undertaking a part time PhD can be a great option for you if you fall into one of the four categories:

  • Financial – a part time PhD provides the opportunity to earn whilst you study. Although you could secure a full time studentship, the stipend it offers may not be enough in all cases, for example, if you’re financially responsible for multiple family members.
  • Career – working individuals, especially those who have already advanced several stages in their career, may opt for a Professional Doctorate. A Professional Doctorate is equivalent to a part time PhD, but focuses on a specific professional practice relevant to the individual. It’s usually undertaken when you wish to apply research skills in a professional environment or become more specialised in your industry.
  • Caring obligations – part time study offers a greater deal of flexibility compared to its full time equivalent. This can be desirable in situations where the individual has considerable caring obligations, such as a young family.
  • Intensity – many students feel that a pursuing a research degree over a longer period of time drastically lowers the intensity of postgraduate study. Part time PhD hours per week are typically around half that of its full time equivalent. This can come with a wide range of physical and mental health benefits.

Part Time PhD Fees

The average tuition fee for part time PhD study in the UK is approximately £2,356 per academic year for home students, and between £8,000 to £12,500 for international students.

This is typically 50% of the fee charged for an equivalent full time doctorate. However, a handful of universities use a prorated fee of up to 60% so it’s important to check the individual fees for each university you are applying to. These additional costs usually cover the admin/overhead fees associated with your time at the university.

Besides the tuition fee, there are several other costs which you need to account for. You can learn about these costs in our full cost breakdown of UK PhDs.

Part Time PhD Funding and Scholarships

As a part time student, most universities will expect you to fund your own studies. This is because nearly all part-time students will work a paying job alongside their studies which can be used to support their education.

However, you may still apply to department or university funding opportunities such as subject-specific bursaries. Besides this, external bodies such as Research Councils, research charities and industrial institutions also offer grants and PhD studentships for research projects related to their field. It’s worth remembering these opportunities are usually very limited and are awarded based on a candidates strength and not their personal situation.

One benefit of selecting a research project related to your employer is that it opens an additional opportunity for funding. It’s not uncommon for an employer to contribute to an employee’s tuition fee if there is a mutual benefit to be had.

How Long Is a Part Time PhD?

The average duration of part time PhDs in the UK is between 6 to 7 years. This is double a full time doctorate.

Universities also set registration periods which limit the minimum and maximum amount of time you can be enrolled in a course. For doctorates, the minimum duration is usually 4 years and the maximum 8 years.

How Many Working Hours per Week?

You will be expected to work half the number of hours of a full time student. Although full time students are expected to work 35 hours a week, in reality, most will work closer to 40 – 45 hours. Therefore, you’ll be expected to dedicate approximately 20 hours each week towards your degree.

However, you won’t always be able to achieve this many hours due to your other commitments. Therefore, working to a frequent and consistent schedule will be more important. Working on your research in irregular intervals or whenever time permits will be an inefficient approach – it’s far better, plus psychologically easier, to commit to a consistent schedule. Though your PhD supervisor may be able to offer guidance in this regard, ultimately the PhD is yours to shape.

Most part time programmes will also have some doctoral training courses with fixed dates, especially those which are organised by industry experts or visiting lecturers. There may also be time restrictions to be aware of if you are a postgraduate researcher involved in laboratory work, particularly where special equipment is needed as this may be rented by the university research centre and only available during certain times in the year.

Part Time PhDs for International Students

If you are an international student wishing to undertake a part time PhD programme in a foreign country, you will need to meet additional requirements.

For example, to study in the UK, you will need to secure both a work visa and a stable job. This is to prove that you can support yourself throughout the full length of your course. Unfortunately, even if you’re able to secure departmental or external funding, you won’t be able to use this to prove an income. Additionally, an international PhD student in the UK will need to demonstrate English proficiency as part of the application process. These entry requirements apply whether the overseas student is pursuing a PhD part-time or for full-time studies.

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Challenges of a Part Time PhD

It’s generally accepted that undertaking a PhD part time is more challenging than undertaking it full time.

Age – although this shouldn’t be a factor, we know it can cause concern for some. If you have already been working for several years, you may find that some of your research colleagues or academic staff members are the same age or younger than yourself. This could cause apprehension or cultural issues if you fail to keep an open mind.

Detachment – as a research student, you’ll often doubt whether you’re working on the right thing or making sufficient progress. You can expect this feeling to be compounded if you’re studying on a part time basis. This is because you’ll have less interaction with your department, peers and supervisor given you won’t always be on campus.

Time management – juggling a career or significant family obligations with the demanding requirements of a doctoral degree can take its toll. Over the 6 to 7 years, you’ll no doubt encounter periods when your external commitments require more of your time, whether its intensive projects or the need for frequent travel associated with part time courses. During these times there is potential for your research to slip, or worse, become an unwanted burden.

Motivation – having to balance your time and focus with your other commitments can make it difficult to immerse yourself in your research. This often results in a lack of ‘momentum’, which coupled with a journey that’s twice as long, increases the risk of your passion fading out. Unfortunately, because of this, many supervisors observe the drop-out rate of part time students to be greater than that of their full time peers. This isn’t due to a lack of dedication or commitment, but due to the individual no longer being able to balance several demanding obligations without jeopardising their mental or physical well-being.

Funding opportunity availability – as mentioned earlier, since part-time applicants are able to work alongside their studies, there are fewer funding opportunities available to them.

Relevancy – as your doctoral study will take 6 to 7 years to complete, there is a risk that your research will no longer be relevant. This could be for several reasons. For example:

  • An individual may be working on a research project very similar to yours. Assuming they are working full time and complete their project before you, it could render your project ‘unoriginal’ depending on the amount of overlap between your findings. It is important to discuss this with potential supervisors who may be aware of similar PhD projects being undertaken.
  • New technology or knowledge may be developed which renders your original research question obsolete if the premise it was built on becomes ’outdated’.
  • New observations could be made which have the potential to jeopardise your work. For example, a new study may be published which identifies significant limitations behind a method outlined in your research proposal. This would cast serious doubt into the validity of your research findings, and in some cases, may require you to start over with an alternative method.

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