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Programs PHD and full time job?

  1. Sep 3, 2012 #1
    I may be jumping the gun here because I have to start school first but is it possible to get a PHD while still working a full time job?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 3, 2012 #2
    I'd say no, but if you're getting a PhD in one of the hard sciences, like physics, they pay you a fairly generous stipend to work part time as a teaching assistant or research assistant. Read ZapperZ's stickied thread for more info.
  4. Sep 3, 2012 #3

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    Not in physics.
  5. Sep 3, 2012 #4


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    Sometimes PhD students in the middle or perhaps more often towards the end will accept a full time position and try to "finish up" in their spare time. In my experience this leads to a lot of people either not finishing at all, or greatly extending the time it takes to complete the degree.

    On the other hand, sometimes you have to take the opportunities when they come your way.
  6. Sep 3, 2012 #5
    I am close friends with someone who got his physics PhD done on quantum information in 4-5 years, publishing 4 papers along the way and getting cum laude awarded at his thesis defense. He (over)worked a full time job during the whole period. No stipend, nothing. Just the guidance of his thesis adviser and a whole damn lot of persistence.
  7. Sep 3, 2012 #6
    You're allowed to in some countries? In Belgium being a PhD student means getting paid by the university or a fund. You're not even allowed to pursue a degree at the same time, because they consider a PhD as a full-time job.
  8. Sep 3, 2012 #7
    It's up to the university, but those accepted without funding only get access to journals and not much else. In Spain the "normal" phd track is 4 years of funding, where you spend your first 2 years as a "grant receiver" and the last 2 years are legally considered a real job, but the funding can fall through at any time (yearly revisions) and you can end up without funding. Same goes for postdocs.
  9. Sep 3, 2012 #8


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    The answer is no, but the additional question would be why you would think of doing it. In the sciences, normally they pay grad students enough to live in genteel poverty. If you have a lot of expenses (mortage, car payments), get rid of them and accept the fact that for the next six years, you're going to have roommates and eat ramen.
  10. Sep 4, 2012 #9
    It's possible to finish a physics Ph.d. while having a full-time job, but that assumes that everything is pretty much done and all you are doing is final editing, since that's what I did. The physics Ph.D. isn't designed for full time work.

    Now getting a Ph.D. while working full time is common in some fields (petroleum engineering) and in some fields it's almost standard (educational administration).
  11. Sep 4, 2012 #10


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    We once hired (for a full-time college teaching position) a guy who was "all but dissertation" (ABD) as an instructor with the agreement that we would upgrade his position to assistant professor when he actually got his Ph.D. He had basically finished his research work and all he needed to do was finish the actual writing of his dissertation. After two years he still wasn't close to finishing, and we let him go.
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2012
  12. Sep 4, 2012 #11


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    I'm not doubting you but that's very hard to believe. A PhD is a full time job, having another full time job that doesn't act as a detriment to a PhD seems unlikely. The person you are describing sounds very atypical.

    To the OP why exactly do you want to do both? Is it because you were unaware of PhD stipends or because you don't think the amount of money is enough? Workng 80+ hours a week might be good for your bank balance but your health, productivity and social life are likely to take a battering.
  13. Sep 4, 2012 #12
    It's very atypical and he lives in a precarious financial position with the only stable job he's managed to procure, like a lot of educated people in the country. The job was at a distance university as a secretary/library officer/multi-purpose guy with the occasional tutoring, so he did have long periods of time to himself, so it wasn't a typical job either.

    A lot of people work 2 full time jobs. He just didn't get paid at one of them.

    Definitely not the way I'd like to live my life, but it can be and has been done.
  14. Sep 4, 2012 #13
    Work for a little while then go back and get the PhD. This way you can build up money so you don't have to live like a grad student. Many of my grad student friends are constantly stressed about money and other things.. like getting a job when they graduate. I can care less of either because I know I have enough money and can go back to my old job or grab a new one with the experience I got in industry.
  15. Sep 4, 2012 #14
    Also, most things involving Ph.D.'s are field and country specific. Physics Ph.D.'s in the US have a specific funding system which may not apply in other countries (and it certainly doesn't apply to other fields).
  16. Sep 4, 2012 #15
    There has to be a way to do it.If there is I will find it.I'm already not considered the norm if there is one.I'm starting school at almost 45 years of age. I want this bad. Really bad but I have myself and my wife to take care of as well
  17. Sep 4, 2012 #16
    Sure there is, but you'll be fighting the system. Not to say that you won't win, but it's going to be hard, and you should be aware of why the system is the way that it is.

    You *could* structure a physics Ph.D. program which makes it possible for people to get Ph.D.'s in conjunction with a professional career. People in educational administration do this. The difference is that there is a demand for educational administration Ph.D.'s.

    The typical person that gets the educational administration doctorate is a principal or teacher that has hit the glass ceiling and wants to get a job as superintendent. Because there is a demand for educational administrators, and because it's considered a good thing for high level educational administrators to have real world teaching experience, people have designed programs to allow teachers to get the training they need to become high level administrators. Now at some point we may end up with too many people with education Ph.D.'s, but we aren't there yet. At least in the US. Taiwan has got a big, big problem with too many education Ph.D.'s.

    That motivation isn't there for physics Ph.D.'s. Right now the system is generating more physics Ph.D.'s than the world can handle, so there is no particular interest in making it more convenient for people to get physics Ph.D.'s. If you can't get a physics Ph.D. for career or family reasons then that's good. We have too many already. Anything that makes it more difficult is a good thing to reduce "overproduction."

    Now if you don't think that's the way the world should work, then you may be able to change it. But to change things, you need to understand the basic problems.

    One thing that I've found is that if you want to change A, then you have to fix B, and fixing B involves changing C, and pretty soon you end up having to change the entire world. Not to say that that's a bad thing..... Maybe the world needs changing.

    One thing that I would suggest that you do is to get involved with "like minded people" in your situation. If you talk with people that want the same thing that you want, you may be able to figure out something.

    The other thing is that the population is aging so maybe you are the "new norm". I've noticed that there are at least three other people that have asked the same question in this forum.
  18. Sep 5, 2012 #17


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    What is your long term plan? Why do you want a PhD? At best it will take you 6 years from the start of university to the end of your PhD but that could increase to 8 or more. I'm sorry to say that unless you can work 80+ hour weeks consistently for years you're going to have to cope with the stipend and perhaps some part time work.
  19. Sep 5, 2012 #18
    It should be pointed out that as a graduate student, you will be working 80 hour weeks consistently for years because that's your job. With a second job, you run out of hours in a week.

    And then after you get the physics Ph.D., you are likely to end up with more or less the same job that you have now. It's a good idea to assume that getting a physics Ph.D. will contribute ***zero*** to your earnings potential or social status.

    One reason that the system works the way that it does is that graduate students provide universities with a source of very cheap labor. Ph.D. students are in reality employed full time to do teaching and research grunt work.

    You will work eighty hour weeks and get paid for twenty. This would be blatantly illegal if you were working in industry, but fair wage, minimum wage, and overtime laws don't apply to you.

    So as a physics Ph.D. student, you will be signing up to be an indentured servant or serf for many years. Every waking moment will revolve around your dissertation.

    One other thing I'd like to point out is that if you want to contribute to science, there are easier ways of doing it. For about $10K, you can put together a very good observatory, and then you can do variable star observing for the AVASO.
  20. Sep 5, 2012 #19


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    The 80 hours number was on the basis that a standard full time job is a 40 hour week so two would be 80. The "+" is because in reality at times you need to put in far more for your PhD.
    That's not necessarily true. A person with a PhD has more career options and is more competative than someone who does not (all else being equal). Whilst things aren't as great as they used to be in terms of earning potential one could reasonably expect a living wage. Wrt social status well that really depends on your social circle.

    On the subject of earning money if that is the goal then a PhD isn't the way to go about. Not because you can't earn money but it would be easier to climb the career ladder in another field.
  21. Sep 5, 2012 #20
    Agree with that statement. However, my statement was that in going into a Ph.D. program you should plan *as if* it creates zero added earning potential and social status. This is especially the case with mid-career professionals.

    One thing about 20 year-olds is that when you enter graduate school, you are entering from ground zero. If you are 45 and you are thinking about graduate school, the odds are that you've already established a career, so you aren't entering from ground zero.

    There's also a problem with market saturation.

    The other problem is that it's easy for the market to get saturated. For example, if you graduate **right now** with an astrophysics Ph.D., you can get a very high paying job at an investment bank. The trouble is that is that there are only maybe a few hundred new jobs each year. This works beautifully if you only have a few hundred new Ph.D.'s.

    However, if you increase the number of Ph.D.'s by say a 1000/year, the jobs will get filled and the salaries will plummet. So it's *not* a reasonable expectation that someone graduating in a decade will be able to go into investment banking, because if everyone believes that this is going to happen, it won't. Conversely one reason that investment banking pays so much is that physics Ph.D.'s would rather work in a university than on Wall Street. If attitudes change, salaries will also change.

    This is been a big problem with Ph.D. fields since the numbers of jobs are so small. It's a weird situation when the act of having an attitude effects the result, but it's not that different from quantum mechanics where the act of observing changes the result.
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