Terribly bored in my IT job, I was considering getting a PhD and move to teaching. But a full time PhD is too much of a commitment. When I talked to a few people in industry, they advised getting a part time PhD and not leaving the job. A part time PhD will give the best of both worlds! That sounded like a great idea. But is it really?
I met a few part time PhD students and saw they were struggling managing work, study and family. Some of them had enrolled in part time PhD programs more than 6 or 7 years ago. They were still struggling to complete it. The choice suddenly didn’t seem very clear to me.
Part time PhD programs are different from the full time programs because the student has to pay tuition fees and incur other expenses. Monetarily there is no opportunity cost. Both options have positives and negatives. My suggestion in choosing one is – let no one tell you the answer. In fact there is no single answer. You should decide for yourself after considering both of them which one is better for you.
Is a part time PhD program worth doing?
To answer this, you will need to understand three things:
- What are the differences between these two programs?
- What are the benefits of both of these?
- What are the costs involved?
Once you understand these, you will be able to decide which one is better for you.
Differences between part-time and full time program
Full time PhD program – As discussed in FAQs about Management PhD, the purpose of a traditional full time PhD program is to create academic researchers to take the scientific knowledge forward. The business schools invest quite a lot of resources for this purpose. Being a researcher needs many skills and dedicated effort. The expectations from the students are that they focus on learning and research only and not get distracted by trying to make ends meet during the 4 to 5 years they are studying. Hence they are given a reasonable amount of stipend, accommodation and other facilities.
Not everyone who is interested in doing a PhD can afford to leave their jobs and study full time. But the need for professors is increasing with the population. Hence the business schools came up with another option.
Part-time PhD program – In part time programs, schools typically do not spend money. Since the candidates are earning, they pay for the program. The students also need to travel to the campus once in a while to attend courses or to present their work, at their cost.
Are the structures in these two programs same? One can’t compare the rigor of two years full time studies with few weeks of course work. The part time students are typically given expedited coursework so that they can read more on their own and also start work on their thesis. Moreover the student is constantly overloaded because you need to focus on both work and study. Something needs to give, and usually it is your social life (not that full time PhD students have much of social life!).
A full time PhD gives you adequate training to be employed as a professor, both in teaching and in research. You do not have to worry about job while studying and you can give your 100% to studies. You really become an expert in the niche you are working on. A part time PhD on the other hand leaves you in a better financial position compared to full time program. Even after paying for the fees and other expenses, you have both savings and a degree. Even though you may not feel fully confident as an academic researcher, a PhD gives you the credential to be employed as teaching faculty.
However, in India, note that only if the degree given in a part time program is equivalent to PhD can the graduate be hired as a teaching professor. There are some schools that will give Executive FPM to the part time students and these may not be equivalent to PhD.
A PhD degree from a reputed school will ruin your personal/social life, whether you do it part time or full time. Financially a full time PhD will set you back because the opportunity costs are huge. A part time program will set you back by the amount you paid in fees and expenses. But most often the part time students find it really difficult to give the required time and focus to studies. Hence the cases of people dropping out after a few years of trying is not so uncommon.
So which one should you do? A lot depends on why you want to do your PhD and what are you ready to give up for it. If you want to get a degree so that you have a backup career choice of teaching, you can go for a part time PhD. If you have mortgage/EMI to pay, you may not be able to afford going to a full time PhD. If you want to pursue academic research as a career for life however, there is no alternative to a full time PhD.