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One of my cousins is doing a Ph.D. in anthropology at Georgia State University. He is living with his wife and two kids. Clearly, his Ph.D. stipend is insufficient, so he works in a gas station and pizza shop.

On the other hand, I am doing a Ph.D. at a leading university in Poland in Computer Science. I am not doing any such part-time job because that distracts me from my research tasks and my aim in my life. I have been looking for a white-collar job related to computer programming, etc but haven't been able to find one. Why the employers don't like my CV is unclear. My family doesn't live with me as I can't afford it. So, my wife is furious and is threatening to leave me.

Is it usual and/or healthy for Ph.D. students to do part-time jobs outside academia?

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  • 21
    You and your cousin and any other grad student must figure out how to live. There's no one size fits all. Jun 28, 2023 at 17:04
  • Who is Crealy? . Jun 29, 2023 at 0:46
  • 1
    @AzorAhai-him-, Typo.
    – user366312
    Jun 29, 2023 at 0:56
  • 7
    PLEASE can answerers list their approximate background (country, field, rough time range) when citing their own experience? Academia varies more than you think it does — another answer saying “No, this is not normal” adds no value (and as a blanket statement, is simply wrong), but an answer saying “In STEM fields in the Nordics, this is currently very unusual…” is informative and useful.
    – PLL
    Jun 29, 2023 at 12:29
  • 1
    If the PhD is threatening your marriage, you may want to consider whether you should leave your PhD program. It's your call which is more important to you.
    – Drake P
    Jul 1, 2023 at 19:53

10 Answers 10

16

It is neither usual nor helpful.

Most PhD students already work far more hours than is helpful to either their progress or their well-being. Wearing yourself down before you even reach your workplace is never beneficial.

Academic side-jobs, e.g. as teaching assistants, lecturers, or demonstrators, etc. are, at least, beneficial to your main work, and usually both flexible and arranged around your primary occupation. It is unfortunate that most countries massively abuse PhD students as cheap research labour and pay them a fraction of what they should be paid or, worse, pay them a stipend instead of treating them as employees with rights and pensions, but that's not something an individual student can address.

Unfortunately, the individual parts of your question regarding your personal relationships are not something that StackExchange can or should address. How that influences your choices is up to you.

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  • 5
    I don't know what country you're from, but it's pretty normal in the UK... Jun 29, 2023 at 8:01
  • 5
    @ScottishTapWater: That does not reflect my experience at all. Few PhD students worked outside of academia, and those that did struggled as a result. Jun 29, 2023 at 8:45
  • 8
    "not helpful" for which goal? If you need the money then you need the money... It might be actively bad for you progress, but if the alternative is "not enough money --> no PhD" then it is helpful...
    – fgysin
    Jun 29, 2023 at 9:24
  • 2
    @JackAidley - Yeah, so things have gotten a lot worse since then in terms of the ration of stipend to cost-of-living Jun 29, 2023 at 9:53
  • 3
    "not" in the first line should be "nor", I don't have enough rep to have an edit less than 6 characters Jun 30, 2023 at 13:45
26

As a supervisor, I don't like the idea of students taking jobs outside of academia. I don't know of any supervisor who is ok with the idea, either. But it is also true that the interests of supervisors and graduate students are not always aligned. Yes, as a supervisor it's to my advantage that students put 100% of their work-hour efforts towards research. But it's also true that most grad student stipends are not enough to make a living wage. And in any hierarchy of needs, eating and paying rent is above pleasing your supervisor.

Having said that, two points:

  1. Graduate students waste So. Much. Time. that I'm sure they could each take two part-time jobs and still get the same amount of lab work done. This is mainly because most are young and still have not learned how to prioritize their time. But the point remains true.
  2. Among graduate students without second jobs, most I dare say, have hobbies outside of academia that take the time equivalent to a part-time job. I am surprised how academic supervisors frown on students taking unrelated part-time jobs, but matter-of-factly accept hobbies that are socially acceptable within academia, e.g. ultramarathoners, musicians, etc. This is not an argument against having hobbies, but rather an argument that we should let graduate students have second jobs until we pay them a living wage.

As a supervisor, I also have to remind myself that during my PhD studies I had like 5 part time jobs, all inside academia but unrelated to research. So I can't point fingers (and don't.) And in the US and UK, most graduate students have in fact second jobs which are tangentially related to research: it's called TAing. Universities call it training, but it's just an excuse for not paying living wages for people doing most of the teaching.

Is it common? People who can afford it don't have second jobs, and people who cannot afford it, well, they do.

This is just an opinion, but if I were in your shoes I'd sharpen that CV and get a job. There's no upside to coming home to a furious partner.

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    STEM stipends are one thing, social sciences are quite another. The anthropology stipend may really not be enough to live on as a single person, much less with a family.
    – Jon Custer
    Jun 28, 2023 at 12:41
  • 3
    @Jon. I agree, and that's why I wrote that if you can't afford it on your stipend, you get a job. Supervisors' and students' wants don't always align, but one must eat.
    – Cheery
    Jun 28, 2023 at 13:02
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    @cheery.beach7701 - well, both must eat...
    – Jon Custer
    Jun 28, 2023 at 13:05
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    @cheery.beach7701 - understood. The issue of non-STEM stipends not being enough goes back a long long ways. Nothing new. And these days the pay of temporary or non-tenure faculty is making it hard for them to eat as well.
    – Jon Custer
    Jun 28, 2023 at 13:26
  • 14
    Downvoted for the tacky comment on grad students' behavior. Not to mention that you are pointing fingers while claiming not to. Jun 28, 2023 at 17:02
10

It's much more common to hold jobs outside your field if you're a social sciences or arts major. There's simply not that many "part time anthropologist wanted" job ads laying around. Is that ideal for advancing ones skills? Probably not. But certainly healthier than going hungry. Also, the difference of student dept in USA vs EU can push one towards side hustles and might be playing a role in your example.

On a sidenote - there's a lovely stack called the Workplace where I see people sharing great tips on looking for jobs, how to improve CVs, how to showcase your skills if you don't have industry experience. Maybe you'll find some help with the issues you've faced with your CV.

9

It's perfectly normal.

Whether it should be or not is a completely different matter however. At the end of the day, a lot of universities are in expensive cities and PhD stipends in a lot of countries simply aren't enough to have a decent standard of living in such locations.

This is doubly true if you're supporting a family.

Heck, enough PhDs have full time jobs and do their PhDs part-time (myself included), which is (in the UK at least) roughly equivalent to having a 20 hour a week job and a full time PhD.


Some advice if you do go down this route though:

  1. Be very wary of burnout. You need to be constantly introspective and on the watch for it because it will sneak up on you and it can be catastrophic. At the first sign of burnout you need to take a rest or make adjustments to head it off.

  2. Be up-front with your supervisor about it. They can help support you with this and try to manage your workload around your job if necessary. They may even be able to find some extra funding for you if you're really lucky.

  3. If you can, get a part-time job teaching undergrads or running labs. This work often pays better than your typical retail job, and it makes a huge difference to your time if you just need to nip downstairs to teach a couple of hours' lab, than walk home, get changed, walk to work, etc.

Good luck!

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  • 1
    The question specifically referred to jobs outside academia. Almost all PhD students have done some work as a teaching assistant here and there, this is completely different to going to look for a job in retail alongside the PhD.
    – Tom
    Jun 29, 2023 at 14:19
  • @Tom - My answer holds even in that context. My advice is that if you can make enough money without resorting to a university based job then do, but even that's not enough for a lot of PhDs in a lot of cities these days. Of those people I know doing PhDs right now, about half have other work. Jun 29, 2023 at 16:14
6

It depends on the contract. Despite my PhD stipend not offering a living wage, there was a clause in the PhD contract that students not work any outside jobs due to the fact that pursuing the PhD was supposed to be their full-time job. Many students went around this, or else they would not have been able to afford rent.

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  • This is interesting. What country?
    – Cheery
    Jun 28, 2023 at 18:52
  • 1
    The United States.
    – Parrever
    Jun 28, 2023 at 18:54
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    I had a clause of not being aloud to work more than 5 hours outside my Phd while studying in the UK.
    – Rob
    Jun 29, 2023 at 9:36
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    5 hours Per week
    – Rob
    Jun 29, 2023 at 15:17
  • 1
    Also, the problem of not being allowed to have a second job is much bigger for international students.
    – Amelian
    Jun 29, 2023 at 21:07
4

To counter some sweeping generalizations in the other answers: in some places/fields it is not uncommon and can be unproblematic or even slightly beneficial.

I did my PhD in computer science in Czech Republic. Since the stipend was quite low and we had no big grant, there was a tacit agreement in my group that PhD students actually work ~3 days a week on PhD and use the rest to get a part time job. I've seen similar setups in other CS groups I've interacted with, as well as some in different fields.

On the other hand, when there was grant money, PhD students were usually supposed to work full time on PhD - but then also got an OK-ish (but not great) wage beside the stipend.

I personally benefited from the part time work as it forced me to improve my software engineering skills and those allow me to work more efficiently in my current research area (biostats/bioinformatics). It also gave me the confidence that academia is not my only option in life, lowering stress around funding/job prospects etc. While I had some hard weeks during my PhD around various deadlines, I am quite sure I worked < 40hrs a week on average and still got a good (though not excellent) publication record at the end and finished my PhD on time (4 years as is the local default).

With that said, being expected to work full time on PhD and have another job on top of that sounds terrible. Also note that there is relatively good evidence that people generally do not get more work done when regularly spending more time at work beyond ~40hrs a week - although it may feel like you are achieving more. The exact optimal number of working hours definitely differs across industries and people, but is generally not very high (famously Henry Ford's experiments indicated that 40hrs was optimal for assembly line workers in his plants - presumably this work is less intellectually taxing than PhD). If you work too much, then after an initial boost from working longer, there is always a point when you get tired and end up achieving less per-week than previously, despite spending more time working. So if you have a second job and manage to fulfill your PhD obligations at the same time, it is likely that should you be allowed to spend less time physically at the lab/uni you could achieve very similar results (by virtue of being more focused and making less mistakes/wasting less time) but with much less stress.

Hope you find a good solution for you and your family.

2

There is no clear definite answer to your question as every solution to your problem has different pros and cons, so let's look deeper into possible options

  1. get job now
    • culture wise it can be unacceptable for academia people to have an outside job, but you're a free human being, so it is totally up to you to decide, what you do with your spare time as long as you don't break your academia contract;
    • you are likely to extremely overload yourself and burn out pretty soon, which is the main point to consider in this scenario. If you believe, you can cope with all the load and live a happy life, take this opportunity.
  2. find better compensated PhD program
    • it will require big effort and probably relocation to get into PhD that can actually provide you with living wage, but in the end bread on the table is way more important than studies;
    • this scenario requires you to invest a decent amount of time and likely money now, but if it is achievable and you'll be happy with the new PhD as much as your current one, this is a great way to go.
  3. drop out now and return with enough money
    • if you cannot realistically sustain a living with PhD + job at the same time, which is the case for the majority of people, it can be necessary to accumulate decent amount of money in advance and go into PhD afterwards;
    • you will sacrifice some time in this case as you will do PhD later, but you will not need to sacrifice your happiness if you can find a job that you will be happy with for a year or couple of years;
    • also, you will have way more time to actually spend with your family during this course.

Academia life isn't really good for everybody and it is clearly not suitable for you in the current state of things. So any decision you take at this point is a good one as long as it will make you well-fed and happy.

2

The only thing I would add to this answer from my personal history of working at 4 part time jobs during PhD is the following: Do not take jobs that pay by the hour, I had taken these contracts exactly for your reasons. I thought if I take contracts that take too much of my time, I wouldn't be able to focus on my career, etc.

It was a bad call.

Instead of taking 4 part time jobs, I should have taken 1 part time job that pays by month/week which covers everything. In Parisian conditions that would correspond to working at a cafe or restaurant.

4 part time jobs weren't really good for my career as it meant that I was working almost everyday on something even if it is for 2-3 hours a day. It also kept me away from most of the networking opportunities.

In the end I finished my PhD, but moved on to private sector. I assume however, if you have already a PhD stipend, you can take some time for searching for the perfect part time job. I would suggest to be on the look out for jobs with night shifts, such as being a watchman for some factory or better some company building at night or being a receptionist in a hotel at night etc.

1
  • I would expect that openings for part-time salaried work are pretty rare. In the US, it would be basically unheard of for a waiter to make a salary rather than an hourly wage. Jun 30, 2023 at 14:12
1

TL:DR: It is common in the Czech Republic in some fields. It may or may not be healthy, try and see.

A PhD student of Econometrics in Prague here (so at least partially relatable). I work full time and from my experience, working at least part time outside academia is the absolute standard here, since the common stipends are about the 1/4 of the average wage in the city and below 1/2 of our rent. Although, they probably often continue at the job they started during their (under)grad. However:

  • I would be surprised, if there are no grants for "proper" PhD students, who actually do their PhD as a full-time research career. At least in the Czech Republic, there are country wide grants, which offer enough to "make a living". I would certainly recommend to apply for those.

  • It may or may not be healthy. Some kinds of blue collar job might be healthy even in the literal sense, since we tend to neglect any form of physical activity. However, when it comes to the issues related to working too much and experience too much stress... that is a tough one. It will depend on the individual, but it definitely can get pretty daunting at times. However, I cannot imagine it being worse than the stress from not living with your family and facing a break up. Also, when I started to work more, I surprisingly found out, that I did not really have that much less useful free time. It seems like it forced me to waste the time less and/or use tools that increases productivity. There is also something to be said about the benefit of having a job that is complementary to your research and teaching.

I also find quite odd, that "employers don't like your CV". It obviously differs across countries, but I cannot imagine that no employer would take a CS PhD student (majoring in CS, I assume) as their junior programmer. I guess I would recommend to invest a bit of time to polish the CV, but you surely know more abut the situation than me.

-2

Universities should be responsible for paying PhD students a living wage. They should not need an additional job.

If the university is not paying you a living wage, you should not be a PhD student there. You also should not work for anyone else who does not pay a living wage.

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    Sorry, but this basically means that the OP should not do a PhD in their country until the system changes completely, which is useless advice. Downvoted. Yes, in the US you should not do a PhD which does not pay a living wage, but this does not apply to the OP's situation. (Also, PhD students are not employees, so this is not a case of "working for someone else".) Jun 28, 2023 at 17:11
  • 2
    @AdamPřenosil In the US PhD students typically are employees of the university. They do teaching assistant/teaching work. They grade homework/quizzes/tests, proctor exams, and sometimes teach entire classes. The universities rely on graduate student labor. PhD students fill out work forms, receive work documents, and list the university as their employer. When I did my PhD we went on strike, which was supported by the faculty in the department. They are employees, just like faculty are employees.
    – cgb5436
    Jun 28, 2023 at 18:41
  • 2
    The status of grad students as employees is not uniform across the world, or even within the US. It's a good reason to unionize. For example, most universities do not issue W2s for grad student stipends.
    – Cheery
    Jun 28, 2023 at 18:54
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    This is wonderfully idealist, and in better countries it happens, but I don't think students who live outside of those countries should reject the idea of a PhD out of hand. Jun 28, 2023 at 21:50
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    @AnonymousPhysicist Sure. But "don't get a PhD unless the programme pays you a living wage" is a very different piece of advice in a context where good enough PhD applicants can get into programmes which pay a living wage (in particular, not being able to get into such a programme indicates something) and in a context where this is not true. Unless the OP's university is an exception in this matter in Poland (in which case I would agree with your advice), you are effectively saying that no-one should do a PhD in Poland. That seems like pretty extreme advice. Jun 28, 2023 at 23:10

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