I'm from the US but I work as an engineer in the UK. In the US, part-time engineering PhD students at high-profile universities are possible, but rare and usually limited to special cases.

  • In the UK, it seems nearly every school has a part-time PhD option. How does a part-time engineering PhD at elite schools [Oxford, Imperial, Cambridge, UCL] work?

  • Is it possible to work full-time and obtain and obtain a part-time PhD at these elite schools?

  • What are your chances of being admitted to these top programs as a part-time PhD student (I'd assume there would be a bias against part time students)?

  • Perhaps you could consider an EngD rather than a PhD, where the research takes place in the workplace not a uni lab, and the output is seen as more of an applied research nature rather than pure research? (Full disclosure: I have no first hand knowledge, but that's the way I understand what I have read.)
    – user95861
    Commented Apr 29 at 11:48

5 Answers 5


Full-time PhD student here (my office mate is part-time).

As you say, many universities will have a part-time program. It probably is possible to work full-time and do research part time, but it will be even more challenging than usual. PhDs tend to work best if you immerse yourself fully and spend your energy exclusively on research (especially if you want to have some spare time). My friend finds it difficult to balance a 20 hour workweek and a part-time research position. I've never met anyone who has a full-time job on top of the PhD.

Re funding: AFAIK grants are typically used for full-time studentships. In my group, we have often broken down a full-time position into two part-time ones, but only for postdoctoral researchers. I guess the assumption is at a postdoc level people will be better at juggling all their commitments. My supervisor won't admit to it, but I reckon he would prefer one full-time student as opposed to two part-time ones, as the former is more likely to complete.

EDIT: I spoke to my supervisor. If your day job is related to the research and is likely to help you (as opposed to holding you back), he said he would consider it a plus.

  • My father did his PhD over seven or eight (?) years at a UK university while holding down a full-time job - it was effectively an extension of the engineering work he was already doing, so presumably fitted into the situation your supervisor mentions. (It's worth noting that he was in his fifties by this point; it wasn't an alternative to doing it full-time aged 23) Commented Apr 27, 2015 at 18:47

Two big differences between US and UK PhD programs are that full time UK programs are designed to be 3 years (with a pretty hard limit at 4 years) and many students, even in engineering and science, are not funded.

Admissions to UK PhD programs, even the top programs, is significantly easier than in the US. Ignoring funding for a moment, admissions in the UK is almost entirely dependent on finding a willing supervisor, while in the US having a supervisor is not generally enough to gain admissions. So if you can find a supervisor who is willing to take you on as a part time PhD student, your chances of getting in are pretty good.

Funding is a whole different story. Externally funded studentships in the UK are generally for full time students and departments generally do not like to commit themselves to 6 years. That said, tuition and fees in the UK can be much cheaper and self funding a UK PhD is much more common.

In terms of finishing, I think a part time student in the UK has advantages that part time students in the US do not. Full time students in the UK lose their funding after 3 years and must be finished by 4 years while part time students have at least 6 years to finish. As some aspects of the PhD cannot be rushed, there are times were working less for longer is a definite advantage.


I am a part-time masters(but will be switching to PhD part-time) in Ireland, where conditions are broadly similar to the UK.

I found no bias against me as a part-time student as my application process was exactly the same as if I was a full-time student.

Part-time PhDs will normally have the same criteria as the full-time one but you will in general get double the time to finish it. One thing to watch out for is that a potential supervisor is fully aware of the lengthier time-frame to possible completion.

Just from my own experience, on working full-time and doing post-graduate study. It can be done but it is hard. I have a nine to five job. I'm lucky in that my work place is a 10 minute walk from my university where I have a desk in a post-graduate research centre. I would generally start about 6 and finish around ten or eleven. There are also full days done at the weekend. I think even with everything going perfectly you are a least committing to 4-5 years. I'm in the Humanities so holidays/vacations are now trips to archives for research!

In relation to funding, as noted in the other answers, it is near impossible to get tuition fees funded. You may also be able to apply for some internal grants within the university you study in. I have been able to receive some funding from within my university from a travel bursary to help fund my research trips.


Hi I work full time and PhD student for several years now. I think there are two answers here. It is possible. Don't do it.

Job tends to be chaotic, changeable and normally not designed to be long.

Research is slow, a lot of planning a lot of reading.

As result job tends to take over and in my experience what happens is that your life becomes a complete work stream. You will try to review during work and will get interrupted. Then you will plan to research in the evening but as you are probably in front of the computer you carry on working for longer. Etc. It is very challenging and your life will disappear.

Saying that, if you manage your life and start with a methodology and stick to it. Is painful but doable.

My advice. Make sure you have an office not in your place of work. Either at home or where you are doing research. Review access to labs and negotiate access after hours and on weekends (I waited a long time to do this and it has been painful). .with part time you have a higher probability of find your research has been done or gets done while you are invested in your research. So commit to it but have alternative routes always. Finally it sounds small but it works for me. Wear different clothes whe doing research or when at work. That way you are.literelly wearing a different hat. Your life is easier for you but also for those around you.



I worked full time and launched (and later sold) a company while working on a PhD.

It is possible, but you need to be really clear on what your reasons are for wanting a PhD and proceed accordingly. Because your priorities will be in constant conflict during this very (very) long process.

Here are two common scenarios I've seen:

Moving from industry to academia:

If you want to transition from industry to academia, I strongly advise making your PhD your main focus and either quitting your full time job, or working part time instead.

Advancing within industry:

If instead you are interested in a PhD because it will help you with your industry career, then working full time while doing a part time PhD is probably the path I would take, especially if I could convince my employer to pay for some or all of it.

Finally, whichever category you're in, make sure that your family/spouse/significant other is fully on board with the amount of time this will take you, both in terms of calendar time and number of hours per week.

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