Getting a PhD, Housing, Moving to Another Country, Study Abroad

Pros & Cons of becoming a student again

Last week I discussed quitting my full-time job to move abroad and get a PhD. In this post, I’ll discuss both the pros and cons of becoming a FT student again after years of working FT.

Considering whether or not to quit my job, applying, and moving abroad were only a few of the concerns I had of becoming a PhD student and studying abroad.

Another concern was the process of mentally adjusting to life as a student again.

University of Cambridge England bikes

This included giving up luxuries such as having my own office as a full-time upper-level professional at a university, renting my own apartment that I could afford on my full-time salary, and having the money to spend on leisurely activities like going to movies, concerts, and eating at nice restaurants.

While these are some cons to becoming a student again, there are plenty of benefits!  Let’s focus on both the pros and cons in more detail.

PRO: No set schedule!!

CON: No set schedule…

As a FT employee, you have a set schedule, typically 9-5, with anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour lunch somewhere in between. As a FT PhD student, however, you set your own hours. Some people recommend treating your PhD as a full-time job with similar hours, but not everyone works well within this schedule. This is great if you are a more productive worker either late at night or early in the morning – you can get as much work done in 3-4 hours of concentrated work compared to someone who works sporadically within their 9-5 workday.  However, with no set schedule, you can easily get used to sleeping in or sleeping late, watching movies all day, procrastinating by watching videos on YouTube, and checking social media.

I admit, there were days where I really needed a break and didn’t do any PhD-related work for a few days. I knew this could lead to a black hole of procrastination, but luckily I got so bored of watching movies and taking naps that I actually felt that working on my research sounded good!

Some people recommend treating a PhD as a full-time job with similar hours, but not everyone works well within this schedule. I found that most days, it helped to have a 9-5 schedule as it forced me to focus on getting work done. When I felt like I had accomplished a lot for a few days, I treated myself to a more lenient schedule, perhaps by only working in the morning or afternoon and wandering around the city centre in my free time.

The key is to find a good work/life balance so that you’re not overly stressed, but also ensuring that you’re making good progress on your PhD research!

PRO: No boss/manager/supervisor!!

CON: You will have at least one PhD supervisor/chair…

A work supervisor can be quite different from a PhD supervisor. Depending on your PhD supervisor, you might have to take the initiative to schedule meetings, come up with an agenda, and follow-up on tasks, whereas a work supervisor is typically the one to hold and run meetings.

When you’re in your first year, your supervisors are the experts in your research topics, but as you progress into your PhD research, you’ll know what’s best for your project. Towards the end of your PhD, it becomes important to be confident in your research and to stand by your decisions, even if a supervisor disagrees. If this happens, don’t despair, as your supervisor might actually just be testing you to see how you defend your decisions and preparing you for your defense or viva!

YOU have just as much say as your supervisors, and in the end, it’s your decision whether or not to complete a task, write that journal paper, or meet a deadline. This is great training for the real world, and as you’ve already worked FT for a number of years, this part of the PhD process should be a breeze!

CON: Sharing an office with other people….

PRO: Seeing your friends everyday!!

It’s definitely tough to give up your own office! I had grown accustomed to having my own space where I could shut the door if I needed some peace and quiet or had to make a phone call.  However, I found that as I made friends with my labmates, I didn’t mind not having my own office. In fact, some of my labmates became my closest friends, and we made sure to spend time during the day catching up and chatting. Of course, if your labmates are all loud, rude, and obnoxious, you could be regretting your decision to quit your job! Hopefully that won’t be the case; most PhD students sacrificed a lot to be there, so they want to focus on getting work done and graduating as soon as possible.

Not everyone will have positive experiences sharing an office with fellow PhD students, so I recommend finding other quiet spaces on campus where you have access to Wi-Fi or a computer and can concentrate on your work.

I found that my campus had a few silent computer labs where students had to work independently without talking; this, along with the library, proved to be havens when I was writing and analysing data.

I encourage you to similarly find quiet/silent places on campus to work as alternatives to your lab or shared office. It also helps to vary your work space so you don’t get bored with your environment.

CON: Having roommates/flatmates/housemates again…

PRO: Making new friends!!

Moving abroad means that you’ll most likely have to live with other people. This is tough when you’re used to living in your own place for so many years. During your first year, your university might offer you a place on campus – don’t miss out on this opportunity! While you might think you can’t live in a dorm-type situation again, the benefits of living on campus far surpass this feeling of regression. You’ll be on campus, which means you’ll have lots of time to explore the campus grounds and all that your university has to offer. You’ll also be close to your lab/office, so you can go home for lunch and/or dinner, arrive early or stay later to work on your research when there are less people in your office, and have no excuse to be late for meetings with your supervisors!

My first year, I lived on campus in a dorm-type building. However, it was only for postgraduates, and we each had our own en-suite rooms (this is the UK term for rooms with private bathrooms). We shared the kitchen/lounge, and it was quite large, with two stoves and fridges. The building was also very modern and only a 5 minute walk from my lab.

Although it’s more expensive to live in the dorms on campus, I had time to get used to the different neighborhoods around my university so I could make the best decision on where to live the following year. I started looking for a new place to live well in advance, and found a great shared house for my second year. In all the places I lived while a student abroad, I made great friends who I still keep in touch with.

Living with roommates guarantees that you’ll never be alone in your apartment. Life as a PhD student can be isolating and lonely, so having roommates means that you’ll have people to talk to, commiserate with, and hopefully spend time with cooking meals and watching movies!

CON: Potentially living with undergraduates….

PRO: Learning how to be patient and setting an example!!

Working full-time for years meant that I hadn’t lived with undergraduates since I was an undergraduate! If you keep an open mind, sharing a house with undergrads is pretty much the same as sharing with postgrads and professionals. Just like searching for any apartment, it’s important to visit the place in person to see if the house is clean and meet the other housemates to see if you can live with the other people living in the house.

I made sure to look for ads that were looking for a housemate with the following traits: tidy, quiet, clean, respectful, and other similar words. I also looked for houses shared by those in their final year, as they would be more serious about graduating and would be less likely to be loud all the time.

Checking the university’s message boards yielded the best flat in my final year and a half as a PhD student, as it was the least expensive out of all the places I lived, yet I only had one flatmate and the bathroom and kitchen were beautiful, clean, and modern. This room was advertised as having a small bedroom, but as I would be spending most of my time on campus, I didn’t really mind. In actuality, the room wasn’t that small, so keep an open mind and check out any apartment that might sound good, as someone’s opinion might be different than yours.

Sure, undergrads can be silly and messy sometimes, but looking on the bright side, this can teach you patience and understanding. After all, your housing contract will only be for a year or less, so you won’t have to live with them forever!

I hope this post shed some light about the transition from FT employee to FT student! Do you have any other Pro/Con suggestions to becoming a student after years of working full-time? Thanks for reading!

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