skip to content

Postgraduate Researcher Development


Explore quick tips for your experience as a part-time postgraduate. Click the headings to see more.

The start of your PhD is an exciting time, but can also be quite overwhelming. The key to success is to manage your PhD as a project. You have to break down your research project into smaller parts and then plan how you are going to tackle them around other commitments you might have. Set yourself specific and measurable short-term (monthly) and long-term (annual) goals: agree deadlines with your supervisor to create accountability for yourself.

By breaking down your big project into smaller goals and tasks, it will be easier to make but also to measure your progress.

Managing your time is all about planning, prioritising and allocating the time you have for your PhD. If possible, work regularly on your PhD a little every day or every week. This will make it easier to keep up the momentum. Use being a part-time student to your advantage by finding a routine that works for you.

Understanding how and when you work the best can help. If you know the times you are most productive - perhaps early mornings, or later in the week - keep those times for difficult PhD tasks where your other commitments allow. Save easier tasks for when you struggle more to focus, for example.

Be flexible and adaptable: do not panic if you are not productive at all times. Sometimes you need to take a step back and do something else. Your brain will continue to work on your research in the background.

Working patterns or hours are not usually specified, but as a guide you should expect to spend at least 15 hours a week working (including directly on your research, with your supervisor, developing skills, etc). Of course, both a PhD and life can be unpredictable and there will be times where you need to work more or less than 15 hours in a given week.

It is important to have regular contact with your supervisor. At the beginning - and perhaps the end - of your PhD, you may need more regular meetings, but as time progresses and you become more confident with your research those meetings might become less frequent. Your supervisor should advise, support and give feedback on your PhD in these meetings, and they can also provide a good motivational push to produce some work. You'll then understand whether your work is going in the right direction.

So, organise meetings with your supervisor as soon as you can and make them regular and frequent - you can always change that as time progresses. Be ready and prepared for your meetings: write up the agenda, send it to your supervisor in advance, and check if they want to add anything. Be clear what help, support and feedback you are seeking to progress with your research.

Become connected with your research community, other research students and other part-time research students. If you are away from the physical University, make the most of your face-to-face visits. Try to organise them when there are relevant seminars and training courses you can engage with and try to meet up with other researchers.

If your department is organising research days, try to attend (online if in-person is not possible). You will have the opportunity to practice presenting, get feedback on your work, and meet other researchers with the opportunity to build your networks.

Sustaining motivation can be hard: it is a long period of time to keep going and stay motivated. It's important to celebrate small milestones and any goals ticked off your to-do list; it all counts towards your PhD. You should always keep your eyes on the prize and remember why you are doing this, but most people find that staying focused on the immediate aims is less overwhelming to think about than the whole final goal.

Be kind to yourself and reward hard work. Take regular breaks and days off, and make sure that you are spending time with friends and family outside of your immediate research network. Taking care of yourself, resting and spending time on things you enjoy will make you much more effective when you are focused on your PhD again. Remember also to let friends and family know when you need their help and support.