Part-Time, Full-Time, All-the-Time… (Charlotte Hempel)

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I was delighted to overhear another big conversation about serving part-time as a senior member of the judiciary recently. In my role as Director of the Arts and Law Graduate School I spend a lot of my time thinking about how we can support Part-Time Researchers. The Part-Time route to completing a research degree is attracting outstanding researchers – often with another foot in the world outside of academia. Since we successfully launched the Distance Learning PhD and Research Masters this group is based all over the globe with residential periods on campus. As someone who never studied or worked part-time my instinctive response to anyone completing a research degree part-time is one of enormous respect. When my two children were young I took a career break which left me ready to jump back into the world of work once the opportunity came up. This was not part of some grand plan but just worked out that way in the way life sometimes does and often does not. At the time it was far from clear that I was embarking on a career break rather than career suicide! It was the University of Birmingham that took the gamble of hiring me after a 6 year ‘break with publications’ to a prestigious appointment. But do any of us really have so little experience of researching part-time? In fact on closer inspection I complete/neglect/attempt all of my roles part-time: mother, partner, friend, teacher, administrator, and researcher. Theoretically I devote 1/3 of my working time to Teaching, Administration and Research and the time outside of work to my private life. In practice the split is not clear cut depending on the time of year, sabbaticals, grants, the demands of the current administrative role etc. It can feel like I am working all the time – if not at my desk then in my head. I know many of our taught students either study part-time or balance full time study with a job and other commitments. I would like to learn from students and colleagues – both academic and professional services – how they make part-time work. I am convinced we can all benefit from the conversation and try and think imaginatively about the future – perhaps even part-time or job-share members of our senior leadership team.

4 thoughts on “Part-Time, Full-Time, All-the-Time… (Charlotte Hempel)”

  1. We have a lot of part time students at PG level and you raise great points. I am currently leading a review of our PGT provision and the ways in which we communicate with and support ‘part-time student have emerged as challenges.

    I am one of those people who undertook part time grad study – a Master’s degree followed by a PhD – while working and having a family. I know that I needed a lot of ‘understanding’ from my tutors and supervisors and the occasional hard deadline!

    i wonder whether any current or former part time learners have any experiences to share?

    1. Thanks Kathy. Your story shows how the qualities of pursuing some of your career part-time so successfully have resulted in your full time leadership role as PVC at a leading University. Such a trajectory certainly leaves little room for one of the most detrimental qualities to individuals and communities – a sense of entitlement. My sense is there is more awareness both in Higher Education, Business and elsewhere that the contribution of those with a less conventional career journey is both a quick win and a win-win situation. I look forward to talking about some of these issues to Birmingham’s Win:Win Network in CoSS soon.

  2. Working full-time in Higher Education whilst studying part-time is something I have done the majority of my working life. The qualifications have varied from a range of IAG qualifications, short courses, then to the more research intensive degree and PGDip.

    There were certainly challenges along the way, trying to maintain a balance without burning yourself out really does depend on several factors; the flexible support you receive from the institution, how organised and motivated you are as an individual and having clear objectives on why you are studying– the end goal. There were pressure points along the way where stress levels were through the roof; juggling various deadlines both in work and during my studies, to making sure I didn’t forget non-uniform day at my daughter’s school whilst making sure I had quality time on the weekends with family and friends. Managing time across all those areas was key. Taking the time to reflect and focus on the wider benefits of further study on your home and professional life.

    What made my part-time study experiences so enjoyable and positive was the ways in which I was taught and the support from academic tutors and supervisors. The flexible ways I could contact academics to ask questions which I felt could not wait until the next lecture through platforms like Wimba and Blackboard Collaborate was really important to me as a learner. I think the efficiency and use of VLEs play a huge part; I could re-watch recorded lectures and have the opportunity to engage interactively inside virtual classrooms with my student peers. Having a range of teaching experiences really helped me to adapt well to my studies; online, in the classroom, group based teaching and learning activities and also having exposure to industry throughout really helped to consolidate my learning.

    For prospective part-time students/researchers, I think the importance of pre-guidance is crucial, along with promoting the flexible and innovative ways in how they will be taught. I think that, along with support throughout makes part-time study really appealing – I certainly haven’t been put off juggling work/studies/home life, it is something I would happily do again.

  3. The concept of ‘pert-time’ study implies that you are only doing something else such as ‘paid work’ for the rest of your time. All of us spend on average 16 hours per day awake, of which maybe 8 or 9 hours might be spent in ‘work’ of a non-family, non-domestic nature. So what is the expectation of a ‘full time PG student’ and how does this flex into a part-time study approach. In the past my study has been either distance learning or part-time whilst undertaking work. In the first case I was employed full-time whist I studied for a part-time MSc over three years. Later whilst caring fro my father part-time and not in paid work I studied for a PGCE in Adult Learning so as to give something back (that didn’t really happen due to massive redundancies in FE). In both cases all of the students were part-time so expectations were common for atudying eats into the domestic time and we all struggled to find the time to do assignments etc. but the majority of us made it through. Support from partners and friends is essential.
    So back to the full time environment in which I’m conducting part-time research now. I’m undertaking my current study part-time for two reasons. Firstly I hope that the benefit for myself will be that I’m still able to pursue other interests ( as I’m now retired from paid work); I also accept that my learning of new things now takes more time so I can consolidate my learning more effectively. There is a third point, which is the benefit to the university – my part-time status means I can undertake research on longer term science effects which is key within my field of forestry research and climate change.
    Any potential part-timers out there – keep coming. It’s hard work both thoroughly worth it.

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