Recently, I’ve been having lots of conversations with students about managing additional activities alongside a DPhil, and one of the recurrent concerns is how to think about the time commitment(s) additional activities would entail.
There isn’t a straightforward solution to this, but there are simple techniques you can use to help you make a more informed decision, and to weigh options against one another. The quickest is to draw up a straightforward time budget:
1. Remind yourself the expectation for doctoral study according to the regulations* is:
‘Examiners are asked to bear in mind that their judgement of the substantial significance of work submitted should take into account what may be reasonably expected of a capable and diligent student after three or at most four years of full-time study. (Possible interruptions and unforeseen difficulties will, of course, often mean that more than three or four years have elapsed between admission and submission)’. If you’re a part time student, double this anticipated duration.
‘Full time study’ is the equivalent of a full time job: in the UK, this is usually 37.5 hours a week, with approx. 28 days holiday. If you’re a part-time student, divide the expected hours per week, and days of holiday per year, by 50%.
n.b. the regulations don’t only expect doctoral work during term time, but through the year.
2. Any additional obligation needs to be considered in relation this commitment, and any other commitment(s) that predictably require your time.
3. (doctoral time expectation) + (time expectation for other commitments) = your existing time commitment expressed in hours per week.
4. Look at your week, and the hours available to you in it as working hours. For example, if you regularly participate in sport for half a day each week, that time is not available to you as working time.
5. Map your existing commitments into a week overview planner (for example, like this one) and look at what’s left to you. How many working hours is right for you each day? Do you want to work at all at weekends?
6. Are you already running a deficit? If you are, is it a temporary situation – which may feel manageable – or is it a steady state, in which case you might want to consider making adjustments to help you head off potential burnout?
7. If you’re considering an additional commitment, feel confident in being very upfront in finding out what the time commitment is likely to be. Ask people who’ve done a similar task or project in the past, talk to your supervisor, ask around
8. Establish the extent to which when the work needs to be done is within your control, and when it’s contingent upon other people completing prior steps. Try to establish the window within which it is likely to land on your desk, and consider whether you could accommodate the work throughout that window: do you have any other additional commitments during that time (for example, conferences, milestones, fieldwork?).
9. If you’ve got multiple additional commitments (for illustration, let’s say you’re already teaching and writing a paper for publication, and are considering a collaboration with a social enterprise), consider this variable window alongside other variable windows: what position would you be in if all the work arrived at once?
10. If you’ve not been able to get a good sense of the actual time a commitment is likely to take (n.b. don’t assume this is accurately indicated by the number of hours that are paid for, if it’s a paid opportunity), then a good rule of thumb is to take your best guess, and add 150% of that time again to get an estimate (so an initial guess of 2 hours becomes an estimate of 5 hours).
Almost all academic and academic-related activities take longer than doctoral students anticipate, and if this model ends up over-forecasting the time you expect a commitment to take then you ‘win’ some time back – it’s a much better feeling than scrabbling to find extra time if you underestimate!
* Taken from GSO.5, Memorandum for Examiners for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy