Student perspective: A balancing act - navigating part-time work and university

Posted in: Work Experience

Matthew, a Doctoral student in Pharmacy and Pharmacology writes about his experiences balancing part-time work with university.

University life often feels like a juggling act, where managing academic responsibilities, social commitments, fitness activities, and mental well-being can seem overwhelming. Amidst this whirlwind, some students opt to add part-time work to their busy schedules, driven by reasons ranging from financial necessity to career aspirations.

Part-time work for university students encompasses a wide spectrum, from completing remote surveys to working in local bars or interning at a big company – As university students we aren’t short on options.

In my case, I worked part-time throughout my undergraduate right up to my PhD in various roles for different reasons that changed throughout. A correlation seemed to be that the older I got, the more I worked for the experience rather than the money (but that’s a different blog in itself!).

Balancing Work and Studies

For two years, I worked as an event assistant at the local sports centre, setting up and assisting with various sporting events, such as rugby matches, netball games and so on. This role's flexibility allowed me to customise my work hours, a crucial factor in balancing work and studies.

While zero-hour contracts offer flexibility, they aren't devoid of drawbacks. Zero hours typically means that you are not guaranteed hours, so your weekly/monthly pay can vary. But during exam season or when a coursework deadline is approaching flexibility is very helpful (from personal experience of some tight deadlines!).

On the other hand, if you need guaranteed part-time work, shift work might be a better option. This will provide a contract with a set hours per week, that may be split over evenings, nights, or weekends. In my case, I valued flexibility over guaranteed hours, especially around exam season. Choosing the right work structure aligned with your schedule greatly helps in managing work alongside studies.

With lectures, social engagements, and personal time competing for attention, for me finding time for part-time work amidst this became increasingly difficult. So for me a flexible, zero-hour commitment job that could adapt to my academic schedule.

Experience Beyond the Lecture Theatre

 During my third year of university, I wanted to find work that would not only benefit me financially but would help to provide work experience for potential future employers. I worked two separate jobs focusing on data processing and administrative work. Both these roles taught me various transferable skills such as critical thinking, project management, research skills, and networking, that are not as common in most part-time positions.

Depending on your industry, this may be harder or easier to find, but it is always worth looking around, just to see what is out there. I was very fortunate to stumble into these roles, but thankfully this sort of work is quite common in Universities so it is always worth checking on the careers pages run by the Careers Centre, University, and Student Union. But in any case, any experience is still experienced, so even if you like the sound of something, but it doesn’t fit your future career exactly, you never know what opportunities it might unlock.

Part-Time Work Alongside a PhD

This may only apply to a few readers, but for some who wish to stay on at university and do a PhD, part-time work may be something you wish to pursue. In most cases (…but not all), PhDs will be funded, and students will receive a monthly stipend (like a bursary). But you may wish to supplement your stipend with part-time work or to gain experience in a different field.

Part-time positions for PhD students vary between those offered by your university and those outside. Usually, the part-time positions offered by your university will depend on your PhD program. For example, life sciences (biology, chemistry, pharmacology) students may have the opportunity to participate in lab demonstrations, participate in exam script marking or exam invigilating.

Of course, you can work in part-time positions outside of the university, the roles you choose however may vary depending on your course expectations of you. As I am conducting lab-based research, I chose a remote zero-hour position that allows me flexibility in terms of when I work and where from.


Juggling part-time work and university studies can be a difficult challenge but the two can be managed effectively. Ultimately, there are only a set number of hours in the day, and with academic pressures, social responsibilities, and everything in between these hours are quickly used up. In some cases, I have had to make sacrifices for part-time work, but this is not to say that the rewards of part-time work have not helped me either. But as with anything it is a balancing act, but finding work that suits you and your schedule certainly makes juggling life a little bit easier.

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Posted in: Work Experience


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