This week we caught up with Linda Baines, a postgraduate mature student studying a PhD at the Business School. We asked her about life as a mature student who studies from afar. Grab a cuppa and read Linda’s story here…

I’m a part-time self-funded PhD student at Southampton Business School and I live some 70 miles away from campus.  I started my PhD in September 2011 when I was still working full-time.  I caught the “research itch” when I was undertaking my MSc and I realised that if I wanted to achieve a life-time ambition, it was now or never.  So I dived in, and it took me some time to learn how to swim.  Now that I’ve learnt to paddle, rather than swim, I’m well on the way to completing the journey and it’s been a fascinating, exciting and frustrating trip so far.

I’m really enjoying the PhD, being able to undertake a big project within a discipline or framework where I decide how and when I want to work and study.  Writing’s the hardest part, and yet, ultimately, the most satisfying.  Bringing ideas together from the literature and my research to find insights and reach conclusions, finding new ways to look at things, no matter how small the steps or advances are, is so satisfying.

Undertaking a PhD in my situation is a lonely endeavour, particularly when you’ve worked for some years and could be looking to ‘wind down’’ or move on to other things. Living away from campus does have some advantages as I can work at home at my pace and to suit myself.  It is, however, rather isolating and the rest of the family soon learn to ignore your ramblings about where you’re up to in your research.  You need to keep a watch on eyes glazing over as you grumble about the frustrations of the software you’re trying to use to code and analyse your data.

It’s much harder to join and feel as you belong to an academic community when you aren’t on campus often.  So I’ve had to look elsewhere to find PhD buddies and connections.  #phdchat and #ecr on Twitter have been lifelines –they’re -places place to look for support, ask daft questions, ask for help with problems and feelings, and to make friends.  Bloggers such as Patter (http://patthomson.net/) and Thesis Whisperer (http://thesiswhisperer.com/) also offer useful starting points for advice.  Having a ‘PhD buddy’, someone you know who is also doing a PhD (even if they’re in a different discipline) has also been a way to bring myself out of my PhD cave regularly.

Universities are used to teaching full-time students and seem to find it harder to flex their structures and processes for part-timers.  My one wish is that universities will think about what their part-time students really need; for example, exploring how social media and other technology can be used to engage with and involve their part-time researchers and post-graduate students, just as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) do, such as the recent ‘How to survive your PhD’ course has done very successfully.

By Linda Baines

If you have a postgraduate or University story you would like to share with us, get in touch at comms@susu.org. We love to hear your news!