Advice needed: job search, unfinished PhD

So I’ve come at the end of my University funding and, even if I have started to write my thesis, there’s still much to do, enough to go beyond the expiry of my current funding. That of course means looking for a job, which I’ve started to do. I’m concerned about juggling working and the PhD, and especially about failing to write up and at the same time not working properly. So I have a bunch of things on my mind, and I’d like to ask for advice to my fellow Dopers.

First of all, background information. I’m in the UK, doing a PhD in Computer Science and, being Italian, luckily I have no problem with work permits. I have tons of working experience in the field, and when I submit CVs I usually get at least a few answers.

And that brings me to the first issue: what is it with recruiters and employers wanting me to drop my studies? I’m in the final stages, and I put that clearly on CVs and cover letter; furthermore, only an idiot would drop it now. And yet I still get asked “So, when are you going to drop your studies?”.

Another issue is that, after they’re made aware of it, few employers seem to be willing to acknowledge that I need time to work on my PhD, and working on it during the weekends is not going to be enough. I was hoping that at least a few would be willing to compromise on time, so that I’d be working part time until I finish, and paid proportionally less (75% work, 25% study is the usual suggestion I make). Of course I understand that an employer would prefer to have 100% availability and commitment, but prospective employers are always telling me I’m such a great asset as they tell me, that I was hoping for someone to be willing to accept that compromise. Is this an impossible thing?

Yet another problem is connected to a past working experience, in the firm I was working for before entering the University, which was my only commercial working experience in this country. Apparently there was something dodgy going on, and I found out only recently. I can’t go in too much detail, but in short the owners were not happy at all with me leaving, and shortly afterwards the firm and its owners basically disappeared, leaving behind a legal mess with taxes, paperwork and other things, so I can’t get a reference or even prove that I was employed with an existing firm, and because of the bad blood I got when I left I’m not keen on chasing them either.

Any advice would be appreciated!

I’d recommend you stick with academia until you’re finished.

Academics accept that very often potential RA’s won’t have quite completed (many job specs are written to include this category. Finding suitable EU candidates for short term contracts can be really difficult, so you would have an edge over the international applicants, even if they already have a PhD. Last time I went through this I only had one British resident applicant (who hadn’t even started a PhD) and one Bulgarian. The rest were international. There was a fair bit of paperwork to justify why I selected an international candidate.

The other possibilty is picking up some part time hourly paid lecturing to tide you over - that stuff is rarely advertised, so is a case of calling round and seeing if anything is available.

Good points, Sir Doris. I have been discouraged from hoping to find work in the academic environment by colleagues and friends that estimate that a large share of European funds (the EU is one of the most significant sources for research grants) is being diverted towards the recently joined member states. That is fair enough, as they need the money to build up a decent academic infrastructure, but in the short term it shrinks funds available here. And of course the local Government is not keen on spending more.

Another issue that I have to consider (and should have mentioned) is that I have to sponsor my wife’s residence permit. That means that I have to go for something reliable, because I’ll have to prove to the Home Office that my income can support her. Working by the hour, often being unreliable, is something they don’t really appreciate for the purpose of granting residence permits.

Well there are still research councils funding research projects, as well as some privately funded things out there. My experience, and I’m sure if I stick my head out of the office door and ask a random colleague, is that it’s not that easy to get your hands on a suitable applicant who doesn’t need a work permit. Take a look at, it might cheer you up to see there are plenty of posts on there, many for developers within an academic environment (ok you’re not going to make big bucks but enough to get by and I’ve yet to see a pressured developer/technician out side of those first few weeks of term)

In addition to RA posts, you might find some institutions would consider you for a teaching post. I’ve certainly worked alongside people who are yet to complete/will never complete/haven’t even registered …

The thesis/job combination can work depending on your temperament - I have a guy in my group who is just submitting doing that - took him about ten months to write but he is working full time. On the flipside, I have had guys suffer from a pathological inability to put pen to paper and take a year to write up even without real workplace commitments.

Remember that your actual thesis document is just one piece of the PhD jigsaw, and it can be hammered out in 6-8 weeks if push comes to shove. Its going to be read by five people on planet earth, and only one of them is going to read it for sure - you. Your supervisor, internal and external examiners may read it, and your mum will probably read the acknowledgements. You just need to produce something that will keep these five people happy.

>“So, when are you going to drop your studies?”

I’ve hired or helped hire several new PhD technologists, though none in CS.

You do raise a big red flag, because you are so much in transition and getting a job will not resolve it. Prospective employers are no doubt afraid something will shift unpredictably soon after they hire you. If you do get the PhD, will you look for a huge raise, or jump to another employer? If you don’t get it, does that mean you’re not as capable as they thought? Also, how will a new employee manage the balance between work and this other competing effort, which could be difficult even for an experienced employee?

One compensation for this would be really excellent experience and references. If something in that pile is dodgy, everybody will feel so skeevy about it they’d hire almost anyone else first.

You might try finding positions that are somewhat temporary in nature, for example getting into a project team that is being assembled just for one limited project.

You might also try much smaller employers, who are more willing to take on someone who looks risky, because they can’t afford top notch people who don’t have any risk associated with them.

Good luck!

Chillingly to the point. I think I’ll have to stick to academic placements until I finish, as they’re used to postgraduate students in need of sustenance, and then we’ll see.