Pursuing a Ph.D. while working full time is no easy feat. From someone who has been there, I can tell you from experience there are lots of pros and cons to working on a degree while continuing to teach.
Finding Time for a Ph.D. While Working Full Time
From someone who has worked full time and pursued a Ph.D., I can tell you that it is not an easy journey. Like many of you considering a Ph.D., I wasn't in a position to give up my full-time job. For most of my teacher colleagues who pursued a Ph.D., the same held true. Some had children and needed to keep their benefits, while others who had no children believed that they could hold down what is essentially the burden of two full-time jobs without the worry of neglecting their families. The journey, in many ways, resembles a roller coaster. There will be weeks where you think, 'Oh, this is easy,' and other weeks where you ask yourself, 'Why am I doing this again?' However crazy the ride, there are definite pros and cons to choosing to work full time while pursuing a Ph.D.
Pros and Cons to Your Bank Account
There are a lot of financial pros to continuing to work full time while pursuing a Ph.D. From a practical point of view for a teacher, you get to keep your salary and benefits while having summers and other school breaks to devote your extra time to work on your Ph.D. The benefits are especially important. If you have any medical conditions, like me, one of your priorities in deciding to go for a Ph.D. is figuring out how you can do it and keep your insurance. This way, you don't have to worry about trying to pay for private insurance while not earning. You also get to keep earning years in the system towards your retirement pension. That means you won't have to push off your retirement just because you are pursuing a Ph.D.
There are, however, some financial cons to working full time while pursuing a Ph.D. Odds are it will take you longer to finish than the theoretical completion time of five to six years or even the average completion time of about eight years. That happens for several reasons. First, if you enroll in a Ph.D. program at a traditional school, there will be a limited number of hours a day you can attend classes. Also, your schedule will be less flexible because you are tied up during the day teaching classes, which can complicate scheduling a full load of courses into your life. That could stretch out the amount of time it takes you to complete a Ph.D.
You will want to study the course sequence provided by the university, like this one from University of Central Florida, and get an idea how much you can realistically do and teach full-time. The extended time means you have to pay more tuition and fees, so your Ph.D. could end up costing you more in the end. By working full time, you may also forego opportunities to get your Ph.D. paid for with graduate fellowships and teaching assistantships, which could lower the cost of your Ph.D. and even result in free tuition and an awarded stipend.
If you choose an online program, you could squeeze more classes in; however, there are typically face-to-face components which require travel. The costs of the travel components that require you to spend money on hotels and transportation can add up depending on the frequency you are expected to attend in person.
Maintaining Work-Life Balance
We know as teachers that there are a lot of weeks where we feel like we are working two full-time jobs between teaching, grading, and other school-related obligations. So trying to balance this full-time job with a Ph.D. is a serious decision.
There are some definite cons to working full time while pursuing a Ph.D. One of the most obvious cons is the challenge of time management. You want to make sure you find time for family while working and taking your Ph.D. courses. Your typical day might look something like this: teach from 8 am to 4 pm, attend classes from 5:30 pm -8 pm, and then go home to family and homework. If you choose an online program, your schedule would be a bit more flexible. However, you will still be faced with the conundrum of trying to work your classes and homework around your teaching duties. In either case, you will be faced with the con of where you want to sacrifice your time. Some Ph.D. students who work full time get up a few hours earlier in the morning to work on their coursework so they can spend the evenings with their family. Another con is giving up a large chunk of your weekend to work on your coursework or dissertation.
However, working full time does give you some opportunities over the typically impoverished Ph.D. student. With a full-time paycheck in hand, you can choose how heavy or light a course load you take. During the school year, you can elect to take fewer courses so you can carve out time for yourself and your family. During the summer you can take an extra course or two to stay on pace with your graduation goals. Summer vacations and school breaks will also provide you with long chunks of time to work on your dissertation.
The Ph.D. Challenge
Be prepared; it is not easy to work full time and pursue a Ph.D. However, if you're passionate about earning your degree, go for it! There are pros and cons to working full time and pursuing a Ph.D., but they are not insurmountable. Keeping your teaching job allows you to maintain your health insurance and keep building up your retirement funds. Your teaching schedule also frees up your summers to devote to tasks such as working on your dissertation. However, there are some definite cons involved in the challenge of working full time and working on your Ph.D. It may take you longer than average to finish your degree and cost significantly more, for example. The amount of work you'll be required to do each day could also strain other areas of your life, such as family time, if you aren't careful.