Freelancing Whilst Doing a PhD: The Good Bits

Outside of PhD life, I work as a freelance copywriter – yep, full-time PhD plus some-of-the-time writer. This week has probably been my most difficult yet, freelance-wise that is. I had to put my big-girl pants on and tell a client I wasn’t working with them anymore because they were messing me around with deadlines and not replying to emails. I really didn’t like doing it; I still feel like I’m about 12 years old and I’m reluctant to look like a kid stomping her feet because she didn’t get her own way. ANYWAY. Usually I love freelancing, so I thought I’d give a run down of the good bits of freelance life, what you get from it and why it’s a valuable thing to do even whilst trying to get a PhD – both to give some information to anyone looking at starting to freelance, and to remind me why I love what I do again. Of course, the bad bits of freelancing deserve their very own blog post, so stay tuned for that in a few weeks!

£££. Let’s just get this one out of the way early one – additional money is always helpful when you’re on a PhD stipend. I’ve mentioned previously that I love to travel, and any extra pennies come in handy for that. Linked to that is the process of putting a price on your work; at first it’s really weird, and it can feel awkward. It’s important to remember that your time is valuable, you’re spending time and effort on whatever project you’re working on, and you should be rewarded for that fairly.

Building skills. I was freelancing for a year whilst finishing my undergraduate degree and I thought my organisational skills were pretty good; I was also juggling a structured part-time job too. Turns out it’s not a patch on juggling everything that comes with a full-time PhD and freelancing! That said, it’s a good sort of hectic. I find I get more done if I have more to do – I work best to a deadline, so everything goes on one to-do list and it all gets done eventually. As well as being Queen of Organisation I’ve also had to develop the skill of invoicing, chasing invoices when they’re not paid on time (more often than not), and crafting the perfect ‘I’m pissed off because you haven’t done something you said you were going to so can you please do it now’ email. All good skills – the perfectly crafted stroppy but polite email has served me well when trying to get PhD related stuff moving too, though I should note I’ve only needed that when contacting people for approvals etc, no one that’s in my research group! Freelancing also forces you to write when you don’t feel like writing. Throughout the course of a PhD it’s important to keep writing, writing is the way that we as scientists communicate information, so waiting to write until you ‘feel’ like writing isn’t always possible. Getting used to  consistent stream of writing-related deadlines (sometimes 3 or 4 a week) means PhD-related writing suddenly comes more naturally.

Learning. Before PhD life I was based in a wet-science lab – doing what people think of as ‘proper’ science, in a laboratory and everything. My project now is office-based (I have a guest post coming up on Soph Talks Science about that later this month so head on over there to see how office-life differs), but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in what’s going on inside the labs around me, or even across industries that are loosely linked to my PhD work. For example – a few of my clients are based in recruitment (staffing type recruitment, not participant recruitment which is what my research focusses on), and their techniques may be useful for participant recruitment in some way. Another client I work with are involved with routinely collected data – an area that could have direct implications on the way we recruit participants to trials. So it’s all useful, it’s extra knowledge that I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t doing it – and I think that will definitely strengthen my own research.

Have you thought about freelancing whilst doing your own research? If you have any questions please let me know and I’ll be happy to answer them (if I can!).

8 thoughts on “Freelancing Whilst Doing a PhD: The Good Bits

  1. A Muddled Student

    You mentioned that you’ve learnt to write even when you don’t feel like writing. I know that when I’m not in the mood my writing is never as good as when I get a burst of inspiration. Did you get used to it quickly? And how did you overcome the feeling of not being in the mood?


    • heidirgardner

      I think that’s a totally normal feeling – but you do get used to it quickly. If I’m not in the mood to write then it might take me a bit longer, or I might need an additional draft or time to edit, but in the end I’m still happy with the content. Overcoming the feeling of not being in the mood to write is the biggest challenge! I used to do basic things like write a list of things I need to achieve and then not go to bed until the list is complete (making sure it’s realistic of course!), but when I really struggle to get started I use a technique called freewriting. In basic terms you write continually for a set period of time; no breaks, don’t worry about punctuation, just don’t take your pen off the page. If this is interesting I could always pop up a blog post about it if you think that would be useful for you? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • A Muddled Student

        Thank you so much, this is all fantastic advice! If you wouldn’t mind writing blog post that would be great! I’m starting a masters in scicomm in September and i’m worried that in the future I’ll struggle to create good pieces when I need them most!

        Liked by 1 person

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