Freelancing Whilst Doing a PhD: The Bad Bits

Back in April I posted about the good bits of freelancing whilst doing a PhD; I’d had a difficult week freelance-wise and wanted to remind myself why I was doing it. It’s now 7 months later and I’m starting to reduce the amount of freelance work I’m doing. I’m not enjoying it as much as I did before, and I’m starting to be much more picky with clients; I have a few clients I’ve worked with for a long time, and I’m reluctant to take further clients on at the moment. I figured this would be a good time to post about the downsides of freelancing whilst doing a PhD. If you’re thinking of working some freelance projects into your schedule it’s important to know that it isn’t always a great experience, so I hope this injects a bit of reality into things, and makes PhD students think carefully about whether to say yes to additional projects.

Ultimately, you don’t have full control over the work you do. I love science, and I love writing, but there are definitely bits of science that I do not enjoy writing about. I’m doing a PhD and my research interests are aligned with my project, and various topics linked to it – if I’m asked to write about anything related to physics or tech, I’m likely to be doing that purely because it’s a task I’m being paid for. This is the main reason why I’m reducing the amount of freelance work that I do now; the work I want to do, I’m already being paid for, freelance projects just aren’t getting me excited like they used to.

Clients can be a total nightmare. I say this is the most respectful way possible, but some clients just make me want to stop freelance work for good. Currently, I don’t have any of those clients – I’ve stopped working on those accounts over the past 7 months because I found myself spending more time chasing them for payment/clarification of project briefs etc than I did actually doing the work required. I’ve stopped chasing clients who haven’t got resources to me in time for me to meet the deadline; if I don’t have the resources, I don’t do the work. It’s pretty simple, and I wish I’d started doing that earlier, but I think it takes time (and confidence) for you to let things go like that. I’m now much more strict with myself when it comes to the way I deal with clients, and how much effort I’m willing to put in – of course, if a client is communicative then I will be too, but there’s no point in me spending time sending multiple emails if they’re not getting any response.

Holidays aren’t really a thing. Every week for the last 6 months I’ve researched, written, and submitted 2 Word documents to one of my clients. I actually really enjoy working on this project, but it’s every week – and it’s not something I can do ahead of time because it’s dependent on what’s happened in that week specifically. That means that when I take a week away from the PhD, I still end up working in some sort of routine. When I went to South Africa for the Global Evidence Summit (posts here and here if you missed them) a few months ago, I ended up working extra hard in the few weeks before, so that I could make sure that I didn’t need to keep up with freelance content whilst I was away.

Really, I’m falling out of love with the process of freelancing, and I think that’s largely because I’m coming to the end of my PhD, and I’m much more focussed on building a career now. In an ideal world I don’t want to be picking up freelance projects to keep me going, I want to work in research full time after the PhD – that realisation means that I’m not seeing longevity in freelance work anymore, and I’m much happier working on projects that are linked to my PhD in some way. I think I’ll continue freelancing with the limited number of clients that I have, but I doubt I’ll be taking on any further clients – I say that, but it’s all dependent on what happens job-wise after the PhD ends. I guess it’s just a case of watch this space! I’ve had a really good run with freelancing, I’ve worked with some brilliant clients on some super interesting projects, I just feel like it’s time to put my own research interests first now.

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!).

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