will taking a part-time job impact my future career prospects?

A reader writes:

I am finishing up a PhD in the life sciences and have more or less decided not to pursue traditional academic jobs. My time in grad school was like a real job in that I was making and saving money, working a lot, and making meaningful contributions to my field, but it was obviously not a real job in the traditional sense. I saw a listing for a job at a scientific journal that I’d be well-suited and well-qualified for (it’s basically for a science PhD with good language skills, as well as some more specific qualifications that I also meet). It sounds like interesting, fulfilling work.

The thing that strikes me is that it’s a part-time position — three days a week. Assuming the pay would be enough to live on, this actually sounds really appealing to me. My time outside of work is very valuable to me, and I wouldn’t mind having more of it; I would even venture that I would be a better and more committed employee for fewer days a week. But would taking a job like this be shooting myself in the foot with respect to future career stability and opportunities? If I lost or left this job for whatever reasons, would I then find it impossible to find another similarly appealing job with my resume consisting of “grad school followed by part-time position”?

I don’t think your resume would need to specify that it was a part-time position. If it were four days a month, then yes — that changes the nature of the work. But three days a week doesn’t require a disclaimer.

And I wouldn’t think it would be a huge obstacle for you in the future either. As long as the part-time schedule doesn’t prevent you from doing substantive work, engaging with your organization in a real way, and getting results in your realm, you should be fine. If the schedule significantly minimizes any of those, then I’d be more concerned (as I would be with any job), but as long as you’re good on those fronts, I think you’ll be fine in future job searches.

{ 48 comments… read them below }

  1. Kristen

    Yay, I work at a scientific journal! And it is interesting and fulfilling! When I started here I was part time too; at first I also had another part time job, but I would have dropped the other gig quickly even if the journal hadn’t made full time after a month-ish.

    To Alison’s point, I was definitely doing substantive work at 20-30 hrs per week at the beginning and attending the same meetings/events as the other core staff, just over shorter hours.

  2. AdAgencyChick

    I think a part-time job in your field is better than a full-time job not in your field — and if they like you and the journal grows or someone leaves, there’s potential to get full-time work.

    1. Erik

      Agreed – I’m trying to get into internships or PT work so I can at least get a foot in the door and prove myself, which hopefully (fingers crossed) can result in a FT gig.

  3. Clever Name

    I work part time as a consultant, and the only difference between me and my coworkers is I work fewer hours. I work on work that is just as substantive, and sometimes is quite high-profile. If I decide to leave, I don’t plan to note it is part time, nor do I think it will hurt my future prospects.

  4. The IT Manager

    I think the only problem with this being part time career-wise would be with future jobs that use past salary as a factor to determine your salary with them. Most AAM readers will agree this is wrong and employees should be paid the market rate for the work that they are doing, but I read about it enough here to know that at least some employers do do this.

    1. Tab

      Why would any future employer know what her salary was in a past job, unless she was a public official or some other position where her salary would be public information?

        1. Jerry Vandesic

          You don’t want to work for those kind of people. It’s a prime example of bad management, and probably the tip of the iceberg. Run away.

          1. BRR

            I agree you don’t want to work for those kind of people except sometimes you can’t be that picky. Also sometimes that policy is set by HR while the department you work in is awesome.

      1. Stephanie

        It’s a pretty common question in job applications, especially if you’re doing some long application and background-check authorization for a larger employer. Sometimes you can get around it, but not always.

      2. B

        Because many, well over 50% of them, ask what previous salary was. Even though it is none of their business if you do not give it then you can be out of the running for a job.

    2. Bio-Pharma

      I agree with you that you should ask for market rate, but I also have been asked previous salaries… HOWEVER, knowing where the OP comes from, the foot in the door (well more like OUT of the door of academia/benchwork) is so much more valuable. Anyway, considering the low graduate student stipend (is it 40K yet?), I’m sure she will be jumping up in salary for every new job going forward.

      1. Carly

        My coworker actually got an unreasonably huge salary bump when joining our firm because she quoted her hourly rate for her 15-hours-a-week consulting gig, and HR extrapolated to an annual salary, putting her compensation way higher than everyone else at her level.

        1. voyager1

          People have been asked to provide a W-2… really?!?! That is insane. If I apply for a job that asks for salary, I just close the window to the website/job site and move on. It is frankly none of their business.

  5. long time reader first time poster

    When I was coming off the bench after several years as a stay at home parent, my first role was part time — about 20 hours a week.

    I didn’t put ‘part time’ anywhere on my resume, and I don’t think that was dishonest. I didn’t put ’60 hours a week’ next to another position I held previously, either.

    Your resume lists *roles* and *responsibilities* not hours committed.

    If somebody asked me about it during an interview I would have been candid, but nobody did. Probably because it was a job in my field that demonstrated my skills, and I had good references.

    Nothing to worry about, IMO.

    1. Stephanie

      I haven’t applied for a fed job in a while, but I do think you have to list hours per week, if I recall correctly? But USAJOBS resumes and applications are their own weird animals.

      1. Kristen

        Ugh, yes I’ve seen that on Fed and state (NC) gov’t job forms. Also once there was the checkbox at the end of the page that made you list every job you’ve ever had ever (groan) asking if any of those jobs were part time, and if so you had to explain- even for obvious situations like having a job as a student. The. Worst.

      2. Not Katie the Fed

        Federal jobs do require you list hours per week. I just finished serving on my first hiring panel, and we had to rank resumes based, to some extent, on years of experience, and reduced (or increased in some cases, especially military) based on hours worked per week over/under 40. I know for me I didn’t figure it out for 45 or 50 hours, but for 60+ hours per week, or less than 30, I did the math.

  6. Jo

    This is the exact field I work in, after completing a PhD. It’s a wonderful area to work in, great and interesting work -exact conditions depend on your company of course, but I love it. I started as a assistant editor handling peer review, and have moved up to a senior position, after ten years in the field and working at a few different companies. I too didn’t want to stay in academia (wanted more of a steady 9-5 type role) and this is perfect. Wish you lots of luck. The key thing is that with a bit of experience it is relatively easy to get a job elsewhere so is be all for getting some crucial basic experience and training if you can live on it for a while!

  7. NotMyRealName

    Good for you for finding your non-academic path so quickly! I left a Ph.D. program and did a lot of strange things for 20+ years and am now loving my science based non-academic job. I don’t know if it’s different now, but nobody ever talked about these kinds of jobs when I was in grad school so it never even occurred to me that it was a possibility.

    1. Bio-Pharma

      Tell me about it!!! Many of the jobs I’m drawn to in pharma are traditionally help by PharmDs… Nobody told me that going to pharmacy school could lead to those careers! I thought pharmacy school meant becoming a pharmacist! Since I have a PhD, I have to really prove that I have the skills it takes…

      1. Merely

        Whoa, whoa, whoa! I’m in pharmacy school and it seemed to me like you needed a PhD for most industry jobs! I’ve heard of Rutgers fellowships and liaison-type positions for PharmDs, but what other careers can PharmDs have in pharma?

        1. Bio-Pharma

          MSL and Med Info are two big ones… There are internship programs that some pharma companies offer (eg. Novartis Fellowship), but only for PharmD grads… why not for PhD grads as well?! :P

  8. BRR

    In addition to being able to live on the pay you will want to consider benefits. But the fact that it’s part-time won’t hurt you. It will be how you can list the accomplishments on your resume that matters.

    1. Stephanie

      Yes, this. Ignore this if you’re outside the US (or can get coverage another way), but even with ACA, insurance more comprehensive than a catastrophic high-deductible plan can get expensive.

      1. BRR

        Also retirement. My husband is just finishing his PhD and working full-time but at minimum wage. Because of all of his time as a student he’s behind where he should be in retirement.

  9. Bio-Pharma

    Part-time doesn’t matter!!! I am very passionate about the academia-to-industry transition. I am very aware of the struggle that many people go through to get off the bench/academia into non-academia positions (I’m a PhD in Immunology). You have to do whatever it takes to get your foot in the door, so I would definitely pursue this position. Think about the next position after this one–you’ll be competing against many bench scientists who don’t have non-bench experience! Overall though, don’t fixate on one position. You have to HUSTLE and pursue multiple things at the same time!!!

    1. Sherm

      Yeah, there aren’t a lot of jobs out there, BUT there are more scraps of work to be had. Useful to pick those scraps up and put them on your resume.

  10. Magda

    I was underemployed for a while during the recession, only able to find part-time work. I haven’t found that the part-time work itself held me back; I listed those jobs as I would list any full-time employment on my resume. I was only making 1/2 of the teapots my full-time coworkers were, but I was still making teapots! I also had good references from those positions and it’s honestly never been an issue that I was only working 20 – 30 hours/week.

    The main pitfalls I found with part-time work were:

    1) Places that secretly want a full-time worker, but hire a part-timer because they’re cheap. Then they give you the full-time workload anyway. This can screw you up if you get into a bad performance/failure spiral.

    2) In some cases, people assumed I only wanted part-time hours; I remember a supervisor sounding kind of befuddled when I mentioned I might want to go full-time because he genuinely thought I was happy with my hours. Meanwhile I had been afraid to agitate for more hours because I thought it would be pushing my luck. (Supervisor’s boss wasn’t keen on the idea, so it wasn’t a totally unfounded fear on my part, but looking back I do wish I’d pushed harder.) It sounds like you want part-time hours so this may not be a problem, but if you find yourself dissatisfied and decide you want full-time, speak up as early and often as you can get away with because a lot of people will default to assuming you’re working the hours you want to work.

  11. INTP

    I wanted to add that depending on what the OP wants to do, a part time schedule could even be a big advantage. More time for any outside research, writing, networking, etc that she wants to do.

  12. Anonymizing this one

    Ahhhhh, I love this post!

    Two things/questions:

    1. OP nicely articulates the ways in which being in grad school in certain fields is basically having a job. But, do employers see it that way? Will hiring managers look at OP’s resume and think “ok, this person has five years of experience working as a [science-y thing]” or “this person is fresh out of school with no work experience”?

    2. One thing about part time jobs is that when you list your accomplishments on your resume, they don’t look as impressive. I held a position for a couple of years in about the same schedule as OP is talking about, and I got a huge amount of things done considering I was doing it in so few hours a week, but over an assumed forty-hour work week it doesn’t look like anything special. How should OP and I handle this?

    1. Student

      #1- depends on the field, and on what the graduate student actually did.

      From a legal, technical aspect, even funded graduate student work is not “work”, it is classified as a fellowship. That doesn’t really matter outside of employment law, though.

      In many fields, it is real 100% work from a work-experience point of view, with a 50-hour-a-week job. In several fields, you spend your first 1-2 years in classes (getting your masters), then work for the next ~5 years. In a handful of fields, it ends up being very undergraduate-class-like for several years with more of a part-time job level of experience. There are always a few students who spend the large portion of their graduate years goofing off, though, and those people come out with essentally no real work experience (and often with no actual graduate degree, but justice does not always prevail).

      If you are hiring PhDs, you usually are familiar with the specific PhD field and you know what that means in terms of work experience. Hiring managers who don’t know what is expected of a specific PhD field are unlikely to be hiring PhDs at all, either because that is very out of synch with the experience level for the role, or because a PhD is not an approriate background, or because the hiring manager is under the mistaken impression that PhD work is just like college undergraduate studies. That is perhaps frustrating for those wishing to change fields, but they’re probably in the same boat as other people with nontraditional backgrounds for whatever field they’re hoping to get into.

    2. Kristen

      The response to (1.) depends on the employer/field you’re looking in and on what your grad school experience was. If the jobs you’re going for generally require advanced degrees in the sciences (maybe this applies elsewhere, idk), then hiring managers should be aware of the kind of work that goes into a research degree. However, with more “for profit” degrees popping up in all disciplines, I like to make it clear on my resume that being a Research Assistant while in grad school was an actual job- I got a wage and benefits in addition to just tuition, and I had many responsibilities to that position that were beyond classes; however, I also understand that those few years don’t count the same as the same number of years of “regular”/industry/whatever work.

      1. Kristen

        As for (2.), the OP may not need to be as concerned about having a less impressive record because working at a journal, she may be doing the same kinds of work and taking on similar quality projects to a FT staffer, but simply doing a lower volume of editing/processing papers. No idea if that applies to OP’s potential position, of course, but it was true for me before going full time and is true of our other PT staff. (Sorry “Anonymizing…” if that’s not helpful for your situation!)

    3. AnonAcademic

      Ph.D. programs differ wildly in how “work like” they are. Working in my current lab is not unlike self employment/running a small business. But I know other grad students whose programs are more school like (mostly classes) and others who are like entry level lab techs/worker bees (conduct research but not independently generate research).

    4. themmases

      I think #1 depends on your field. In my field (public health), most job ads will say they prefer or require a masters degree but then say an equivalent amount of work experience could be acceptable too. I’ve seen the same thing with PhD-requiring jobs in my field: the ad will say that a combination of masters and several more years of work experience would also qualify. I’d expect employers to have some idea if that will fly in their field and to say so if it’s OK.

      In the programs I’m aware of, a grad student would still have a job and title from something that they spend time on outside of class (even if they get their thesis/dissertation out of it) and from which they get their funding. I’ve always seen that job listed on people’s CVs as a job in itself. The timing, title, or both make it clear that this was a grad assistantship, but it is still a separate/additional activity. If I saw a CV with no such assistantship for someone’s time in grad school, that would imply they weren’t given a job or funding at all while they were there. That can be normal if the person had a non-student job, but it would be weird in a full-time grad student not to have a fellowship or assistantship somewhere, for at least some of the time.

  13. Editrix

    That’s a good field for freelancing (e.g. editing papers for ESL speakers, as long as there’s no conflict of interest), so you could freelance as much or as little as you want to on the other days and use that to round out your resume and address the part-time aspect of the job.

  14. Just Visiting

    I would even venture that I would be a better and more committed employee for fewer days a week.

    I work part time by choice and this has certainly proven true for me. I’ve never had a job in my “field” (freelance work, yes) and what I felt working five days a week was resentment. I hated the fact that I was spending so much time doing something I didn’t care about, working around people I didn’t care for, just the whole general grind of it. Whereas with my part time job (also three days a week), even if I’m having a spectacularly shitty week, by the time I realize that, it’s almost over. (Bonus: One-third of your schedule is Friday!) I spend more days out of the office than in them and I really needed that, I needed to not feel like my home was the temporary thing and the job was my actual home. Yes, money can be an issue but I’d rather be poor than constantly going to pieces. Plus the extra days off have really allowed me to focus on my true career and my freelance work. In exchange I am in a MUCH better mood when I’m at the office because even when I’m upset I just remember that the weekend is at most two days away. I work faster because I need to accomplish everything in a shorter time frame. I don’t take mental health days and I don’t get burned out. It is basically the best situation for me and well worth dealing with shitty ACA health insurance.

    TL;DR: Part time work = A+++

  15. Mander

    Aaahhh, I want a job like this! I too realized partway through my PhD that academia was not for me, but I’ve been struggling to get into anything else. Academic publishing appeals to me on many levels, and I have even started an extremely tiny freelance editing company, but it’s proving difficult to get a foot in the door with a journal, since I don’t have an English or Journalism background.

    Anyway I think the only thing that could be harmful with a job like this is if you decide to try and return to academia in the future. Academia is such a strange beast that I think once you decide to leave you can never come back, unless you are extraordinarily lucky.

  16. Cass

    I’m currently working 2 part time jobs in my field. I know what you mean, but I’ve never been asked in an interview whether it was full time. I certainly wouldn’t lie if asked, but it hasn’t come up. But I do mention how juggling the two hectic positions has helped with time management and task prioritizing.

  17. Wait, what?

    Wait, I don’t have to specify when a part-time job is 3 days per week part time? I’ve had several part-time jobs that were 3 8-hour days per week, 5 5-hour days per week, or were full time for part of the year and 3 days per week the rest of the year. I have always been told that my part time experience isn’t equivalent to full-time experience and that I should note it as to not be misleading. I’ve also shorted my overall experience level because of this, knocking off years of work to level it out. Should I not be doing that?

      1. Wait, what?

        Mind. Blown.

        All these years I’ve been equating 2 years of part time work as 1 year of experience. I’ve really been underselling myself apparently.

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