Research Proposal: Uni, Work and Identity Loss

Many students have expectations of university being a linear plan; to study, graduate, and go on to work full-time. However, as most of us have already recognised, this is not the case. Things get in the way: personal struggles, social lives, jobs, fluctuating motivation, and most recently, the Coronavirus. All these factors make balancing a job and uni studies especially difficult.

With work and uni getting so chaotic at times, we have little time for other activities. We tend to feel lost and out of control, as if we’re a pinball being shot everywhere. We often think: “what the hell am I doing?” — making it easy to get lost. And once we’ve lost direction, we lose our understanding of what uni really is.

With all that being said, I am proposing to research:

  • how uni and work (in excess) can impact a student’s identity
  • how students effectively balance their work lives with their university studies

As the cost for a BCM degree grows, so does the need for a part-time job. I personally have a job that I work at 15-25 hours a week, and adding my uni studies to the mix can get quite challenging to manage. In saying this, I know many other BCM students have a part-time job, therefore I would not only be able to relate to their experiences, but I’d also be able to gather a range of data.

I began my research by posting a poll on twitter asking the cohort if they feel as though they have lost your identity from studying and working so much. While all respondents agree they have had/will have a loss of identity throughout their course at UOW, they are split on when it will happen. It is evident that students think about this, which may be worrying to many.

The results of my second poll showed an overwhelming amount of students saying they are still working on balancing their work life with uni. In fact, only 13% of respondents said they have managed to balance the two, leaving them in the minority. Therefore, figuring out how to efficiently balance work and uni is highly important to my research task.

While conducting my research for this project, I found numerous studies on the relationship between part-time work and full-time higher education, but little on how studying and working in excess could effect a student’s sense of identity.

A study by Neill, et al. showed the link between the amount of hours worked by each student and the effects on academic performance amongst second year students. The students involved in the study worked up to twenty hours a week. The results shown below indicate the significant effects that working part-time has on a student. If they feel limited at school, imagine how lost they feel within themselves. This study is important to my research because it shows how overworking can tire an individual, which then pertains to identity loss.

According to Moreau and Leathwood’s study on balancing paid work and studies, they found that the majority of students interviewed had reduced the amount of social activities they did as a result of work and uni obligations (Moreau and Leathwood, 2006). A lack of social interactions with friends and family can lead to feelings of loneliness and a negative self-esteem. This very much relates to my research plan, as social activities are a huge part of one’s identity.

Similarly, a figure shown in the study by Hall depicted a decrease in leisure activities amongst working uni students between 1999 and 2006, dropping from an average of fourteen hours to just eight hours a week (Hall, 2010). However, the average amount of hours spent at work actually increased four hours a week. This tells me that, each year, students are spending more time working and less time on their hobbies, making it difficult to relieve stress from work and uni, whether that be through painting, walking or swimming. This, I believe, is a contributing factor to a student’s loss of identity.

I looked at a very interesting study, attached below, done by Metcalf in 2003, showing the effects that term-time work has on university activities, by comparing term-time workers with the entirety of the class. A student’s study time, social life and sleeping schedule are all especially important in being an efficient student, and those three aspect are all being effected dramatically by term-time work.

To conclude, I believe it is essential to understand how a student’s sense of identity may be threatened while studying full-time at uni and working part-time at a job. And although there are many important studies on the relationship between uni and work, there is still very little that talk about identity loss. In saying this, I believe my research project will be hugely valuable.


Hall, R. (2010). ‘The work–study relationship: experiences of full‐time university students undertaking part‐time employment’, Journal of Education and Work, vol. 23, no. 5, pp 439-449, viewed 25 March 2020, <>

Metcalf, H. (2003). ‘Increasing Inequality in Higher Education: the role of term-time working’, Oxford Review of Education, vol. 29, no. 3, pp. 315-329, viewed 21 March 2020, <>

Moreau, MP & Leathwood, C. (2006). ‘Balancing paid work and studies: working (-class) students in higher education’, Studies in Higher Education, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 23-42, viewed 19 March 2020, <>

Neill, N, Mulholland, G, Ross V & Leckey, J. (2004). ‘The influence of part‐time work on student placement’, Journal of Further and Higher Education, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 123-137, viewed 23 March 2020, <>

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s