A couple of admin highlights: In order to meet the deadline, I would have had to register for the retakes before the results came out. Whether the deadline was last Monday (6th) or Friday (10th), the results were only published on Wednesday, and the senior tutor (who has to sign the form) is only available in her office on Monday afternoons. So, I'm glad they gave me an extension. And I've suggested that she should contact the other people who've failed directly (she was surprised that we hadn't already been contacted by email), since there's some confusion about this (e.g. the results form saying "College staff won't discuss these provisional results"). The admin staff also told me that I needed to get my tutor to sign the form. However, it then turned out that he's off on sabbatical, and won't be back for 3-4 months, so they decided that they could live without his signature after all.
Now I need to sort out the next step. Specifically, how much time do I devote to the project? The flipside being, how much time do I take off work?
The basic timeline here is:
Mid-December (end of first term): List of projects is announced.
Mid-January (start of second term): We submit our choices, discuss them with supervisors, and projects are then assigned (you may not get your first choice if someone else wants it too).
Mid-April (end of second term): Show a draft of the preliminary report to the supervisor.
Early May (start of third term): Submit the preliminary report, and do a brief presentation.
Early July (post-exams): Submit first progress report.
Early August: Submit second progress report.
Early September: Submit final report.
Mid-September: Do demonstration.
So, the simplest approach is to just take 8 months off work. Of course, that's also the most expensive. I'm sure I can get the bank to lend me the money for that if I need to, but it will have long term consequences (i.e. I'll need to pay it back).
Thinking back to last (academic) year, I was busy between January and June with lectures and exams, so you could say that's the equivalent of a job, with the project fitting into my spare time around that. Then I'd only need to take 3 months off (June-September). On the other hand, given that I failed the project last year, that may not be the best model to follow... I remember a few people asking me how much work I'd done on the project early on, and I said "either a lot or a little, depending on your point of view". I was attending lectures for 2 extra modules (without exams at the end) that were project related, in addition to the 4 that I had to take exams for, so that was 50% extra workload to help me with the project. But it didn't actually contribute anything to the project in and of itself.
Job-wise, I haven't really done much since I've been back at PMSI; I've spent the last week reading up on the new version of the software. So, I think it's only fair that I offer the company a chance to call it quits at this point (since my plans are rapidly diverging from my initial idea of "work here for a year while I apply for PhD places"). I haven't signed a contract yet, so we could just say that I'll disappear again, and they don't have to pay me for what I've done so far.
In the longer term, I could try working part time (e.g. 3 days a week), which is similar to what I did when I was studying for my Physics A level. On the other hand, there are the situations when a deadline looms, and I wind up working late nights and weekends, at which point it's no longer really a part-time job. Working for a larger company would hopefully alleviate that, since other people can pick up the slack.
I'm also seriously considering the merits of a low-skilled job, e.g. at the supermarket. I remember a while back that I heard a guy who worked behind the till chatting to a friend of his. He was saying that he did 12 hour shifts 3 days a week, then the rest of the week was free. As it stands, it takes me about an hour to travel to work (each way), plus 9 hours there, so that's 11 hours a day (+ overtime). So, if I was working at Somerfield (5 minutes walk from here), that would be much more convenient. Obviously the money wouldn't be so good, but I may also find that it would be easier to spend time concentrating on the project work if my job work was relatively brainless.
So, all comments are welcome here. In particular, please don't be offended if you see me asking other people the same question that you've already answered; it doesn't mean that I'm disregarding your advice.
I'm also considering the merits of buying a book like this one (advice on writing style). For instance, when I wrote my first research paper last year, and I spoke to the professor afterwards, he said "This got a B. It would have got an A if you'd included an Introduction and Conclusion." That's a simple enough rule to follow, but I didn't know about it. More generally, if I can get a head-start by reading relevant books before the project starts, then that's going to be beneficial later.