Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

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SilverElephant
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by SilverElephant »

Coming back to my theory about you not knowing what to do, I should add there's no shame.

Really, let me emphasize that: everybody in your surroundings is going to be telling you to make up your mind, "pick a career", "get going" and "decide already so you don't lose out to the competition". Do not listen to them. You are 21. Although this will sound condescending, it is meant to allow you to relax: there is simply no way for you to know what you want at that age. Except if you are an outlier for some reason or another, you simply have not lived through enough to decide what you want. Add to that the fact that what you want will change a lot throughout your life...

I've learned to avoid people who claim they know exactly what they want at a young age. It's almost always what somebody else wants for them.

Put another way, you can't really go wrong at this point.

polaran
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by polaran »

I'm about 6 months in to a PhD program and can share my experience so far. My perspective is a little different, as I entered graduate school as a late-20s professional with distinct ideas of the skills and knowledge base I'd like to get out of the experience. I also have no interest in an academic career.

I'm on a fellowship for the first 2 years of my program, so there's no teaching requirement for now. I probably average 50-60 hours per week on grad school things, but it varies week to week. This includes my coursework, reading papers, planning future directions for my research, laboratory work and analysis for projects, lab meetings, grant/fellowship application writing. I would prefer dramatically less coursework as I've found it's very low yield for the time spent, but it's required and typically takes 2 years to complete in my field. I will probably be done after this year thanks to transferring in credit from my previous degree. About 2/3 of the students in my cohort are funded by TAships and easily spend 15-20 hrs/week on teaching, grading, and holding office hours for students. I spend 10 hours per week working for my old employer, which doubles my income. Many programs explicitly prohibit outside work or assume that if you have time to pursue it you're not working hard enough on your research. Mine doesn't, and for me the outside work represents a much better time:value ratio than TAing, as well as maintaining skills that are important for me to keep up. I also have fieldwork, which is 12-16 hours per day, 6-7 days per week, but it's also the most enjoyable part of the program for me.

I have to be in class and attend lab meetings at specific times, but otherwise have a great deal of control over how I allocate my time. Many students struggle with the degree of self direction required at first. I found that it's easy to fall into the trap of feeling busy all the time while accomplishing very little. There's much less distinction between "work" and "life" compared to my previous jobs. It's also very different from professional (vet in my case) school, where you're told exactly where to be and what do for 40-100 hours per week and spend the rest of your time studying. I'm coadvised, and both advisors are very hands off. Other professors in the department are more directly involved in day to day operations, sometimes to the point of micromanaging. Finding out a potential advisor's management style from current/former students and figuring out how it fits with your preferred way of operating is fairly important and often neglected when considering potential programs.

Your ability to determine what you'll focus on will vary tremendously depending on your field, institution, and advisor. In my field, it's most common for students to apply to work with a specific advisor, who usually has a particular project in mind. The student has varying levels of input into the eventual direction they take things, but the study system and general area of focus are often determined before matriculation.

A good advisor and a topic that genuinely excites you (even though the actual work can be incredibly tedious on a day to day basis) seem to go a long way towards happiness in grad school. Social environment/support is particularly important as well, and can be difficult if you move to a new area and don't make a concerted effort to meet and befriend people.

In your position, I'd likely work for at least a year or two before pursuing grad school, particularly if you have good job prospects in a related area.

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TheWanderingScholar
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by TheWanderingScholar »

Thanks for the information, polaran.

Currently, I am not sure if I will work a couple years before my Master's, as I have student loans and I feel like I can finish my Master's before burnout breaks me.

The PhD is the big question, as I am not sure I want to work four years for not as impressive pay bump, and lose four years of my life where I can be saving money for FIRE and enjoying a FI life sooner.

However if I do go for my PhD, it will be after working and traveling a little bit so I can have more hand on experience and not suffer burn out (which honestly my biggest concern. I have gotten used to reading academic articles, it is just the classes not does not help me with my research that drive me up a wall (Field Studies, atm. Feels like I am not learning that much about using GIS in a field report like in a academic articles I read where the users take samples from the area to create a statistical analysis of accuracy of a map the researchers have compiled.)

That being said I am still trying to figure out where I will be going and waiting for replies on potential internships.

jacob
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by jacob »

YoungAndWise wrote: The PhD is the big question, as I am not sure I want to work four years for not as impressive pay bump, and lose four years of my life where I can be saving money for FIRE and enjoying a FI life sooner.
Initially, four years of PhD doesn't count for [nearly] as much as four years of real experience. You'll only catch up eventually if you're actually better or just negotiate better. Some institutions, like government, will convert your PhD into years of experience, but it's not going to be 1-1. Doing a PhD for the money would be crazy unless you need that PhD to get actual work, e.g. psychology.

polaran
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by polaran »

Going for a master's to expand your skillset and then working for a while also sounds reasonable. I'm not well versed in different geography career tracks, but my understanding in GIS is that a master's is the most common entry level degree for full time positions. After a few years you'll have a better feel for whether a PhD is truly necessary for career advancement and/or if there's a topic you're so interested in pursuing that you'll give up a few years of time and a lot of potential income to dig into it.

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TheWanderingScholar
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by TheWanderingScholar »

@jacob: Yeah, that is what is going over in my mind. I don't feel like going up into upper level management of Environment GIS Analyst(reason I love to work just an analyst position), so a PhD would not work be all that useful for me unless I go into specialization of a region such as sub-saharan Africa or SE Asia.

@polaran: Most of my career paths I want to go into are quantitative, GIS, and the environment so a Master's degree is pretty essential it seems.

And by the why, I am looking at domestic graduate schools however there are a couple international universities I want to look at, mainly Canada and Netherlands. Any experience, with either? I am reusing this thread to keep the forums clean.

FBeyer
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by FBeyer »

I needed an account of my PhD working style for my journal, but it relates to the discussion here so I've cross-linked the two:

viewtopic.php?p=116149#p116149

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TheWanderingScholar
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by TheWanderingScholar »

Thanks, Fbeyer.


ZAFCorrection
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by ZAFCorrection »

Not surprising. I'm finishing up year four in an engineering program, and it has been a nightmare since about the second month. 80 hour workweeks, advisor consistently getting bored of a project and dropping months of work in the trash, people crying in and after group meeting. I ended up switching groups/departments after 3 years and 5 publications.

The new boss hired 4 green students for this academic year and two dropped with probably at least another done before the year is out. And this is a nice, supportive PI compared to the last.

Also, apparently physics lost a student to suicide last year due to systemic problems with morale and degree completion timelines. I know some of those people and no one seemed exceptionally depressed, by academia standards anyway.

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TheWanderingScholar
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by TheWanderingScholar »

@jennypenny:

Hey, thank! I was going actually look through this thread just yesterday, thinking about updating my current situation and future about doing a PhD.


Reading through the article, some of things written there seems to be faults and problems with US academic culture. Several points contrast with my experience here in Estonia:
Differences:
Funding:
My mind is rusty however, here the PhD student automatically get a PhD allowance when accepted to the program from August to September (i.e. year round) as long as maintain eligibility. Above minimum wage (Amazing Right! :lol: ) however as there is not tuition fee so I do not have to worry about living.

Little to No Career Guidance:
Yeaah....one of our professor's (before he passed away tragically the weekend after he gave this lecture), straight up told us that the academic career path is highly competitive, and when most of us were not planning to go into the PhD program, he did not really judge us. Hell, most of us chuckled when we saw none of us raise our hands for the academic position.

However another thing that I notice with this program and from other programs from my university; there is a large connection of the academic, private, and public sector, which is very strange in comparison. And I mean HIGHLY interwoven; maybe it is because Estonia is such a small society with very little "verticiality" to their hierarchy, if any, or maybe because the need for high cooperation between these various pillars of society to work together.

Anyways back to my point; the career guidance aspect is heavily interested. The professor's really push us to go study abroad, which a majority of us did except for this dumbass ;), our work placement is help us with our thesis, and see what career's work for us. Here there seems to be little nose up in the sky, ivory tower academia that seems to exist in the US. Which continues onto another point:

View of Non-Academic Career as Failure
Another aspect that does not exist, as while yes many of the academia does seem to be a focus, the various aspect to seems be a focus on more practical aspects.

Commonalities:
Uncertainty and Underpay
Yeah, I wish my scholarship was guaranteed for the entire program as it would be useful for my entire program. I wish had more than just 350 EUROS as it could make my life so much easier and less stressful. However at least I do not have to work while studying, at least not yet. Currently trying to apply for an Estonian Governmental Scholarship.

Workload
While I do not work 6 or 7 days a week, 10+ hours a day, it seems like a lot of my life revolves around university work. And during last and this semester, we seemed to have certain days in which we stayed at the computer lab until 20:00/21:00. Which thankfully has not happened as much as last semester, especially November *fuck* that month in-particular.

Social Life
Tartu is really fucking boring for college students. AND I HAVE A STATISTICAL PROOF THAT IT EXIST ACTUALLY! Seriously, the city/town becomes sleepy during the weekend, at least for college students.

But that is my perspective from a guy contemplating to do a PhD with a different perspective from what people usually do.

@ZAFCorrection:
Can I ask what country are you from? I am curious.

ZAFCorrection
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by ZAFCorrection »

@TWS:

The United States. It is my understanding that things are bit more relaxed in Europe. But my experience has definitely been confirmed across multiple departments at my current and undergraduate institutions. I also have second-hand information that it is the same at most other universities in the US. I guess every once in awhile you end up with a relaxed PI who can also mentor students towards completion in a reasonable time frame, but that seems to be pretty rare.

A third factor is whether the PI has the contacts and has helped you do projects that will allow you to get a job after you graduate. A PI with no contacts who basically had you doing cell culture all day means you have zero chance in academia and probably poor chances in industry. An equivalent situation is ultimately why I left my first advisor. Not the soul crushing atmosphere. That is standard issue if you want to stay in my area.

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TheWanderingScholar
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by TheWanderingScholar »

@ZAFCorrection:

I see. Yeah, things in Estonia are much more relaxed than US from what I have heard. And Estonia is relatively rigorous in its homework requirements honestly. And it help I am in a geography department, from which it seems to have much more relaxed and "academic family" atmosphere than other groups.

So yeah honestly it might be a difference in academic culture between Europe and US. Of course, that being said PhD's aren't walk in the park by any means so not knocking of anyone's degree.

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Sclass
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by Sclass »

My experience is a mix and match of what others have written here.

Like all things in this forum, it depends.

Here’s a crazy thought, find out who the co authors of your soon to be thesis adviser are, contact them and ask the same questions. Use the Internet, you’ll find the other senior grad students in your group. Ask them. A second idea, find out when the department has its beer social...the one the grad students go to, and just show up and start talking. You’ll get better answers there. Hitchhike there if you have to. You’re about to make a huge investment of your human capital...do some research.

Of course diving into the unknown is fun and can have some great long lasting consequences. So there is something to be said about going in blind and naive.

now it all looks like a silly game. It’s one of many paths a young person can take.

jacob
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by jacob »

I've dealt with grad school in one field in three different countries. OTOH, I also know other grad-studs in other fields in other countries; very well. Whenever you specialize, your world gets real small, real fast!

My conclusion is that the grad school experience is defined by your field, your supervisor, the [institutional] culture, and your country---in that order(*). Research at the top level is extremely cosmopolitan. There are simply not enough people locally to avoid making research an international business. To wit, for each 1 person you can find within the 7.6B human population to do string theory research, you can prob. find 100+ people who can do random science; 1000+ who can do techmology, and 10,000 people who can do business-studies(**),

(*) So likely, the tougher the field, the stronger this effect is felt!

(**) Yeah, so I sound like an ass here. However, just because someone is harder doesn't mean that it's more useful or relevant.

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Jean
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by Jean »

After an egineering degree, i went to grad school, mostly because I couldn't find a job in the industr, but quited after 2.5 years
My subject was already solved, I found it very frustrating to get new approach published, and my supervisor was in an other university, 3 hours away, so I only saw her twice during my whole time there.
It resulted in me wanting to cut every public funding into academia, seeing how ineficient it was. My impression was that academia only existed to spend money, and that academics' only activity was to ask for money and go to conferences to get drunk. Nearly no one seemed to do actual research.
To give you an idea, for swiss citizen, I spent 427 days in military, and it didn't result in such a feeling. I only wanted to cut funding for vehicles.

ZAFCorrection
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by ZAFCorrection »

@Sclass

Getting intel before joining is kind of hit or miss in my experience. I did all the things in terms of pumping the senior grad students for information and it was not particularly informative. Some weird code of silence. On the second run I was able to get accurate information from friends of friends.

For a newbie it is probably better to join a place that allows rotations in the first year. Another thing to keep in mind is if you join a new professor, they really need their first student to work out or there is a good chance they will run out of money and not get tenure*. So if they are smart the working conditions should be slightly more tolerable.

*Probably most true for experimentalists. I imagine a theory or computational person could still scratch out some publications on their own even if they ran out of money.

jacob
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by jacob »

ZAFCorrection wrote:
Sat Apr 07, 2018 9:17 am
I did all the things in terms of pumping the senior grad students for information and it was not particularly informative. Some weird code of silence. On the second run I was able to get accurate information from friends of friends.
It's basically due to a conflict of interest. The senior grads or postdocs have nothing to gain from telling random strangers how they really feel beyond some kind of misguided moral altruism. After a couple of instances where I told prospects what to realistically expect from the gradschool/postdoc experience, I was taken off the tour.

The general rule in physics is to never go with an untenured professor. They'll work you like a dog because they need those precious four publications per year to get tenure. Some [smart] departments won't even allow untenured professors to supervise phd students. What can [easily] happen is that the professor gets a better offer elsewhere (like industry) and decides to quit leaving the grad students behind to find a new supervisor (and a new thesis). This happened to DW.

The best supervisors are IMHO associate professors. At this point they have established a solid research program with multiple collaborations and probably run a significant number of postdocs and other gradstudents. They might even have a research professor attached (which is gold!). Full professors have tons of connections (and grant money) but they rarely have much time for actual research being bogged down in administration. Assistant professors tend to be busy securing grant money, etc. and don't have that many people in the group yet. Thus Associates are the goldilock seniority.

ZAFCorrection
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by ZAFCorrection »

@Jacob

Ya, they will definitely work you like a dog, but they need reasonable papers to come out of the effort. One of the big failure modes I have seen in grad school is PIs, through busyness or favoritism, letting some of their students labor pointlessly for months and years. An assistant professor who wants to keep their job is going to fight against that happening. Though, you are right an assistant professor is a lot more likely to bail, or they might turn out to be a horrible manager of people (which I have seen).

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TheWanderingScholar
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by TheWanderingScholar »

Hey guys thanks for all the advice.

The weird thing about my situation is that possible PhD will be the same place as my Msc, which really puts me in a bind for a couple reasons:

1) I am going to have to deal with the same people for six years. Which really makes me kind of worried.
2)I really hate staying the same place for a long-time unless I have a valid reason. By the time I finish my Msc., it will be longest time I stayed in the same city since I left home. I can already feel my bones aching to move around and see somewhere new.

@jacob:

My main worry is that I am still trying to figure out who my possible PhD advisor will be so I can get a bead on how they will react.


Honestly, the way I am looking at my PhD is just glorified training and training of my abilities so I can put it on my resume.

And to be blunt, the only reason I am looking at my PhD is I am not sure about my chances about getting a job in the privates sector, even though I have basic knowledge and experience in R, Python, with me trying trying to add SQL to it next semester.

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