Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

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TheWanderingScholar
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Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by TheWanderingScholar »

Currently my professors are asking me about graduate school, and possibly going for my PhD. I am thinking about doing that, or just saying fuck it and going corporate because money and debts.

So I am going to ask you people because many of you have graduate degrees and a couple have PhDs. Here is what I want to know:

How are the hours (i.e. spend on teaching, researching, and the like)?

How is the lifestyle?

How much time is spend working on your academic research and the like?

Thanks in advance!

saving-10-years
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by saving-10-years »

Its a compliment that they think you could be one of them so congrats. (I have a PhD so have answered but its UK so not perhaps _that_ relevant).
How are the hours (i.e. spend on teaching, researching, and the like)?
That is going to depend on the field and the timescale and how you work, also whether this is a research area that has funding attached and builds on previous work, or relies on work of others. I did my PhD part-time and worked full time (while also raising DS) so was a long drawn out affair. My strong advice is to aim to get a PhD as fast as possible. Unless (and even if) you wish to be an academic. The 80:20 principle really applies here. You can get too stuck on perfecting your unique contribution to the world of research. In my experience this is delusion. Its also making life harder the longer you take (I ended up doing a longitudinal study covering SEVEN years when I could have written it and been done in 3-4 years while also getting books published. (I took 8 years to complete and its surprisingly easy to do this as a part-timer when the field changes and you need to add on, amend and add new research.).
How is the lifestyle?
If you are a full-timer its probably great. If you are working full time and studying part-time its betwixt and between. You find yourself distracted by work when you are studying and vice versa. If you are serious about ERE don't assume that you can't come back and do a PhD on your own terms in a decade or so. Would that appeal more? (If so don't burn bridges but keep communications open after graduation).

I was a mature student so had spent decades in work and was working and publishing in the area of my research during the PhD. I found it easy to obtain high level access to the people I wanted to interview/projects I wanted to follow. Those who were doing PhDs alongside me were very concerned about getting a job and far less in control. The PhD is not an automatic key to a job, even in academe. Those that were taken seriously were often loaded with work which they were assured would help their careers (possibly true) but which was usually unpaid (or at best poorly paid). Academics will often feel its a compliment to ask you to co-write a chapter for a book/journal article for which they get top billing and for which you do most of the grunt/boring work.
How much time is spend working on your academic research and the like?
That is up to you. I suggest that you skim through some PhD theses examined within your institution in your area of interest and look at how much work it looks like to you. Better yet ask the people talking to you about which ones to focus on (best in breed so to speak). Decide how long you might take to produce this level of work. If its the right topic graduate study is terrific (same answer for PhD) but with the latter its very much an individual venture. Many people fail (ask about completion rates too). @Dutchgirl was talking about the problems with her supervisors in her Journal and there was good advice in there.

Short answer to your questions: It depends and most of what it depends on is you. Don't assume that the only research that takes place is in academe. Also if you are doing a PhD the assumption will probably be that you wish to be an academic, in which case there are further strings attached to the way in which you get this qualification.

BRUTE
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by BRUTE »

what field?

IlliniDave
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by IlliniDave »

I went to graduate school part-time while I was professionally employed full-time. I declined the impassioned urging I got from my advisor to continue on for a PhD because by then I had a young family to raise. Part of me really wanted to do it, but a doctorate would have been a full-time pursuit and the DX wasn't too keen on multiplying the family income by 0.3 and moving to the polar climes of east central Illinois (my advisor had connections on the Illinois faculty and was looking to arrange a fellowship for me back at my undergrad alma mater because he felt it was a superior program to Tennessee's). I wasn't too keen on the pay cut either.

It's difficult, but graduate school and professional employment is not a strict either/or. My employer even covered the tuition costs for me.

So my graduate school experience was a little nonstandard, and might not be too helpful. It is taxing to work full time in industry and go to school part-time, but it does have the advantage of allowing you to make some career/financial forward progress while making academic progress. For me it was especially helpful to do the graduate work after having some hands-on time in the professional world. It gave me a sense of what was important to learn well and what was less so (I was pursuing additional education to enhance my professional career, not pursuing knowledge for knowledge's sake). In earning a masters I did not spend much of the time on "research". I'd estimate that about 20-25% of the time was spent on my thesis, the rest on satisfying the course requirements. I suspect it would be almost the converse of that for a PhD.

So I guess my take would be if you want to make a doctorate your primary goal I'd say grind it out now. If you think master's level is where you'll want to stop, then you probably have a little more flexibility.

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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by jacob »

YoungAndWise wrote: How are the hours (i.e. spend on teaching, researching, and the like)?
I was in physics. In this field the answer depends mostly on your supervisor. Not all phds are the same because the phd is essentially an apprenticeship, so whoever is your "master" as in master and apprentice is more important than whatever institutional details that surround it. However, I would say the typical person spends 9-10 hours in the office or at the lab on week days. They would then do additional work at home (reading papers, thinking about problems, logging in remotely) for another 1-2 hours. On weekends, a person would only show up at the office for a few hours but maybe read more at home. You should figure about 80-100 hours per week.

As for particular hours ... if you work with others (e.g. on an experiment) then that sets the time. Maybe it involves taking measurements every 2 hours for 24 hours and you get stuck with the night shift. If you're in theory, you can likely set your own hours. For example, I preferred my office hours to be around 11a-10p or so. I spent more time in the office than most. People have been known to keep mattresses in their office to nap on in between researching.

Otherwise, hours are generally very free as long as you're making progress. For example, I had a long distance relationship at the time and I'd take off and work remotely for 1.5-2 weeks every two months.

We had to do some "university"-service. This typically meant TA'ing one class per semester. You can spend as much time on this as you like. Ultimately, most grad students realize that undergrads are more or less a bunch of lazy bastards who don't give a s*** about the classes they signed up for so you try to do as little as possible. Borrow each others notes, figure out who's plagiarizing who, etc. But I'd say most people have to waste 4-6 hours a week instructing a 2 hour TA session + correcting problem sets until your eyes bleed. Ultimately I was lucky to get the sysadmin position so I got out of "teaching".
YoungAndWise wrote: How is the lifestyle?
You get to think about a research problem that super interesting to about five other people in the world. All the time. You will begin to dream in equations. You will wake up in the middle of the night to write something down. However, do not expect much in terms intellectual engagement/exciting discussion about your work anyone but those five other people. If you expect grad school to be full of intellectual erudites you will probably be disappointed.

What does research feel like? Most of the time it's an exercise in frustration. Typically, you will be working on a problem (a sub problem of a bigger problem) for 4-6 months. You will be frustrated for most of this time since nobody has the answer. When you find it you will shout Eureka and run naked into the street. Or at least feel like doing it. Congratulations. You are now the only human on the planet who knows the answer to this particular problem (that five other people in the world cares about). This elated feeling will last about a week or two. Then you will move on to the next exercise in frustration.

Think about Edison and the invention of the light bulb and imagine you had to do all the work yourself (you're the RA, not Edison) especially in terms of coming up with yet another creative new idea after the past 5 failed. That's about how it goes.

Foodwise, a lot of people live on ramen and cafeteria food. It is well-known (around here) that I lived on rice and lentils and tuna sandwiches which I made in advance. Occasionally a group will go out to eat. Especially when your group gets a guest speaker visitor. This might happen a few times a year.

You will also travel internationally. Typically people fly out to conferences 2-4 times a year (this varies by supervisor though ... maybe he prefers to hog the travel fund for himself :-P ... mine didn't and would send his people everywhere). This is all paid and you get a nice per diem. It's likely that you will go on an extended (4-6 week research visit) somewhere else at least once during grad school. This is how I got all travel in (10+ countries) and never paid a dime for it. Ultimately, this gets boring though.

A few people manage to find time for another hobby and spend some hours on that instead.
YoungAndWise wrote: How much time is spend working on your academic research and the like?
Practically all your waking time sans the few mandatory distractions such as TA'ing, journal clubs, useless talk series, and other consequences of someone's resume-padding/grant-seeking attempt. Some schools will make you take grad-level classes. These are more like seminars or easy-passes (everybody gets an A for showing up) kind of deals. This will mainly be a problem/annoyance in the beginning of grad school. The last years won't have classes.

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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by jacob »

I also recommend reading through the entire archive here: http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1

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TheWanderingScholar
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by TheWanderingScholar »

Thanks, jacob!

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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by black_son_of_gray »

jacob wrote:What does research feel like? Most of the time it's an exercise in frustration.
This. If the degree would be in a basic science, have you ever worked in a laboratory or ever done an independent project (course labs don't count)? If not, you probably want to know if you like that before committing to grad school. What isn't obvious from how science is portrayed in popular shows or books is that science* is a truly grueling process most of the time. If the prospect of repeatedly failing at something for months at a time in exchange for little professional payoff** if it actually works sounds horrible to you (and it's no personal fault against if you it does), then maybe consider other options. If you have a magic combination of 1) self-starter, 2) deeply interested in the topic, and 3) high threshold for repetitive failure / low need for consistent accomplishment - then the lifestyle and hours will be good enough! My Ph.D. is in a biomedical field and I'm usually of the mindset that "I can't believe people pay me to do this!" ... although sometimes when things are temporarily sour I switch over into "This is ridiculous - other people are making $XX,XXXk more than I do with much less education/qualification". You want to be in the "I can't believe people pay me to do this!" mindset as much as possible.

*academic
**different people have different needs in terms of reinforcement frequency. Some do better with feeling that something was accomplished on a daily/weekly basis...others can hold out for much longer periods. In any case, as Jacob said, when the accomplishment occurs, most people won't really care.

My experience:
Hours: Honestly, I had a my fair share of weeks where I was pushing 60-80 hours, but that was usually because I wanted to be there (the lab) doing what I was doing. Most of my weeks were probably in the 40-50 hour range. I had classes full time the first year (US university) which precipitated in a qualifying exam to be a "candidate". After that, I was basically in the lab 100% of the time. I never had to teach/TA (lucky, no??)
Lifestyle: I was still living like a single student and didn't have any big family obligations (not married, no family), so my lifestyle was quite flexible. I walked/biked to work, usually coming in between 10-11am and just doing my thing. My days and weekends were mostly unstructured time unless there was some shared equipment that I had to sign up to use.
Time spent on academic work: First year (80% classes, 20% lab), years 2-5 (100% lab)

Jacob makes me feel like a slacker ;)

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TheWanderingScholar
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by TheWanderingScholar »

BRUTE wrote:what field?
My major is focused on geography and environment, with a lot of GIS courses. However I don't know what to specialize in for my Master's as honestly I don't feel "passionate" for any field. Which is a major point-of-concern for me.
IlliniDave wrote: I went to graduate school part-time while I was professionally employed full-time. I declined the impassioned urging I got from my advisor to continue on..
Thanks. I feel like I am in the same. Boat I want to pursue my Master's more likely for professional reasons, than knowledge sake. And thanks for talking about how much time is focused on Master's courses and on the thesis. That is something I really want to know more about.
black_son_of_gray wrote: This. <snip.
Thanks. My field is in geography, which for my current research does not have lab work. I am currently working on annotated bibliography for it and next step is probably is making the background map for research.
saving-10-years wrote: <snip>

jacob
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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by jacob »

The lack of passion is a red flag to me. See bsog's 3 points. Passion will drive this. There may be other drivers though, but jacob is driven by pasion.

When I've lost passion for a field, I've usually had to quit within a couple of years. It would have been miserable to continue doing it for the long term. Research is not something where you can switch your brain on and off from 9 to 5 or listen to music or colleagues to distract you while you perform a routine skill like filling out TPS reports. You have to be 100% engaged with it or you will lose out to those who are.

However, ...

One important factor is that you say you're doing this for career reasons. What geography career did you have in mind? Ask the professors what the placement ratios are? Like what do the phds they've previously graduated do today? What do they do compared to e.g. someone who left with an undergraduate? If they end up in the same places and you're not passionate about research, then grad school is just a very poorly paid waste of 4-6 years of your life. If you're passionate, though, these could be the best years of your life in terms of intellectual engagement.

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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by SilverElephant »

I started a PhD but quit after about six months. I'm getting this out of the way as a disclaimer because I might be accused of sour grapes otherwise.

I am a physics major and the institute in question does research on batteries and capacitors (electrical storages). In my case, it was a relatively young institute with a professor that was very interested in his own career and not at all in helping his PhD students. There was no postdoc; postdocs traditionally (in Germany) take on the role of "mentoring" PhD students because the professor won't/doesn't want to/can't. EVERYBODY was complaining, but it quickly transpired that the other PhD students (engineers) were all in it for the "Dr." to jumpstart their industry careers. That was their driving impulse.

I had/have no such driving impulse (as hinted at by the fact that I'm here on this forum) but, and this is the crucial point, what was missing was passion. I quit after six months and have been working as a software architect since; while this is still not something that makes me want a full-blown career for forty years, I'm having fun and I'm good at it. It's a world of difference. Showed me I'm not one for fundamental research, though, probably more R&D (I have fun creating software solutions for our clients and poking at problems in the software or figuring out how best to build something).

So, Jacob is right. If you are not passionate - either about the topic or about getting the degree - you will be miserable. And I mean really miserable. A friend of mine was in a similar situation but did not quit (for lack of options). She is now extremely miserable (anecdotal evidence, of course).

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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by jacob »

Also ... because your particular advisor is so important to the whole experience, how you match up with your advisor is 7/10 of the deal. The particular subject of research won't matter much as everything will be "interesting" (to five people in the world) once you get into it. The school won't matter because your connections won't depend on what school you came from but who your phd advisor was---because you're getting hooked into the network of the subfield you're researching rather than the "alumni"-network. This is very different from the typical undergraduate affiliation reflex. However, if you plan to impress future industry bosses with bachelor degrees, school will still matter so keep that in mind. Given that 9/10 phds eventually end up in industry this is worth considering! In the real world, i.e. outside academia, a shitty phd with a shitty advisor from a good school will still beat the opposite.

I think your advisor's strengths should match your weaknesses to a very close degree. Most people learn this the hard way because it's hard to learn otherwise w/o work-place experience. In particular, the first thing to realize is that professors aren't gods who know all the answers (by the third year of grad school this will have become abundantly clear but it really does seem that as far as "knowing the answers", most undergraduates have been trained to believe in this for the past 15+ years, so it takes a few years of real world experience to untrain this). The point of grad school is for the apprentice to eventually exceed the skill of the master. If this does not happen, you will have failed as an apprentice and become what we call a "glorified technician". Not good! Total waste of time! But at least you can call yourself Dr. and many are happy with this.

To give an example of matching ...

Suppose you are strong on following instructions and getting it done on time but weak on networking, initiative, and creativity.
Then you'd want an advisor who is a well-connected salesman (grantsmanship) who checks in often to provide new ideas and tells you what to do.

Suppose you are strong on initiative, creativity, and persistence but weak on networking and grantsmanship.
Then you'd want an advisor who mostly leave you alone to do your thing but connects you with other people/money when you need it.

Both of these will have good outcomes because of the synergy and mutual compensation.

This can also work in reverse.

Suppose you're highly independent and strong on networking and initiative and your advisor is seeking someone who follows instructions and gets it done on time. This would be a disaster.

Or suppose you're good at following instructions and getting things done while your advisor is strong at networking and grantsmanship but weak at creativity and technical acumen. This would also be a disaster.

Word of warning. I've found that most grad students and most professors don't think that far. Or at least they don't reveal as much.

Also consider that it's not in the interest of grad students and postdocs to reveal if anything sucks when you're doing informal interviews. After the higher-ups discovered that I was being entirely honest during info-interviews, I never got to talk to noobs again.

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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by TheWanderingScholar »

SilverElephant wrote:I started a PhD but quit after about six months. I'm getting this out of the way as a disclaimer because I might be accused of sour grapes otherwise.

I am a physics major and the institute in question does research on batteries and capacitors (electrical storages). In my case, it was a relatively young institute with a professor that was very interested in his own career and not at all in helping his PhD students. There was no postdoc; postdocs traditionally (in Germany) take on the role of "mentoring" PhD students because the professor won't/doesn't want to/can't. EVERYBODY was complaining, but it quickly transpired that the other PhD students (engineers) were all in it for the "Dr." to jumpstart their industry careers. That was their driving impulse.

I had/have no such driving impulse (as hinted at by the fact that I'm here on this forum) but, and this is the crucial point, what was missing was passion. I quit after six months and have been working as a software architect since; while this is still not something that makes me want a full-blown career for forty years, I'm having fun and I'm good at it. It's a world of difference. Showed me I'm not one for fundamental research, though, probably more R&D (I have fun creating software solutions for our clients and poking at problems in the software or figuring out how best to build something).

So, Jacob is right. If you are not passionate - either about the topic or about getting the degree - you will be miserable. And I mean really miserable. A friend of mine was in a similar situation but did not quit (for lack of options). She is now extremely miserable (anecdotal evidence, of course).
From my personal experience, my interest in this particular topic goes through lows and highs. Sometimes when I am readying through the paper, I find something interesting the in the paper that makes me go "that could be useful", while at the times the thought of having a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday job appeals to me much more.

And it does not help the two main topics of interest are in different branches of geography (Economic Geography and Biogeography), which are in Human and Physical Geography.

If I were to go with my training, biogeography would easily win.

However I would easily see myself manipulating my GIS skills, and learning statistics, calculus, and python to move into Economic Geography.

@jacob:
For the career question; I will need to ask my professor about this and honestly I think this is going to be a long-term, deep talk in which I have to do more research on myself. Right now I am narrowing my search to a particular school in-particular.

And my current school only offers a M.S., which even the professors say to not take as the degree program is not funded enough.

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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by FBeyer »

My PhD (Denmark) is structured like this:

The Prof. and his senior scientist liked my personality enough to hire me. They didn't have a project set out, so I had to come up with my own ideas.
We're not expected to work more than 40 hours per week. We are expected to rest and take care of our families/health/ourselves.
I've been sent out as a pioneer in the mathematics department and my task is to bring back as many ideas from statistics and machine learning and then incorporate those ideas in our software suite or preferably at large scale facilities in California or Osaka if all goes well.

This setup only works because I work in a nascent branch of X-ray science. If you work in an established part of science, odds are your prof has a very specific question for you and you'd better be interested in solving it. You are going to be slaving away at the problem so you'd better care about the outcome. The reason I enjoy the freedom of my project is an incidental quirk of my personality; I love learning new things and I love being left alone to do my thing (even if that thing means involving lots of other people in my project).

We have no measurement of ass-in-chair hours. The only thing that matters is that we get shit done and document our progress. I leave the office at about 15/16. I work every evening and a bit every weekend(*) to smear my work week out among all 7 days rather than compress it to 5 days per week. Average effect is about 45-55 pomodoros per week and 16 hours of lectures/assignment/casework on top, which amounts to a total of about 65 pomodoros per week.

The take home lesson concerning working hours, then, is that structure and consistency is tremendously important!!!11one1!!

You HAVE to be inquisitive and be open to approaching people from other departments to find solutions to whatever problems you face. I've worked at the Physics department, chemistry, computer science and now also mathematics. I fear no professor any more! With 100% success rate, every professor I've approached loved to talk about his/her work and how to solve your problems as long as you have a clear idea what to ask and can show what you've done up until you got stuck as well as what you've done to un-stick yourself.

You WILL wake up in the middle of the night when your diffusive thinking has connected to previously unconnected neurons and you will have to scribble something down on a piece of paper. Next week you'll implement that idea and find out it doesn't work. Then you'll be that little bit wiser in the future :)


(*) The reason for this structure is based on 3 years of monitoring my own steady-state efficiency in pomodoros, applied SQ3R reading, consistent switching between focused and diffuse thinking, and incorporating recall into my work week by never truly letting work move more than half a work day away. The compound effect has had an astonishing effect on my math skills. I was truly incompetent as a mathematician one year ago, today, I think about reducing L2 regularized, overparameterized classification models with singular value decompositions on my way to work.
Last edited by FBeyer on Tue Mar 01, 2016 10:50 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by jacob »

@FBeyer - My MSc was done in Denmark but my PhD is Swiss and the rest of my academic career was in the US. I've never worked for/under/with other Danes in an academic setting.

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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by FBeyer »

jacob wrote:@FBeyer - My MSc was done in Denmark but my PhD is Swiss and the rest of my academic career was in the US. I've never worked for/under/with other Danes in an academic setting.
I've now edited my headline accordingly.

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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by Peanut »

Are you in the U.S.? I'm guessing no because there are fewer and fewer geography departments here, which is a real shame. Anyway, I did a humanities PhD in the US a bit less than 10 years ago. It was one of the happiest periods of my life, and definitely better than college, which I also enjoyed.

It was fully funded from the beginning, which I think is a crucial condition for going. It didn't pay much, 12.5k to start and increased to 15k, and some years I got a few thousand more in external funding for archival research at other institutions. But this was a ton of money to me. And I was able to save money every year by making smart lifestyle decisions. And I was always amazed that someone was paying me to go to school.

Another critical component is your mindset. I think you have to do the PhD for the PhD and not some theoretical job you you might get at the end of it. It has to be an end in itself for you to be happy while you are doing it. For this you will need at least a very strong interest in if not passion for some aspect of what you are doing.

As for lifestyle and hours, that's really up to you, but in my case I worked nearly all the time and when I wasn't working felt like I should be. But my department was unique in that the faculty really cultivated a sense of collaboration rather than competition among the students, so that even though a lot of our work was done alone, we actually had a great sense of intellectual community. My best friends are still my grad school ones, even after we all moved away from each other. If you're lucky you'll have an environment like that.

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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by Peanut »

Forgot to mention the teaching. I taught sections and then my own courses for a few years during grad school. I liked it and most people I knew did as well. Frankly, if you like attention at all I think you will like teaching. And many of us realized we had to know our material in a different way--more big-picture oriented--than we had previously to teach it effectively, and this was very helpful to us to learn. So teaching was not really as separate from research as it had seemed originally. Except for marking papers it didn't take much time once you had taught the subject already.

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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by SilverElephant »

YoungAndWise wrote: From my personal experience, my interest in this particular topic goes through lows and highs. Sometimes when I am readying through the paper, I find something interesting the in the paper that makes me go "that could be useful", while at the times the thought of having a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday job appeals to me much more.
From my personal experience, it sounds like you don't really know what to do with your life in general and a PhD sounds like the "more-freedom less-structure" option to you. It probably sounds like that to me because that is, in part, what it sounded like to me at the time.

That is not to say it won't be enough to make it through a PhD, but it does rather sound like you'll be miserable every time things aren't going well because you will keep coming back to the question of whether it's all worth it/a good idea.

Once again, for the reasons mentioned above, take what I'm saying with a grain of salt. I had a plan B: see what Jacob has to say about being a "jack of all trades" vs. a highly specialized master. All my current income (which is pretty decent) is currently derived from activities I never received ANY kind of formal training for. All I did was mess around with it for countless hours as a teenager/young adult. There's some considerable luck involved in making this jump, although perhaps somewhat moreso in Germany than in the US.

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Re: Graduate School: Lifestyle and Hours?

Post by TheWanderingScholar »

Peanut wrote:Are you in the U.S.? I'm guessing no because there are fewer and fewer geography departments here, which is a real shame. Anyway, I did a humanities PhD in the US a bit less than 10 years ago. It was one of the happiest periods of my life, and definitely better than college, which I also enjoyed.

It was fully funded from the beginning, which I think is a crucial condition for going. It didn't pay much, 12.5k to start and increased to 15k, and some years I got a few thousand more in external funding for archival research at other institutions. But this was a ton of money to me. And I was able to save money every year by making smart lifestyle decisions. And I was always amazed that someone was paying me to go to school.

Another critical component is your mindset. I think you have to do the PhD for the PhD and not some theoretical job you you might get at the end of it. It has to be an end in itself for you to be happy while you are doing it. For this you will need at least a very strong interest in if not passion for some aspect of what you are doing.

As for lifestyle and hours, that's really up to you, but in my case I worked nearly all the time and when I wasn't working felt like I should be. But my department was unique in that the faculty really cultivated a sense of collaboration rather than competition among the students, so that even though a lot of our work was done alone, we actually had a great sense of intellectual community. My best friends are still my grad school ones, even after we all moved away from each other. If you're lucky you'll have an environment like that.
Actually I am form the US. And I only plan on going to grad school if they pay for me. And the PhD sounds less appealing, especially the Master's program I am looking at has a track for career destined geographers instead of academia (one of the main reasons I really liking it at the moment; shows that me and the program have potential synergy)
SilverElephant wrote:
From my personal experience, it sounds like you don't really know what to do with your life in general and a PhD sounds like the "more-freedom less-structure" option to you. It probably sounds like that to me because that is, in part, what it sounded like to me at the time.

That is not to say it won't be enough to make it through a PhD, but it does rather sound like you'll be miserable every time things aren't going well because you will keep coming back to the question of whether it's all worth it/a good idea.

Once again, for the reasons mentioned above, take what I'm saying with a grain of salt. I had a plan B: see what Jacob has to say about being a "jack of all trades" vs. a highly specialized master. All my current income (which is pretty decent) is currently derived from activities I never received ANY kind of formal training for. All I did was mess around with it for countless hours as a teenager/young adult. There's some considerable luck involved in making this jump, although perhaps somewhat moreso in Germany than in the US.
Honestly, I think you hit the head about my having no idea what I want to do with my life. I have friends spread all over Europe, I have citizenship in a developing country where I can possibly do some good with skillset, and I will be graduating young at 21 years old. It feels like I have the problem of "too many options".

Which is why I am hesitating on the PhD, and leaning towards the career track of the Master's program I am looking at. It does not feel like as much of a time commitment at two years, the alternative to the thesis (which is essentially a competency portfolio), makes feel like I have a way out if the academia route turns out like hell.

But I really need to contact the university about hiring rates after college.

And if that does work out, lean on my data analysis, python, and stats skills I will learn along the way.

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