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crazygirl2012

Not busy enough?

22 posts in this topic

I have a problem I never expected to have in grad school: I'm not busy enough. My coursework is, for the most part, much less challenging than my second half of undergrad. I am involved in several research projects (including 3 that will hopefully turn into first-author publications for me someday) and my advisor is happy with my progress. But I'm used to being completely immersed in work nearly all the time, and that just doesn't happen anymore. It's true that I've gotten more efficient and I'm much less crazy than I was in undergrad, but I just don't think grad school is painful enough.

I know it's my responsibility to be self-motivated, and for the most part, I am. Next semester, I want to do more reading every day and try to keep up the pace. But it's hard to get used to this. A few others in my cohort feel the same way I do. We're not in a bad program by any means-- it's not top-ranked, but it's respectable, and our grads end up with good jobs. Has anyone else dealt with this? I hate feeling like I'm not a real grad student just because I sleep 7 hours a night.

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You should transfer to a PhD Chemistry program....

I've never been this stressed out in my life, we have so many projects/papers/proposals/presentations to do from the 3 classes we're required to take in our first year, along with teaching/grading/prepping, attending weekly departmental and divisional seminars (analytical, physical, biochemistry divisions), research plan planning, fellowships and grants searching, abstract writing, research manuscript writing, all in one semester :unsure:

It's okay though because I have Jesus by my side.

Edited by Quantum Buckyball

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I'm with Quantum on this one. I sleep seven maybe even eight hours a night, but when I'm awake I'm constantly on the go, especially on the weekends. I cannot wait to be done with the semester (13 more days to go).

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I sleep between 8-10 hours a night and am definitely not constantly on the go. A lot of my work involves long computational simulations though, where you kind of just have to sit and wait for it to be done. Once my code is fully developed I can have a better workflow going, but right now it's very stop and start.

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Being successful in grad school and academia isn't about being busy or immersed in work all the time, imo.

It's about learning how to do well and make consistent progress *without* having it take over your life. Some of that is learning time management, and a lot of it is learning how to say "no" to things you don't absolutely have to do.

You're setting the stage for the rest of your career and life here- do you want the rest of your life to be a sleepless, frantic rush?

Or do you want to make profess in your research, enjoy teaching, and still have time for your family and hobbies as well?

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My first semester of grad school has been incredibly boring; I'm not in any "real" courses due to a course I'm taking that required me to travel. Prof is too busy to teach me techniques or get me involved in a project. I work on a side project with another student once a week. I took up exercising in order to fill the gaping void in my life.

I don't have any advice for you because I honestly don't know how to deal with it either. It sounds like perhaps you are just having a good time dealing with everything and should bask in it :)

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T

I hate feeling like I'm not a real grad student just because I sleep 7 hours a night.

NEVER feel guilty about taking care of your health. Try to keep up these good habits now, so that you can set boundaries for yourself even when things do get more intense.

I would recommend doing some volunteer work or joining a group outside of the university. It's helped me to feel more well-rounded, and talking to people who have to work for a living -- as well as people who are unemployed -- keeps me appreciating the fact that I am being paid primarily to learn, which is pretty cool.

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I've slept 7 hours a night basically throughout grad school, with the exception of the end of the semester crush. Hell, I even had a friend visit for 48 hours during finals week and basically did no work while she was there and everything turned out just fine. So, no, you don't have to work all the time. People who say they do are likely working inefficiently.

But, since you have extra time, get involved with activities in the community. Read an article or two a day. Explore your new location.

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If you are happy with your productivity, and your advisor is happy with your productivity, then...you're fine. If you already have 3 first-authored publications in the works I'd say you are just fine.

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Thanks, all! It's easier for me to pick out areas for improvement than to acknowledge taking care of my health and personal life as a good thing to do. I'll try to stop worrying about it.

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Being successful in grad school and academia isn't about being busy or immersed in work all the time, imo.

It's about learning how to do well and make consistent progress *without* having it take over your life. Some of that is learning time management, and a lot of it is learning how to say "no" to things you don't absolutely have to do.

You're setting the stage for the rest of your career and life here- do you want the rest of your life to be a sleepless, frantic rush?

Or do you want to make profess in your research, enjoy teaching, and still have time for your family and hobbies as well?

From my perspective (social sciences) this is such a simplified way of looking at things. Most people in academia should be actively involved in several things, i.e. research, teaching, tutoring, socializing, engaging in "civil society" (pushing your research), and this means that, at any time, you can be completely taken over by work. Most days you might work 8-10 hours and then have time for the hobby and a good dinner but certainly there will be long stretches of time where you will be there, working 24/7 or in contact with work 24/7. Sure it helps to be good at planning and taking care of stuff but at the same time - a lot of your work relies on other people. A good thing to ask is - do you ignore your e-mail after working hours?

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No, I'm bad about my e-mail. Heck, I'll wake up in the middle of the night and respond to it sometimes. That said, most of the time I'll ignore my e-mail in the sense that unless it's urgent, I won't respond to it until the next time I'm in my office. I will scan them as they come in to make sure it's not an emergency (ie, half of the lab blew up, the refrigerators are out and we need to move all the samples before they thaw, something's flooding) or data that someone needs urgently. But I don't usually respond in the evening, or over the course of the weekend. I'll take care of that the next morning/Monday morning when I sit down with a cup of coffee at my desk.

Also, of what you listed, I would only classify a portion of it as "work".

So for me, in the lab sciences, I spend around 8-10 hours on the weekdays in my lab, working. Then another handful of hours on the weekends.

I also do outreach to local schools, but I usually don't consider that work time. In other words, I don't let it cut into my research time.

I'm also the president of our schools graduate student government, and sit on a bunch of committees- I consider that quasi-work time, depending on what I'm doing.

I don't teach regularly (research fellowship) but when I do, I definitely consider prep and grading "work" time.

I don't consider networking (socializing) work- I consider it something I do outside of "work" times.

I think a better way to look at "work" is to set aside those things you consider essential to your health and personal life- time with family, time to cook good meals, time for hobbies, time for exercise- and make sure you've got time for that scheduled in every day.

And then let the rest of your stuff fill in the cracks around it.

As to the idea that there will be stretches you'll "work" 24/7, I just disagree. Even really busy stretches (grant deadlines, publication deadlines, etc) I think it's really important to make sure you're protecting yourself in terms of getting enough sleep, and enough outside stimulation that you stay fresh, and managing your time and work accordingly.

If I'm having to work 24/7, chances are I've screwed something up in my time management in the past that's put me in such a bind, or I've not learned enough how to say no and I'm involved in too many things to maintain a healthy pace.

At least in the sciences (although I've seen the same in social sciences and humanities) this is the advice I hear over and over from faculty mentors and given to new grad students/post-docs/junior faculty on the CHE forums.

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Also, of what you listed, I would only classify a portion of it as "work".

So for me, in the lab sciences, I spend around 8-10 hours on the weekdays in my lab, working. Then another handful of hours on the weekends.

I also do outreach to local schools, but I usually don't consider that work time. In other words, I don't let it cut into my research time.

I'm also the president of our schools graduate student government, and sit on a bunch of committees- I consider that quasi-work time, depending on what I'm doing.

I don't teach regularly (research fellowship) but when I do, I definitely consider prep and grading "work" time.

I don't consider networking (socializing) work- I consider it something I do outside of "work" times.

I think a better way to look at "work" is to set aside those things you consider essential to your health and personal life- time with family, time to cook good meals, time for hobbies, time for exercise- and make sure you've got time for that scheduled in every day.

And then let the rest of your stuff fill in the cracks around it.

This still sounds like you are putting in 10-12 hours a day + 8ish on a weekend. If you live in a city where you have to commute for more than 30 minutes (any big city that is) then you would be at 12-14 hours for work. An hour at the gym and then an hour for dinner and you are down to your 6-7 hours of sleep. And this is your baseline - any deviation from this would most likely increase the time at work thus meaning that you will have to cut into your hobbies to make it all go around.

Being able to spend 8-10 hours in a lab on weekdays sounds like something very specific to natural sciences; I do RA/graduate studies (MA in sweden in a phd program) and I rarely manage to put more than 2-3 hours at one single activity before having to go to a colloquim (networking and required for all in the department), teach a class, work meetings etc etc. My department is very very "connected" and there is no such thing as an isolated researcher here. Doing quality research here, i.e. putting in 8 hours straight, either means coming in at weekends or staying late after office hours.

ps. I used 24/7 as a loose measure of being in work mode constantly. ds

Edited by cherub

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Just out of curiosity, how does "more than 30 minutes" jump from "10-12" to "12-14".... And an hour at the gym and an hour for dinner plus 7 hours of sleep with even 14 hours in the lab still has an hour missing. Also, why do you jump from my estimate of 8-10 hours per day to 10-12 hours per day?

Also, I wouldn't say I almost ever get to put in 8 hours straight. I've usually got at least 4-6 meetings in a given week- some during the day, some in the evening- and a handful of seminars to go to. But I can come in, get something started, go to a meeting, come back and finish it up, work up some data, go to a seminar, come back and get things set up for the next day, and go home for the evening.

And with a 30 minute commute, I use that time (when I had such a commute) to either spend time with my wife (carpooling) listen to NPR and catch up on news for the day, or listen to audiobooks. You make it a "fun" part of your day if you have to do it.

8-10 hours doesn't mean each day I'm working 10 hours. It means depending on how busy we are, I'll average 48-58 hours over the work week in the lab (8-10 per day + 8 on the weekends). Taking the upper estimate (58 hours) and subtracting 7 hours of sleep per night (49 hours) that leaves 61 hours per week that are "spare" time. Some of that is taken up with outreach and campus organizations, as well as professional organizations and "socialization", but that's still over 1/3rd of my time, at an upper estimate, is not directly work or sleep related.

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Haven't felt this personally (got two kids at home, always busy), but it just sounds like you're managing your time well. If you're still a first-year, don't worry, the work will pick up. In the meantime, enjoy the free time you earned: socialize, write a review for your field or something completely apart from your studies, learn a skill, pick up a hobby. Enjoy that sleep too, you don't want to try to function without it, trust me. Good luck!

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I have this feeling too.  I'm just starting so I don't have a lot of responsibility yet, but I have started numerous projects and they are going smoothly and frankly, ahead of schedule.  Still I feel I don't have enough to do or I'm not working hard enough.  Because I don't stay late like everyone else, I feel kind of guilty, like why am I not as busy?  Am I not contributing enough? Even though I do offer to share the load with others, but I guess it's hard when I'm still a newbie.  I guess I shouldn't feel bad for going home once my 8 hours are done?  I should enjoy this easy breezy feeling time while I have it, because who knows when it will end, but it sure is hard.

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Has anyone else dealt with this? I hate feeling like I'm not a real grad student just because I sleep 7 hours a night.

 

Yes, and don't worry about it. My last year of undergrad was nightmarish rush of projects, exams, deadlines, and overnights. I had 5 courses in one semester with 4 technical graduate level ones and one really badly chosen elective that required a lot of work, on TOP of my senior project. When I got to my MS, it was in comparison a... a .... breeze. I was able to get the work done on time with LOTS of free time while having my advisor be very happy with my progress. I mean 2 graduate courses and some research besides. It felt like nothing.

 

My first year, I would often be wasting away a Wednesday (because I finished all my work), and feeling vaguely anxious that something is wrong because I should be super busy. If I worked on a weekend, I found myself with nothing to do during week days until I met with my advisor or had some new coursework assigned. Eventually, I learned that it was the overworked burned out thing I was doing in undergrad that was NOT normal. There's absolutely nothing wrong with having a reasonable schedule/work load where by being focused and productive, establishing goals and finishing your work on time, learning to be confident enough to say no to pointless work, you get to have plenty of free time to pursue other things in life. There's no point in needlessly exhausting yourself. I took this work ethic to my work for the last 2 years (and it served me well) and plan to take it into my PhD.

Edited by TeaGirl

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Hi,

 

I used to post here when I was applying to grad school, now that I'm 3 years in I figured it would be fun to return over the summer to reply to some posts. I'm currently getting a Ph.D. in a psych/policy-related department.

 

RE: The issue of not being busy enough...

 

I'm of the perspective that you should have a good work/life balance when in grad school. In fact, nothing bothers me more than when I go out for drinks with colleagues need to talk about the grad school experience 24/7. The anxiety of grad school, at least in my opinion, is what starts to define a lot of people's grad school identity. It is those people that seem to be the least happy and in the lab 24/7. Ironically, these people are actually the least productive researchers/students that I know. So, like both of you I tend to go in to the lab and get out. I don't keep track of my hours because so much of the lab experience blends and works it's way into odd hours. I work on a couple large projects where I am responsible for sub analysis projects and managing smaller groups of students in addition to the endless meetings, and I currently am working on 3 manuscripts over the summer. In my experience with the social sciences this isn't really a 9-5. Sometimes I need to be in the lab everyday, other times I head in to do some very specified tasks. Most of the time I work on my PC from various locations. There's a lot of reading, and a lot of teaching yourself how to do different kinds of analytical tasks. A lot of times this can be fluid. Sometimes I work past midnight, most nights I'm reading something on my computer up through 10 at night. 

 

I can always get away, and I have learned a lot better how to say no to things and how to draw my boundaries. However, we are grad students and we don't call the shots. So, it's easy to let your lab mates know where you stand, but when your advisor says, "So, you can get this looked at and revised tonight, right?," and is giving you 3-4 hours to turn something around they need ASAP- good luck telling them, "No." The best you can hope for is that you have an advisor that doesn't do that much, and when they do are cognizant that they are asking you for a lot. 

 

The aforementioned is a snapshot of my life in grad school. Do I think it's hard? Eh. Not typically, but it depends on the task BUT there's ALWAYS something to do. If the lab is slow you should be working on manuscripts or developing ideas that you can turn into manuscript. 

 

If you are first years enjoy it. However, as you move forward through the program if you continue to feel like there's not a lot to do than I'd question how your advisors/program are prepping you for future jobs both inside and outside of academia. 

Edited by MAME5150

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