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OccasionalOccasionalist

Commuting (~95mins, highway) Philosophy PhD Program

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Does anyone have experience commuting to campus while in grad school? Right now, I am considering settling in a town (Ocala, FL) about 95 minutes or so away from the campus where I will attend classes (USF). This is partially because I would prefer to live with my SO (and thereby not live alone or with strangers). It also makes rent considerably cheaper as compared to attempting to settle in a large college town (Tampa, FL). The drive is about 90 miles, all highway. I'd plan on putting the money I save in rent towards gas and regular maintenance on the car to keep it in good working order.

What are some concerns I should be taking into account that I may not have in mind right now? I don't really mind driving or commutes, but maybe I am not anticipating how I will feel after a year of doing this. I'm also worried that, if my car breaks down for some unforeseen reason, I will be in some hot water that I might otherwise avoid. On the other hand, it may be a good opportunity for me to develop the kind of adult discipline that comes with having a less flexible schedule; I think I could use that.

While I haven't completely settled on attending USF, I'd like to try and hammer this out before I do.

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While I don't have direct experience with commuting to grad school, I think you should consider how spending 3 hours a day on the road will affect your studies and overall quality of life. As we all know, grad school is time-consuming, and you don't want driving to prevent you from studying.

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I wouldn't attempt this.  I had a 90 minute commute to work for three months and ended up quitting.  I had to get up really early, it ate up too much time, I felt restless from sitting in the car so much, and I got so tired of filling up my tank every other day.  I get the desire to be near your SO, but I think it's setting yourself up poorly for school.

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I had a 70 minute commute while in high school and a 90 minute commute in undergrad. The reason these commutes were manageable was because I was taking transit and could read/do hw on the buses/trains. Even still, it made going to campus an unpleasant experience. If I had something in the morning and then friends wanted to meet up in the afternoon (or even another class in the afternoon), I couldn't justify going back home and would end up stuck on campus all day. In graduate school, I'm going to be living a 20-minute walk from campus (for the first time since I was in elementary school) and I am so relieved by that. Commuting just eats into your time so much. Especially if you're driving (though audiobooks are a viable option). 

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I wouldn't do it. As a PhD student, your time will be limited and you will be spending 3 hours a day commuting. Since you are driving, that is time out of your day thrown down the drain because you cannot be productive. I currently have a commute that takes me about the same amount of time during rush hour traffic and it is miserable (although I didn't move for the program and can't due to my spouse's job), and it's only 40 miles but traffic in my area is the worst, even on the highway. I have to get up so much earlier than my cohort to get up and out the door for class and go to sleep early so that I can get up in time. 

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I would try to figure out what kind of time commitment you are expected to put in on campus, and whether it's okay to work remotely part of the time. For example, if you only have classes a couple days a week, or if you have no classes or teaching responsibilities at all in a given term, will your advisor be okay with you staying home to work on research, writing, grading, etc.? I assume you wouldn't have any "lab" duties as a philosophy student, but are there other expectations or commitments you will need to be on campus for? With that long of a commute, I imagine it would make a big difference if you only need to drive to campus 3 days a week versus 5 days a week, for example.

It might help to check in with current students (and your advisor, of course) regarding the norms in your department. In my master's program, it was pretty common for some students to not come in at all on some days, like if they were working in the field for a whole term or even just didn't have classes and preferred to work from home. But I imagine this varies by field and department (and would of course depend on your obligations if you have a TA or RA position).

The other consideration is whether you would even want to work from home and be somewhat removed from campus. It's great to be able to work from home when you need the flexibility or if you really need to concentrate and hammer something out, but it can also be isolating. I definitely benefited from working in a campus room with other grad students, both for moral support and also to bounce ideas around and help each other navigate logistics of the program. There may also be social or informal networking opportunities like happy hours and seminars that you could miss out on if you don't have as much flexibility (like if it would make your day prohibitively long, or you need to go home and let the dog out, or something). This isn't to say that it wouldn't be worth it, but that's just a decision you have to make. Good luck!

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Guest najo

My commute as an undergrad exceeded this and it really affected my quality of life. I was always tired, I could do less things. It swallowed up significant time that could be spent on my studies or social life because it made my schedule less flexible. I took transit (a combination of busses and trains), so I could use that time to read, or work in offline mode on a variety of things, but it was still an unpleasant experience. For starters, I could often only do that on my morning commute, and was so tired on the way home that I'd doze off on trains. If I was on campus, I'd often be stuck there up to 12+ hours a day depending on how my schedule panned out. I was near never home early.

Eventually I just jam packed my days so I'd only be on campus 2-3 days a week, that way I wouldn't have to make the commute so often. I don't know how much of an option that is for you, though. Don't forget to consider delays by traffic since you're relying on a highway. You may not have it as badly as I did, since delays on transit are less easily avoidable depending on where you're at on the lines, but I've had days where it took much longer than usual to get to campus or get home.

I'll still be commuting as a Masters student, but it's a significantly shorter commute in comparison, about 30m as opposed to 90m+ depending on the day. 

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You should also consider that, unlike undergrad, it's not just classes you'll be coming to campus for -- there will (or should) be things like guest lectures, conferences, professionalization events, or even socializing with people in your department and visiting professors. These things are important or even crucial for meeting people in your field and broadening your horizons a bit beyond your own program. I have friends who went to conference dinners with invited profs who are some of the biggest names in their fields, and made such a good connection that they're now on their dissertation committee. Would you be willing or able to attend and get the most out these extracurricular opportunities if you have your hour and half long drive home looming over your head? 

At least for your coursework foundational years, I would recommend living closer to campus. You could anticipate moving out once you've taken your quals, maybe. 

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I would advise against such a long commute. As others have said - you're more or less expect to be around every day (or at least pretty often) - although this varies a bit per major. However, most things will be happening at campus and you'd be expected to be over quite often. 

I did such a commute in my first year of grad school - it was incredibly taxing and half the time also a waste of time (note that I took trains, so I could read...). It left me exhausted...

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@accidental_philologist & @Psygeek & others,

Thank you for your replies and advice. I don't know if this would change your responses to my questions at all, but I have already completed my MA in philosophy, so I have some experience with gradschool right now. That isn't to say a PhD would be an identical experience of course, but I am not moving from undergrad to graduate school. I will add that I didn't commute to campus then.

One thing I worry about is, based on some experiences I had in my MA program, if the department isn't right for me, living alone might make things a lot worse for me. I had a rough year my first year of grad school, and I think being able to maintain a home with my SO will be a good buffer for those kinds of experiences. Maybe this is naive. I am still pretty concerned about the time I will have to spend commuting and the wear and tear on my car, of course. I'm just not convinced it will ruin my ability to adequately socialize with my peers there given my previous experiences.

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7 hours ago, OccasionalOccasionalist said:

@accidental_philologist & @Psygeek & others,

Thank you for your replies and advice. I don't know if this would change your responses to my questions at all, but I have already completed my MA in philosophy, so I have some experience with gradschool right now. That isn't to say a PhD would be an identical experience of course, but I am not moving from undergrad to graduate school. I will add that I didn't commute to campus then.

One thing I worry about is, based on some experiences I had in my MA program, if the department isn't right for me, living alone might make things a lot worse for me. I had a rough year my first year of grad school, and I think being able to maintain a home with my SO will be a good buffer for those kinds of experiences. Maybe this is naive. I am still pretty concerned about the time I will have to spend commuting and the wear and tear on my car, of course. I'm just not convinced it will ruin my ability to adequately socialize with my peers there given my previous experiences.

Has your SO completely ruled out being able to move with you? I get that people often have extenuating circumstances (kids they dont want to uproot, a career that can only take place in certain cities) but otherwise it might be worth having that discussion. I know I would be willing to move if it were my SO, because I know him and know he would have a hard time without me. I think people are more adaptable than we think we are, and while moving is tough it's not the end of the world!  

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11 hours ago, OccasionalOccasionalist said:

@accidental_philologist & @Psygeek & others,

Thank you for your replies and advice. I don't know if this would change your responses to my questions at all, but I have already completed my MA in philosophy, so I have some experience with gradschool right now. That isn't to say a PhD would be an identical experience of course, but I am not moving from undergrad to graduate school. I will add that I didn't commute to campus then.

One thing I worry about is, based on some experiences I had in my MA program, if the department isn't right for me, living alone might make things a lot worse for me. I had a rough year my first year of grad school, and I think being able to maintain a home with my SO will be a good buffer for those kinds of experiences. Maybe this is naive. I am still pretty concerned about the time I will have to spend commuting and the wear and tear on my car, of course. I'm just not convinced it will ruin my ability to adequately socialize with my peers there given my previous experiences.

I don't think socializing with your peers should be the reason to 'not-commute'. Rather commuting in itself is pretty taxing (tiring, annoying, wasted time....). At least it was for me when I did it for a year in grad school. I could def use the extra hour of sleep, and I wasn't the best to my SO after a long day at 'work' and another 1.5 hrs in transport.

Would it be an option to go home on the weekends?

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I'm also considering a PhD program that has a substantial commute. Do you have a sense of how many days per week you would need to go to campus? Maybe you could compress your schedule into 3-4 days per week.

One idea I'm toying with telling my professors about the nature of my commute and asking if I could audio record the lectures. If you could get audio recordings of the lectures you could listen to them during your long commute. 

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On 3/24/2019 at 10:04 AM, bibliophile222 said:

Has your SO completely ruled out being able to move with you? I get that people often have extenuating circumstances (kids they dont want to uproot, a career that can only take place in certain cities) but otherwise it might be worth having that discussion. I know I would be willing to move if it were my SO, because I know him and know he would have a hard time without me. I think people are more adaptable than we think we are, and while moving is tough it's not the end of the world!  

My SO is going to be admitted into Medical School at UF, so living in Ocala will both give us both a commute, but her's will be half as long as mine. If we don't go to Ocala, then we will be separate for the entirety of our respective programs. One benefit of trying the halfway point together, I think, is if it is necessary we can just relocate to our respective cities (Gainesville for her and Tampa for me) if things don't work out with the commutes after about a year. She is currently in Gainesville right now, but she'll have to relocate anyway at the end of her lease.

23 hours ago, Psygeek said:

I don't think socializing with your peers should be the reason to 'not-commute'. Rather commuting in itself is pretty taxing (tiring, annoying, wasted time....). At least it was for me when I did it for a year in grad school. I could def use the extra hour of sleep, and I wasn't the best to my SO after a long day at 'work' and another 1.5 hrs in transport.

Would it be an option to go home on the weekends?

That's a good point. My SO has to move soon, anyway, and the question is whether we move together to Ocala, or she stays in Gainesville and I relocate to Tampa. We don't currently live together, but have in the past when I was in gradschool in Gainesville.

21 hours ago, bookworm2 said:

I'm also considering a PhD program that has a substantial commute. Do you have a sense of how many days per week you would need to go to campus? Maybe you could compress your schedule into 3-4 days per week.

One idea I'm toying with telling my professors about the nature of my commute and asking if I could audio record the lectures. If you could get audio recordings of the lectures you could listen to them during your long commute. 

In my MA program, I was in the department between 3 and 5 times a week, depending on my course load and teaching obligations. I intend to plan for being there five days a week, but it will be nice if the department could reduce it down to 3 or 4 days. It would help a lot, but I don't think there is any guarantee. Having lectures on hand for drives could be useful. I have also hear of folks having an app on their smartphone read them PDF text; it's not perfect, but it could help.

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On 3/24/2019 at 2:46 AM, OccasionalOccasionalist said:

One thing I worry about is, based on some experiences I had in my MA program, if the department isn't right for me, living alone might make things a lot worse for me. I had a rough year my first year of grad school, and I think being able to maintain a home with my SO will be a good buffer for those kinds of experiences.

Shouldn't you be pretty certain this department is right for you to begin with? I understand that you may feel nervous after your MA experience, and there are unpredictable factors, but you should feel confident about your choice. With all due respect, you shouldn't need to rely on emotional support from someone else to feel good about your decision.

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7 hours ago, OccasionalOccasionalist said:

My SO is going to be admitted into Medical School at UF, so living in Ocala will both give us both a commute, but her's will be half as long as mine. If we don't go to Ocala, then we will be separate for the entirety of our respective programs. One benefit of trying the halfway point together, I think, is if it is necessary we can just relocate to our respective cities (Gainesville for her and Tampa for me) if things don't work out with the commutes after about a year. She is currently in Gainesville right now, but she'll have to relocate anyway at the end of her lease.

That's a good point. My SO has to move soon, anyway, and the question is whether we move together to Ocala, or she stays in Gainesville and I relocate to Tampa. We don't currently live together, but have in the past when I was in gradschool in Gainesville.

In my MA program, I was in the department between 3 and 5 times a week, depending on my course load and teaching obligations. I intend to plan for being there five days a week, but it will be nice if the department could reduce it down to 3 or 4 days. It would help a lot, but I don't think there is any guarantee. Having lectures on hand for drives could be useful. I have also hear of folks having an app on their smartphone read them PDF text; it's not perfect, but it could help.

Another option would be to 'try' to do either option for one semester or a year and see how that works. 

I would not 'expect' to not having to be on campus or be able to get work done in traffic. 

6 hours ago, feralgrad said:

Shouldn't you be pretty certain this department is right for you to begin with? I understand that you may feel nervous after your MA experience, and there are unpredictable factors, but you should feel confident about your choice. With all due respect, you shouldn't need to rely on emotional support from someone else to feel good about your decision.

I disagree with this. I think its totally fine to have emotional support for whatever reason - not just for the decision but also after. doing long distance now and I certainly miss the distraction or 'break from academics' that comes so natural with my SO + just miss being around my SO (and it's not like we can see on the weekend or even during short breaks given that my SO is literally on the other side of the world). It's super important to be around and with those who support us

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13 hours ago, Psygeek said:

I disagree with this. I think its totally fine to have emotional support for whatever reason - not just for the decision but also after. doing long distance now and I certainly miss the distraction or 'break from academics' that comes so natural with my SO + just miss being around my SO (and it's not like we can see on the weekend or even during short breaks given that my SO is literally on the other side of the world). It's super important to be around and with those who support us

That's fair. It's certainly not bad to want support, I just think it's concerning if someone feels they need it. My SO has been very supportive while I've been applying to grad school, which I deeply appreciate -- but I wouldn't be applying if I didn't think I could do it on my own steam. That said, I'm pretty independent, so maybe my priorities are different.

I'm not advising OP to do one thing or the other. It's just something to consider.

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On 3/25/2019 at 2:11 PM, feralgrad said:

Shouldn't you be pretty certain this department is right for you to begin with? I understand that you may feel nervous after your MA experience, and there are unpredictable factors, but you should feel confident about your choice. With all due respect, you shouldn't need to rely on emotional support from someone else to feel good about your decision.

I am comfortable with the department itself, and would be happy to go there. What I cannot tell, without having spent time as a student in the department, is what the faculty and students are really like, what the atmosphere is like, etc. and those are the things that most significantly affected my mental health during my MA program. So, I am not relying on emotional support to feel good about the decision, but rather have it as a kind of safety net if something doesn't jive with me there. But you're certainly right that I should let facts about the department determine how well I feel about my decision.

On 3/25/2019 at 9:03 PM, Psygeek said:

Another option would be to 'try' to do either option for one semester or a year and see how that works. 

I would not 'expect' to not having to be on campus or be able to get work done in traffic. 

I disagree with this. I think its totally fine to have emotional support for whatever reason - not just for the decision but also after. doing long distance now and I certainly miss the distraction or 'break from academics' that comes so natural with my SO + just miss being around my SO (and it's not like we can see on the weekend or even during short breaks given that my SO is literally on the other side of the world). It's super important to be around and with those who support us

Right. That's my current plan. I know the drives will be unproductive, all things considered, but I don't think they won't serve any function at all.

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On 3/20/2019 at 12:27 PM, OccasionalOccasionalist said:

What are some concerns I should be taking into account that I may not have in mind right now?

 

FWIW, in addition to the guidance/feedback you're getting in this thread, the topic of commuting to grad school has been discussed over the years. 

https://forum.thegradcafe.com/search/?q=commuting

The calculation for the cost of driving is approximate $.59/mile, every mile, back of the napkin, that's $112 for you each day you drive to campus and back. This figure does not include parking. https://www.usf.edu/administrative-services/parking/parking/permits.aspx

USF Parking [and] Transportation Services has alternative transportation opportunities here https://www.usf.edu/administrative-services/parking/transportation/alternative-transportation.aspx

FWIW, part two, I agree with those who are asking about the impact of a long commute on your ability to focus on your graduate school experience. From a social perspective, it's unlikely that you'll get the full measure of a bull session, a quick bite to eat, or anything else because in the back of your mind, the prospect of a long drive home is soaking up bandwidth.

I would add that the fact that you already have a master's in hand may not be a mitigating factor. Even if you busted hump as a master's student, doctoral work is significantly more difficult because you are expected to create new knowledge while continuing to master existing knowledge. The kind of thinking that you're expected to do may not play well with operating a vehicle safely, mile after mile, day after day.

On 3/25/2019 at 11:11 AM, feralgrad said:

Shouldn't you be pretty certain this department is right for you to begin with? I understand that you may feel nervous after your MA experience, and there are unpredictable factors, but you should feel confident about your choice. With all due respect, you shouldn't need to rely on emotional support from someone else to feel good about your decision.

With respect, the intellectual obstacles and emotional pitfalls that stalk doctoral students are perils one has to experience first hand to understand. Unfortunately, there is no way to know if one is going to get the support one needs until one is in a third or fourth moment of need.

I very strongly urge aspiring doctoral students to put aside notions of certainty and absolute self-reliance as soon as possible. Assume that you're going to have moments of profound crisis, especially when you're in the process of preparing for qualifying exams. With this assumption in hand, you can start building up a support system from day one.

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I'm attending a Master's program that is about an hour (highway driving) from home. I opted to move. I crunched the numbers and even gas/wear & tear on the car made moving the better option. Other factors for me were winter weather driving, night classes (so driving home while tired), and missing opportunities because of travel time. I'm also a TA, so I have a desk at school, but it also requires being on campus more. 

I rent a small apartment and treat it like an office with a bed. It's close to campus so I can go home for lunch and chill. If you're commuting but need to be on campus all day, will you have a place to relax during down time? 

What I do instead is go home about every 2-3 weeks. I leave on Friday afternoon and stay until Sunday. It's nice to hang out, recharge, and see my friends. 

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I knew several people in my doctoral program who commuted 90-120 minutes to campus, but they typically chose to do that after coursework or after comprehensive exams, when they could limit the amount of time they spent on campus and spend more time writing and conducting research. So that's one option to consider - live closer to campus for 2-3 years with the idea to move back to Ocala once you're finished.

My SO lived 80 miles from me, which was about 2 hours on the train. I went to see him (or he visited me) just about every other weekend, but I lived with a roommate during the week. So that's another option to consider: rent an inexpensive room with roommate(s) in Tampa, and drive back to Ocala every weekend or every other weekend. You could even just rent one for 9 months and then return to live with him during the summer.

Personally, I wouldn't advise commuting 3 hours a day. That sounds exhausting, and if you ever need to stay late to be in the library or join a study session or something, you may feel less motivated to do so.

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