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DoodleBob

Typical Week of Philosophy

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Dear The Grad Cafe Philosophy Community, 

I am looking for advice on how often you all spend doing philosophy outside of class seminars (teaching or enrolled) in a typical week. How many hours do you spend reading? How many hours do you spend writing?

I am inquiring so I can better understand what a typical week of time management is like for an academic philosopher, so I can then know how to improve my own time management. 

Thank you!

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2 hours ago, DoodleBob said:

Dear The Grad Cafe Philosophy Community, 

I am looking for advice on how often you all spend doing philosophy outside of class seminars (teaching or enrolled) in a typical week. How many hours do you spend reading? How many hours do you spend writing?

I am inquiring so I can better understand what a typical week of time management is like for an academic philosopher, so I can then know how to improve my own time management. 

Thank you!

70-80 hour 'workweek'

6 hrs. in seminar / ~60 hrs. reading / ~14 hours writing

Writing hours can fluctuate depending on time of term.

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5 hours in class

6 hours of assistantship duties 

~10 hours reading

Sometimes some hours of writing 

Sometimes 6 hours of departmental obligations (job talks, workshops, prospective student visits)

I used to work more but meh, not worth it most weeks. 

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On 3/21/2019 at 10:12 AM, Prose said:

70-80 hour 'workweek'

6 hrs. in seminar / ~60 hrs. reading / ~14 hours writing

Writing hours can fluctuate depending on time of term.

Quite impressive! 

 

On 3/21/2019 at 11:26 AM, Olórin said:

5 hours in class

6 hours of assistantship duties 

~10 hours reading

Sometimes some hours of writing 

Sometimes 6 hours of departmental obligations (job talks, workshops, prospective student visits)

I used to work more but meh, not worth it most weeks. 

Very nice insight. Thank you both for your help! 

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I'm an MA student. Realistically, I spend a couple of hours per day on research (including both reading and writing, as I tend to go back and forth). Ideally it would be 8-12 hours a day, but I haven't had the focus this semester what with admissions stress. (I'm enrolled in two courses this semester and TAing one-- TAing here consists of going to the class, grading assignments, and holding office hours to work with students one-on-one, so no lesson planning or anything like that.) 

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I'm an MA student, too. In my first year, I took four classes both semesters and had discussion sections for my TA course. So I spent 12hrs/wk in classes + 8hrs/wk on TA duties. I'd say I spent another 40-50hrs/wk on course work (reading and writing). That totals to 60-70hrs/wk. I only took three classes fall semester of my second year, but I spent the extra time preparing my PhD application. So I was still at about 60-70hrs/wk (maybe more). This semester (my last one!) I've had significantly less motivation, but I'd imagine I'm still putting in 40-50hrs/wk. Also note that I worked ~60hrs/wk on my writing sample from 1 June until the start of the semester. 

TL;DR: expect to spend 60+hrs/wk on average.

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Wow you people work such long hours! I've been clocking myself for years and rarely do more than 30h of philosophy/week. Those are 100% focused though-- I almost always work alone and write best in short bursts. As far as reading is concerned I prefer reading fewer texts very closely rather than trying to read everything on a given topic... has worked well so far. I think philosophy is a discipline where close reading can be extremely beneficial and allow for a lot of creativity.

As this thread shows, I think it varies a lot how many hours one needs to put in depending on how one prefers to work. In order to be as focused as I need to be to get shit done in my 30h I basically have to prioritse things like exercise, sleep, getting daylight/being outside. If I didn't get those things I highly doubt I'd be able to produce good work even if put in 70h/week. Find what works for you and don't be stressed out if others seem to do more. 

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Posted (edited)

There are a lot of studies that show that productivity drops significantly above 50 hours a week or so. Here is one. My advice is this: take your work seriously and work hard, but recognize that trying to work all the time will result in diminishing returns. Sounds obvious maybe, but don't sacrifice your physical or mental health. It's not worth it, and it's not going to magically make you a super-philosopher anyway. Exercise regularly, sleep 7 or 8 hours a night, cook healthy meals, go out for drinks with friends every now and then, bullshit with your classmates from time to time, go for a walk, whatever. You'll feel better, and you'll do better work.

Edited by hector549

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On 3/21/2019 at 1:12 PM, Prose said:

70-80 hour 'workweek'

6 hrs. in seminar / ~60 hrs. reading / ~14 hours writing

Writing hours can fluctuate depending on time of term.

How many hours a day do you sleep, seriously?

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22 minutes ago, markovka said:

How many hours a day do you sleep, seriously?

haha 6, if I get more than that I feel tired

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I mean, there are 168 hours in a week. Even if you work 70 hrs/wk, you can still sleep 8 hrs/night AND have 42 hrs/wk to just do whatever.

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, brookspn said:

I mean, there are 168 hours in a week. Even if you work 70 hrs/wk, you can still sleep 8 hrs/night AND have 42 hrs/wk to just do whatever.

Well yeah, but you're not going to spend those 42 hours doing whatever. You'll need to make food and eat it. Let's assume you spend 2 hrs/day doing that. That's 14 hrs/wk. Let's also say that you spend 3 hrs/wk commuting (being conservative here), 3 hrs/wk doing laundry/getting groceries/running errands, 7hrs/wk doing things like bathing, brushing your teeth, and going to the bathroom, and 3 hrs/wk exercising. That's a total of 30 hours. Now you're down to 12 hours of "free time" a week. That's less than 2 hrs/day. This of course isn't taking into consideration the time it takes to transition between tasks, nor the time for all the other minutiae that make up a human life. If you're working 70 hrs/week or more, you're not giving yourself any real downtime, or you're cutting corners on all the other stuff I listed, which is neither healthy nor sustainable (and it's unlikely that all those 70 hrs are actually spent working!).

When are you going to hang out with friends and/or a significant other?

Look, I think philosophy is great, and getting to study it in grad school is awesome, but we're not machines. We need rest and a balanced life. Perpetuating this culture of "you need to work inhuman hours to be good at philosophy" isn't doing anyone any good.

Edited by hector549

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I don't entirely disagree @hector549 (I was mostly being glib with the time breakdown). Look, I'm not saying that working 70 hours per week is in any sense required to be good at philosophy. What I am saying is that I do spend that much time (as does @Prose), and spending that amount of time works just fine for me. Then again, I'm super-obsessive, I don't have an off-switch, and I generally like working on philosophy and prefer doing it to the exclusion of most other things. But I understand that not everyone is like this (nor do they need to be). 

 

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Posted (edited)

ditto @brookspn

also I just have certain goals I want to achieve that I can't achieve by putting in 30 hrs per week, just not possible - I also think there's people out there doing 70 hours doing stuff much harder than reading some stuff and writing some stuff, so I say work as much as you can handle

and as for how much time is REQUIRED to be 'good' at philosophy depends on you and 'good', but as said, that's not really what's under discussion here.

Edited by Prose

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12 minutes ago, Prose said:

also I just have certain goals I want to achieve that I can't achieve by putting in 30 hrs per week, just not possible

Exactly this. It's no different than becoming excellent at anything else, e.g., guitar, dance, painting, writing, etc. I don't think any of the greats in these and other areas were primarily concerned with striking a healthy work/life balance. 

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I think its worth putting out a word of warning about this kind of conversation regarding the question of mental health.

Graduate programs are extremely stressful environments and philosophy is no exception. Unfortunately, the mental health of graduate students faces a few serious challenges:

     1. First there is a the problem of over-identification with one's discipline. As the work/leisure distinction has collapsed over the past few decades (see, for example, the Google model & playbor), it can be hard to separate one's personal work from free time. Strangely enough, philosophy was a discipline that precisely began in leisure time, and yet with the professionalization of philosophy (and the subsequent corporatization of the academy), philosopher students are often trapped in the bind of over-identifying too much with their profession and as a result it makes it extremely difficult to maintain the work/leisure division that is necessary for mental health.

     2. One of the byproducts of this is that many philosophy students derive their 'self-worth' from their perceived academic standing in their peer groups. As the divide between work/leisure collapses philosophy students consistently treat their social time with other students as in this nebulous space, often feeling a need to overstate how much work they are actually doing or accomplishing. This is particularly common when students inevitably compare themselves to others in the field/profession and as a mode of compensation they often self-describe in ideal terms (which are usually unsustainable amounts of work). [Here contemporary articles that draw on Lacan's Mirror Stage and Imago re: instagram/social media would be helpful.] Of course, because this is intellectual labor, down time is extremely necessary. As the environment spirals into students comparing themselves with others purported clams about the amount of work they accomplish, it benefits absolutely no-one.

     3. As a result of this kind of setting, answering the question about how much effort and time people spend on their work each week becomes a question loaded with psychological stakes that I'm sure the author of this question didn't intent to invoke. It is not a neutral question and the answers we give to it are not neutral. They are directly related to the mental health of our fellow cohorts, our fellow students, and even our potential fellow co-workers or interlocutors.

In a certain way my answer to the original question is something like this:

With respect to time management, I would echo @hector549, make sure you are not treating work as the sole criterion for how to organize your time. Make sure you organize your life, with clear distinctions between leisure and labor. I work full-time as an adjunct professor, but I still manage to take my dog to the park every day for an hour or so. And if you want to read three other books that have nothing to do with classes you are taking, or prepare ahead of time for something, go ahead and do that, but recognize that you are doing so on your own leisure timeNot on your work time. And you need to be very careful to separate the two.

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I have a concern that mental health is not so much affected by a failure to maintain a work-leisure distinction (whatever this means to you; philosophy is both my leisure and my work) as it is by a failure to meet one's goals. Every students has a set of goals that they wish to achieve, and if your goal is to become an academic philosopher, then to me it seems likely that students (like myself at least) would need to work for about 70+ hours per week to achieve this goal. I have seen a lot of people on here with intimidating intellects, and if you are one of the truly exceptional philosophy students, then this generalization will obviously not apply to you. You may, for instance, be able to produce a publishable paper with only 20 hours a week. 

However, in philosophy, what seems to be the biggest cause of mental health issues (e.g. depression) is that students have a goal of being at the top of their class and they refuse to work the number of hours per week that (for them) would be required to meet this goal. Alternatively, to be at the top of a class, some students may refuse to sacrifice other things that they value more than philosophy (e.g. family life, hanging out with friends, being in a band, et cetera). Sure, sometimes students get sick or their grandparents die, but programs will often treat these kinds of situations as extenuating circumstances. 

I don't really see any reason to talk about mental health here. If you are becoming depressed doing academic philosophy, then you should do what you need to do to take care of yourself, but you shouldn't feel entitled to a job at the end of your graduate education if you've submitted work that is of a lesser quality than everyone else. You've just learned that academic philosophy is not for you.

 

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Posted (edited)

So, there seem to be two kinds of answers here. On the one hand, there are answers which put a high value on work/life balance, e.g., @hector549. On the other, there are those which do not put a high value on work/life balance, e.g., me, @Prose, and @The_Last_Thylacine. I think one ought to use whichever method works best for one. Still, as long as there are people in the latter camp (and there always will be), it seems that those in the former camp will be at a disadvantage. Maybe they'll have better lives in some sense, but it's unlikely they'll be as productive philosophically.* I mean, even super-genius philosophers like Wittgenstein, Quine, and Lewis (to name a few) were famously hard workers. 

* I should add that, for me, being maximally productive at the thing I've chosen to pursue (e.g., philosophy) is a good life. 

Edited by brookspn

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, brookspn said:

So, there seem to be two kinds of answers here. On the one hand, there are answers which put a high value on work/life balance, e.g., @hector549. On the other, there are those which do not put a high value on work/life balance, e.g., me, @Prose, and @The_Last_Thylacine. I think one ought to use whichever method works best for one. Still, as long as there are people in the latter camp (and there always will be), it seems that those in the former camp will be at a disadvantage. Maybe they'll have better lives in some sense, but it's unlikely they'll be as productive philosophically.* I mean, even super-genius philosophers like Wittgenstein, Quine, and Lewis (to name a few) were famously hard workers. 

* I should add that, for me, being maximally productive at the thing I've chosen to pursue (e.g., philosophy) is a good life. 

I meant to make two related but separate points. I meant to point out that work/life balance is important, and that that is in itself a good reason not to hold oneself to extraordinarily long hours. I meant to also communicate my skepticism about the effectiveness of working very long hours, and that that's also a reason not to hold oneself to such hours--it's unlikely to work. I'm not convinced that working, say, 70+ hours/wk will make one a better/more productive philosopher than, say, 50 or so hours/wk. To the contrary, it might be detrimental to one's ability to be productive to try to push through to 70+. Even if it works in the short term (and that's a big if--studies suggest otherwise), it won't in the long term if one ends up with health problems from overwork that prevent one from working effectively.

I don't see, then, that the two options are having a work/life balance though being less effective, or working extraordinarily long hours but being more effective.

Edited by hector549

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Right. So I think we might be talking past one another, @hector549. When I say 70 hours, that's inclusive of time spent in seminar and time spent on TA responsibilities (roughly 20 hrs/wk total). The remaining 50 hrs/wk is spent on reading and writing. To me, these represent different kinds of work. If these are different kinds of work, then I agree with your 50 hrs/wk number–it would be quite a lot, maybe too much, to spend 20 hrs/wk on classes and TA-ing + 70 hrs/wk on reading and writing. If these aren't different kinds of of work, then your view would suggest that I should spend only 30 hrs/wk on reading and writing. This is the claim I was disagreeing with since, as @Prose said, I have things I want to accomplish that cannot be accomplished by working that few hours. I also disagree that work/life balance is at all important, but, as I've already mentioned, I'm a bit mad! 

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@brookspn I was literally about to write the same thing! The main point is clear: given TA duties and seminars if you are only reading/writing for 30 hours a week, that's definitely on the low side. This is why when choosing a program you should seriously consider fellowships versus TA duties (and the different kinds of TA assistantships) and not *merely* ranking. 

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, brookspn said:

Right. So I think we might be talking past one another, @hector549. When I say 70 hours, that's inclusive of time spent in seminar and time spent on TA responsibilities (roughly 20 hrs/wk total). The remaining 50 hrs/wk is spent on reading and writing. To me, these represent different kinds of work. If these are different kinds of work, then I agree with your 50 hrs/wk number–it would be quite a lot, maybe too much, to spend 20 hrs/wk on classes and TA-ing + 70 hrs/wk on reading and writing. If these aren't different kinds of of work, then your view would suggest that I should spend only 30 hrs/wk on reading and writing. This is the claim I was disagreeing with since, as @Prose said, I have things I want to accomplish that cannot be accomplished by working that few hours.

I'm still not totally convinced. 50 hrs/wk overall, inclusive, is still a very substantial workweek. That's a pretty standard workweek "out in the world", where very many people (maybe most of them?) aren't focusing on work the whole time they're on the clock. If you're accounting strictly for time spent doing focused work, without including any interruptions or distractions that pop up, I find it hard to imagine more than 40-50 hrs, maaaybe 60, without quickly ending up in a nervous breakdown (which has happened to me before, for that reason!).

I'm also not someone who is at all motivated to be "a great philosopher" or anything like that, so maybe it's just that the two go hand in hand.

Edited by philosopuppy

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, brookspn said:

Right. So I think we might be talking past one another, @hector549. When I say 70 hours, that's inclusive of time spent in seminar and time spent on TA responsibilities (roughly 20 hrs/wk total). The remaining 50 hrs/wk is spent on reading and writing. To me, these represent different kinds of work. If these are different kinds of work, then I agree with your 50 hrs/wk number–it would be quite a lot, maybe too much, to spend 20 hrs/wk on classes and TA-ing + 70 hrs/wk on reading and writing. If these aren't different kinds of of work, then your view would suggest that I should spend only 30 hrs/wk on reading and writing. This is the claim I was disagreeing with since, as @Prose said, I have things I want to accomplish that cannot be accomplished by working that few hours. I also disagree that work/life balance is at all important, but, as I've already mentioned, I'm a bit mad! 

I meant total working time to be inclusive of TA duties, seminars, and the like, so I do think that we disagree on this point. While sustained reading and writing differs in some respects from teaching/seminar time, all these things take time, energy, and the use of one's intellectual faculties, so I wouldn't make a distinction between them when thinking about working-hours.

As @VentralStream suggests (and I think we'd at least agree on this @brookspn!), it's important for prospective students to find out what TAing loads look like at prospective programs--you don't want teaching to take up too much of your available time and energy, leaving you with insufficient time for your own work and downtime.

I would also add one clarification to my earlier position--of course things do get crazy at certain points in an academic term, and during those periods one's working hours increase (though I think there are still hard limits to how many hours we can work and still do good work, even in these circumstances). But I meant my position to primarily concern sustained work practices over the course of a semester, and I took yours to concern the same, @brookspn. On my view, 50ish hours is an average over the term.

Edited by hector549

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