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For those who transitioned from full-time employment to PhD programs


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I've been working in the private sector for the last 3 years or so, after finishing my MA. I'm in a pretty demanding job right now, I work around 45-50 intense hours a week. I'm starting my PhD this fall, and I'm curious -- how did those of you currently enrolled who were in a similar situation find the transition?

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I transitioned from teaching at a very intense inner-city charter school (easily 70+ hours a week) to graduate school. I had crazy time management skills from my full-time teaching experience, and for the first semester, grad school felt like a vacation, especially because I didn't have any teaching responsibilities. Actually, the most difficult thing was changing my lifestyle. I wasn't making a lot as a teacher, but I was living at my parent's home (so no rent) and all my extra income went toward fun and frivolous stuff. I moved across the country to an extremely expensive area, started paying rent, and had to manage this on a grad school stipend. I really had to learn to cut back, budget, and stick to it.

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For me, the transition wasn't so bad.  Having worked full time before (2 years post-BA), it helped me manage my time and do my best to treat grad school like a "9 to 5" gig instead of procrastinating like mad as I did in college (I'm finishing my first year right now).  duran0 raises a good point - it can be challenging to adjust to not having disposable income.  All in all, I'd say it actually helps with the transition.  You're used to working and know how to structure your time.. you've also likely already had the experience of doing things like paying your own bills and managing a house/apartment.  I think you'll be fine.

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I worked for four years before starting grad school, one year working retail full time and three years teaching high school. I regularly brought home from work, so I was very used to spending time during the evenings working. I actually find it's harder for me to get much done during the day; 6-10pm are absolutely my most productive hours. Other grad frequently tell me that they haven't done all the reading for a given class, and I rarely find I don't have time to read everything. I feel like I work best when I'm busy; it's easier for me to sit down and get things done if I feel like I have a limited amount of time, but I struggle when I have too much free time. I think having work experience gave me an advantage over people who came straight out of undergrad (or even out of another grad program) because I knew all these things about my work habits, and plus I had cultivated a strong ability to do things I didn't want to do/had no motivation to do (ie. having a job). 

So in terms of workload, I found the transition pretty easy. The hardest thing for me was reactivating my academic brain. It had been a while since I had to read academically, or write a paper. I'm now in my third quarter (the quarter system is evil) and I think I've found my groove again. But I know others in my cohort who came from undergrad had similar issues; academic work in grad school is different in substantial ways from what you do in undergrad. 

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Yeah..my thinking is the structured work environments I've been at the last few years will help me maintain an actual schedule, but I also know my tendency to let things fill up as much time as is available. On the other hand, I do enjoy being able to go home at the end of the day and not have to do anything work related, which would be an incentive to do stuff during the day.

 

The money side of things I'm not as worried about, actually. I have a good stipend in an affordable city, which is only slightly less -- after adjusting for cost of living -- than how much I made in my first two jobs. Also will be living in a dual income household ;)

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