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Typical day in the life of a physics grad student

by siyphsc
Tags: grad school, work ethic
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siyphsc
#1
Jul7-09, 04:06 PM
P: 25
Hi,
I am going to be starting physics grad school in August (UT-Austin physics) and was worried about a few websites that I read claiming that a typical physics grad student could expect to work anywhere between 40 and 60 hrs a week on course work in their first year. I am worried because I am lazy and could not see myself working that much. I was wondering, in your experience, what a typical day in the life of a grad student would be. If enough people agree with the aforementioned work week, then I will try to acclimate myself to this crazy schedule as soon as possible so that I'm not screwed over in my first semester.
Thanks
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JDGates
#2
Jul7-09, 04:12 PM
P: 52
Depending on what classes you're taking, and how much time you're spending on teaching and/or research, 40-60 hours of total work sounds pretty reasonable. Some people do more, but that shouldn't be necessary. If you want less than 40 hrs of work a week, you're going to be awfully disappointed in both grad school but in the working world. This ain't supposed to be easy.
arunma
#3
Jul7-09, 04:16 PM
P: 908
My first year I worked an average of 63 hours per week. This included my coursework and teaching responsibilities. The good news: it gets a lot easier once you pass your PhD qualifier, especially if you work for a professor who has the money to fund you. Nowadays my work week is closer to around 40 hours. So I guess it's a year of torture followed by a more reasonable schedule.

n!kofeyn
#4
Jul7-09, 09:54 PM
P: 538
Typical day in the life of a physics grad student

(I think I just posted an answer to your question about summer reading.) I just finished my first year in graduate school for mathematics, which will be comparable to a physics program. The course load is extremely heavy, as the others have verified. I would just try to do what you are doing in trying to do some summer reading. No matter what preparation you do though, it will be tough and you don't want to be burnt out before you even begin. The first year is a very long year, but definitely enjoyable. Get used to trying to work with others on homework. I'm bad at this myself, but it can help save some time and unnecessary struggles. My main advice is don't fall into the undergraduate habit of saying something like I'll just skip this tough part and learn it later. This will never work and will hurt you when it comes time to study for your qualifying exams.

Also, I would be careful in what courses you pick to study. They should provide some guidance. I saw that you are signed up for a topics course. I don't know if that's a graduate or undergraduate course, but I think it is a little unconvential for an incoming first year student to take a topics course. Programs usually want you to take a certain amount of sequence courses in the first two years, so I would make sure you are following their recommendations for what courses you take. These are also usually meant to prepare you for the program's qualifying exams, which are the first goal of a graduate student before research related activities.
siyphsc
#5
Jul8-09, 08:29 AM
P: 25
"If you want less than 40 hrs of work a week, you're going to be awfully disappointed in both grad school but in the working world. This ain't supposed to be easy."

I understand where youre coming from, but no one really posted what they study or do for that 40 hours. I couldn't possibly see myself reading sakurai for 4 or 5 hours a day and then moving on to, say, peskin and schroeder for another 3 to 4 hours.

I guess another thing to consider is that my department has a dirty little secret - we don't have qualifying exams (for some reason). We are expected to take quantum, stat mech, classical, and electro as classes and, when we are finished with them (we are given 2 years), we are expected to give an oral qualifier based on research in the field we hope to study.

I will admit to being afraid that i might be lazier than my peers.
JDGates
#6
Jul8-09, 09:44 AM
P: 52
I wasn't trying to be snarky (okay, maybe a little), but as a fellow lazy person I do want to get the idea across that 40 hours/week is not at all unreasonable. If you're taking three classes, then that means roughly ten hours a week in-class, and an extra ten hours a week per class beyond that is pretty believable; not on reading so much (unless you're the kind of person who reads and rereads very carefully) but on problem sets, especially for the kind of class you're talking about in the other thread. And that's before teaching or research, unless you're on a non-research fellowship.

I'm familiar with UT's system, as I was accepted there and seriously considered going. I don't know whether their system means that those four core courses are harder than the average; a coworker who got her PhD there doesn't seem to think so, but of course she doesn't have anything to compare to.
siyphsc
#7
Jul8-09, 10:38 AM
P: 25
Thats good to know. I wasn't sure if people were counting the time they were in class. Class will eat up 9 hours a week.
I read that as an undergraduate you are expected to work 3 hours out of class for each hour in class/week (I would've been lucky to get myself to study 3 hours a week as an undergrad!), but for grad school its 5 hours. That is the kind of thing that worries me. That would give me a total of ~55 hrs a week of only focusing on school work! While I would never quit or give up because of that, it does worry me to think that I could easily burn myself out after 2 or three weeks. I guess thats the reason I started this thread - to see whether or not this work ethic is observed by most grad students. Seems to me that a lot of people study longer, but that is understandable as they are forced to prepare for qualifying exams. How does the typical person deal with a severe case of burn out? I tend to stop doing work completely for a week or so, but I don't think I will be allowed to do this as a grad student.
Choppy
#8
Jul8-09, 11:30 AM
Sci Advisor
P: 2,679
Ideal (first year grad student):
- 05:30 wake up, work out for 1 hour
- breakfast, shower etc.
- 07:45 arrive early to office: check email, read science news for latest in popular research
- 08:30 - 10:00 read ahead on course material, try sample problems, get a head start on problem sets due in later days
- 10:00 - 12:00 lectures
- 12:00 - 13:00 lunch with senior students, post-docs, and professors where research can be discussed in an informal, friendly forum
- 13:00 - 14:00 lecutures
- 14:00 - 17:00 undergraduate labs/office hours/marking time or do research-related reading
- 17:00 - 18:00 supper
- 18:00 - 20:00 complete homework problems, do any preparation work for the next day
- 20:00 - 22:00 time with friends, significant other, volunteer work, or personal reading
- 22:00 bed

Reality:
- what, how the heck did I sleep in until 08:00?
- run to office, then realize that today the undergrad lab you teach started at 08:00 and you have to run to the other side of campus
- 08:00 - 11:00 - lab, nothing works, computer crash, pre-meds want perfect marks for lab reports that wouldn't pass a 6th grade science class
- 11:30 - you didn't think undergrads would finish the lab on time did you?
- 12:00 - kick last undergrads out of the lab, eat fast food lunch, scramble to finish the problem set due at 13:00
- 12:45 - 13:00 beg the professor for more time on the assignment
- 13:00 - 16:00 lectures, experience first hand time dilation
- 16:00 - 18:00 retire to office, surf web, procrastinate on homework
- 18:00 - 18:05 best damned Chinese food on campus
- 18:06 - 19:00 flag football game with your physics team: the Feyn Men
- 19:01 worst damned Chinese food on campus
- 19:30 - 22:00 homework
- 22:00 - 23:30 you really though you were going to finish your assignments on a pre-planned schedule?
- 23:30 - 00:00 try to read up on your research topic
siyphsc
#9
Jul8-09, 11:33 AM
P: 25
haha, i like it. Thats exactly how I wanted my ideal day to go, as well as how I know the real day will go. You must be a seasoned vet.
n!kofeyn
#10
Jul8-09, 12:16 PM
P: 538
When I first read typical day, I was like no way, is this person serious? I missed the ideal day label. Haha. I think it's usual for you to have more work assigned in terms of hours needed to complete it than there are actual hours in a week, so it's safe to say that you will never be ahead and will be lucky to be on time. For the most part though, I found the grading to be a little bit more relaxed, because the stuff is just plain hard.

I find it interesting you complained about the pre-meds as I did too...until I had to teach business majors. As a math grad student, I actually found the pre-meds to be much more amicable and willing than the business students. So count your lucky stars that you don't have to read business major lab reports. :)
maverick_starstrider
#11
Jul8-09, 10:56 PM
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P: 1,165
Wow, 8am are you kidding me? I'd have to say I had a VERY different experience. Although I guess you could say I'm a professional slacker. I went to classes and only really did any work on my courses come assignment time which was a day or two before. I'd probably spend an all-nighter on most assignments which were about once a month per class. So basically I attended (most) classes and did maybe 10 hours of work a month per class. I got an A- to A average. To be honest I have NO IDEA what you would do for 40 hours a week per course. For my final exam in quantum 1 I basically read all of Sakurai and did every single practice problem in the textbook. And that's me at about 10 hours a month, so I really haven't a clue how people are logging 40 hours a week. I usually TA 2 course a term which is usually 4 hours of actually work a week (we're also paid for an hour of prep which depending on my duties I actually use (manning drop-in center I'll actually do their assignment before, guiding a lab takes like 10 minutes prep work). As for my typical schedule

10am: Wake-up
11am: Get to office, respond to e-mails, check my simulations/computations I put on last night
12pm: Lunch at the local grad bar (phys students at my school drink a lot).
1:30pm: Get back. If it's a TAing day I do my TAing, otherwise I start on whatever work I'd wanted to get done today, taking a break about every 30minutes-1 hour to stretch my legs and such.
4-5pm: throw my simulations for the night on the supercomputer and go home.

And I'm actually fairly productive (some people may find it hard to believe).
maverick_starstrider
#12
Jul8-09, 10:59 PM
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P: 1,165
I should probably add that I do computational physics and I can access my codes from home and occassionally at random points in the night I'll catch the working bug or get an insight and work from home.
siyphsc
#13
Jul9-09, 12:55 PM
P: 25
what do you do in your free time?
cristo
#14
Jul9-09, 01:18 PM
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Quote Quote by maverick_starstrider View Post
And I'm actually fairly productive (some people may find it hard to believe).
But, from your schedule, you only do a maximum of three hours work a day. Have you finished your PhD? If so, I think you're probably exaggerating a little!
maverick_starstrider
#15
Jul9-09, 03:40 PM
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P: 1,165
No, I'm a masters student. However, when I was in grade school people told me that my ways may suffice now but they would never fly in highschool, so I did the exact same thing in highschool and they told me my ways may get me by in highschool but they're never get me by in undergrad. So I did the same thing in undergrad and they told me that grad school would be substantially different. Here I am in my masters and I've already finished my coursework requirement with an A- or A average and I'm still doing the same slacking I've always done.

In undergrad there were very addidous people who studied for 40 hours a week however I would certainly not say that's how you HAVE to do it.

NOTE: It also depends on whether you're experimental or not. Expermentalists seem to have to spend a LOT of time in their lab where they're acting as little more then a warm body.
cristo
#16
Jul9-09, 03:58 PM
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Quote Quote by maverick_starstrider View Post
No, I'm a masters student.
Well, then I doubt your schedule will cut it when you come to do some research. All the studying you've done in the past has one thing in common: you're studying known information for an exam at the end of the course. The same doesn't hold true when you're researching.
maverick_starstrider
#17
Jul9-09, 07:49 PM
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I have been researching for about a year now. I've even got some papers in the pipeline.
maverick_starstrider
#18
Jul9-09, 08:11 PM
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P: 1,165
Plus I think my stated day is entirely commiserate with that depicted in phdcomics :)


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