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Free time, weekends, and time off in grad school?

  1. Dec 13, 2006 #1
    My girlfriend and I were talking about this yesterday. I am really wondering what the social life is like for a grad student. How much free time does one have, say, on the weekend? I understand that for the first two years I will be taking courses, and then after this when I pass the qualifying exam I will be doing work for the university. I also understand that they typically pay for tuition and give a reasonable stipend as well, but what I am curious about is how trapped people have felt?

    I mean, say I want to go away for a weekend, or heck, even for a week? Can this happen, or will I be stuck until I am done?


  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 13, 2006 #2

    Dr Transport

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    The more you work on the weekends the faster you'll get done. My friends and I usually took at least one night on the weekend to go out, socialize and relax. If you treat it like a job working only during the week your advisor may not keep you around very long.
  4. Dec 13, 2006 #3
    Ok, well what about summers, christmas, holidays and the like. Are all of these professors without families that require attention regularly?
  5. Dec 13, 2006 #4
    The graduate students here spend their summers working and doing research. For holidays they typically get the days off that the rest of the university does.
  6. Dec 14, 2006 #5


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    I met some graduate students, and they seem comfortable to me.

    One works basically 9am-6pm, Monday to Friday, and maybe like 10am-1pm on weekends.

    One basically works during the week, but just chills out in the evenings and does work here and there, as well as on the weekend.

    Another, who is done, well basically if he was able to watch plenty of Raptors and Leafs games, I would say he had his share of free time too.

    Note: All successful graduate students above.

    Note: Successful as in, 1 just got a Ph.D, and 1 is on his way to his Ph.D.
  7. Dec 14, 2006 #6
    Good, that is encouraging. All I ever hear about is working long hours and having no life. I love school, but I love balance too. I am entering my 3rd year next year (technically my fourth, but hey, I changed my major) and gearing up for that transition and just mentally preparing myself for what I am getting into.

    But all of those schedules sound totally reasonable and doable. What kind of research are/did these people doing/do?

    Any other experiences?
  8. Dec 14, 2006 #7

    Dr Transport

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    Everyone works differently, I worked my tail off, but I found that I had times where I would produce enough work to publish 3 papers in a matter of a few weeks or a months time, other times I could barely sit down and read a paper. Even my co-workers wondered where I was during the intense periods and couldn't get rid of me during the slack time. I took holidays off to spend with my family away from the university, so you should have more than enough time to hav ea little social life and graduate in a reasonable amount of time.
  9. Dec 14, 2006 #8


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    Successful math grad students and mathematicians, work basically all the time.

    I didn't even go to lunch for about 20 years, but worked right through everyday.

    i never read a novel, or watched tv. i went out to eat once a week with my family for a break, mostly for them.

    there is never enugh time, if you are in competition for a grant, or to solve a big problem.

    there is enough nsf grant money in math for about 1/3 of the qualified applicants, but your promotion may be based primarily on whether you have one.

    of course it all depends what level you are shooting for, and who you are competing with. I was trying to be considered competitive on a national and international arena, in a difficult subject. to solve problems that some of the best people in the world were interested in. with my modest ability it required all the time i could give it.

    Even a few years ago in my late 50's, when trying to rekindle my research program after a lull, i did not go out and party even on weekends, but worked everyday for several years in a row, to get back in the swing.

    there is no such thing as coasting in science. you are either busting your b*tt or falling behind the leaders. the key is to enjoy it, and take only a brief time off to recuperate, without losing your edge.

    as chern told me, "every now and then take off a day". the idea of taking off every weekend is absurd for real accomplishment. but i am talking about trying to be the best you can.

    with this work schedule, i had the presidents fellowship as a grad student, got 3 academic jobs on graduation, including columbia, was one of 10 nsf postdoc in the US (at harvard) after 2 years, and had many international speaking invitations at conferences, visiting universities, and won several hundred thousand dollars in grants.

    i noticed at harvard that fields medalists were notnoly brilliant, but they worked really hard too. the good part I learned is that hard work can really bring dividends, even with modest ability. and lax behavior is devastating, even with talent.

    instead of treating work as a chore, try to become inspired, read the great thinkers, enjoy the depth of their thought and try to emulate it. be proud of hard work, and try to stay mentally in shape all the time, so as not to have to catch up after a lapse of activity.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2006
  10. Dec 14, 2006 #9


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    One was a Ph. D in Biochemisty, one is in Biophysics or Biochemisty (some genetic thing I think, which is why he goes to the labs everyday because he's dealing with organisms that change daily obviously), and the other is a Masters in Engineering, but I forgot the major which I think is Chemical. So, they aren't laid back sciences.

    Also note, they are successful and in no way coming close to falling behind others. Probably the top students in the programs.

    Maybe some people have to go hardcore, but that's all relative.

    Personally, I'm willing to work hardcore, but I think I would need people to share it with. I can't do it all by myself without any sort of collaboration. I'm hoping there are lots of passionate graduate students when I go to graduate school because right now, I'm all alone.
  11. Dec 15, 2006 #10


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    Some people like to work all the time - burning the midnight oil.

    However, that wasn't for me.

    I'd rather go in relaxed and do some quality work in a short time, rather than working intensely, over a long period, with a subsequent loss of concentration.

    For stats: I did my maths/physics PhD in the UK; completed in 3 years; with 4 quality publications out in that time (3 or so in the draft stage).

    And weekends :surprised They're for relaxing - except if there's a really major deadline on!
  12. Dec 15, 2006 #11
    I don't want to be relaxed about it at all. I am a dedicated student, but I enjoy being a balanced human being. I will not be happy if I never stop working. It isn't that I take weekends off as an undergrad, but I try to take some time for myself during the week. I am a good student, but not brilliant, but I do work hard and love what I do. Most people that know me well will tell you that I am not a competitive person.

    Being honest with myself dictates that I am not Harvard/Stanford/etc. material; I am not trying to compete on a national level. I am fairly simple person. I know I love physics, I look forward to spending my life as an experimentalist working in industry and I don't have my eyes set on an extremely competitive grad school; I would rather have an excellent experience that will allow me to learn what I need to learn in order to be a good physicist.

    Anyway, I want to enjoy myself while I study, because I really do like school, but if I start getting burned out I will really hate school and other important areas of my life will suffer as well.

    Thanks for the replies, keep them coming. And I apologize for my post if it seems incoherent; it has been one of those days that just keeps on going.
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2006
  13. Dec 15, 2006 #12


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    All I'm giving is the contrast.

    From what I read on here - and what I see in the media - the US grad system is quite competitive (cf. phdcomics :smile: )

    I don't think it has to be that way - working in a relaxed way, with quailty breaks, imo, is far more productive - I'm not saying sit back in a vibrating easy-chair :wink: Just, don't work yourself into a stress.

    Of course, if you do experiments, the time you spend in the lab could effect your relationship...
  14. Dec 15, 2006 #13
    I admire that. I hope my wife is as undertstanding when I reach graduate school and eventually post docs!
  15. Dec 15, 2006 #14


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    That is exactly the catch I omitted mentioning, ones loved ones. They do not share ones fascination with work, and it is very hard on them if you spend all your time thinking about work or with people who do.

    When I traveled to Europe for conferences, my family saw it as a vacation opportunity, and wanted to go along. Other attendees seldom brought family members, and worked the whole time intensely except for a day off each week for sightseeing, that not everyone participated in.

    I tried very hard to take my family along and did so about half the time. This was enormously expensive in time and money. Evenso, they remember being left behind half the time, whereas they were usually the only ones there at all. I had to work until 4am several times, it seemed often, to prepare lectures for an international audience after a night with the family at dinner. The quality of the lectures often suffered. But today my kids recall being taken to fantastic spots in Italy and Holland and France, and they go back now, and have an awareness of the world I never dreamed of at a young age.

    This problem essentially has no solution. The work demands full attention, but the family needs a lot too, and holds the personality together.

    I am proud that my family is still intact, whereas many academic families I knew are not. I am glad I sacrificed work time for family time, and I recommend it. On the other hand, if the work is what makes you feel mentally alive, and is the contribution you want to make to the scientific heritage of the human race, it must have its share.

    Try not to give up on either one completely, or you may be unhappy. I.e. for a hard core workaholic, the time off is not so much essential for rest, but is absolutely necessary to keep relationships going.

    try not to make the spouse do all the sacrificing: i.e. "just wait until grad school is over, then postdoc, then tenure, then ......"

    good luck.
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2006
  16. Dec 15, 2006 #15


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    It may be true that if you never seriously goof off, you will never need to do the full time hard core work I did to catch up. I.e. the ancient wisdom of the "middle way" is true. not too far in either direction.

    in my case, I had a lot of scholarships and so on based on "promise". I goofed off big time and worked very hard at brief moments to jsutify some of it.

    At last, with poor work habits in grad school, it caught up, and I left for a teaching job. When i became singlemindedly serious and persistent, it took me about 10 years of steady hard work to get back to being a harvard postdoc with a phd, and soon a tenured professor.

    other people did do it more easily who did not have the lapses of focus that I had. just putting on foot ahead of the other gets you there eventually. Even at the professional level, the steady achievers often eventually go further than the flashier ones who burn out.

    but if you are trying to solve a big problem before someone at a top research place does, you better burn the midnight oil. And it helps to have a lot of free time. I sacrificed two years salary to be a lowly postdoc with no teaching duties, to get a solid foothold in my area. unfortunately teaching is usually the opposite of research progress. even worse is being department head, i am told.
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2006
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