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Programs Is it possible to do a physics PhD and still have a social life?

  1. Aug 21, 2011 #1
    I'm starting my PhD a few weeks from now. I'm just wondering if I will likely have any free time to enjoy myself, or whether the next 3 years are going to be a long, hard battle with hardly enough time to pause for breath?
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  3. Aug 21, 2011 #2


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    I'm doing a PhD in physics. My schedule does tend to revolve around my work, and I do work long hours more often than some people would probably find acceptable. However, I enjoy the work, and that's what's important.

    I'm easily able to find time to play the guitar and train in Judo regularly. I volunteer at a local community radio station once a week as well. I try to go out and get a beer with a few friends at the end of the week. I don't drink heavily though. All in all, I consider this a pretty good social life. Some might not, but I'm fairly happy.

    Whether your social life is successful in grad school really comes down to your personality, your adviser's personality, your research group's dynamic, and what you're looking for in your life outside of work.
  4. Aug 21, 2011 #3


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    As long as you don't get sucked into the "more work hours = better" fallacy you'll be fine. There are very few people in this world who can get more real work done in 80 hours per week than in 40 hours per week (or rather 30..), and I've yet to see one of those below the senior faculty level. Nevertheless, many PhD candidates spend insane amounts of time on their work, simply because they are unable to schedule well and work /effectively/[1]. If you actively work on your work productivity (that means actively observing yourself, and making sure every hour you spend on work counts) you can do an excellent PhD with a healthy social life (or other hobbies, like sports) at the side.

    [1] Not a big surprise, considering they most likely never learned it. Working on your own, independently, requires a very very different skillset than what you need to excel in high school or college. It's unreasonable to expect a person to simply have it out of nothing.
  5. Aug 21, 2011 #4
    Three years? If you plan on doing a physics PhD, something that usually takes 5-8 years, in 3 then yes, you will have no social life.
  6. Aug 21, 2011 #5
    well 3 years seems to be the norm here in the UK. That's how many years my studentship lasts for anyway. Whether that means we cram the same amount of work into 3 years as you might in 5-8 years, or that means our PhD's are inferior to yours, I don't know.

    All I know is, towards the end of my 4 year undergraduate/masters degree, the s**t really hit the fan and I had to work my fingers to the bone with almost zero time to spare for fun. God help me if that's what the next 3 years is going to be like...
  7. Aug 21, 2011 #6
    @MissSilvy, I think the difference is that in the UK, people already have Master's degrees. In the US, we have to pass quals and things like that in the first 2 years. Our PhD program is usually integrated in with a lower level graduate degree along the way.

    I think the time spent doing pure research in US schools is roughly 3 years, although it can go on for another year or two depending on if the given PhD program will fund you that long.
  8. Aug 21, 2011 #7
    It's my understanding that this typically has to do with where you start in the UK. It's my understanding that at the end of an undergraduate degree in the UK (and many other European countries) you really have the equivalent of a US Master's degree, and start with the research aspects of the PhD much sooner. In the US, specialization (or "tracking") begins much later, and there's more general education credits in the undergraduate degree, thus, in the US, your first year or two of your graduate degree involves more coursework.

    I'd think you could still have a life. While my grad degree is from a US institution, I think it was my most fun period of life. I second G01:

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