Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Graduate School Is Not My Entire Life...I Spend More Time Sleeping

The second achievement of my obsessive time-keeping experiment was to demonstrate exactly how much time each week I have been dedicating to graduate school, specifically my research and my comps paper. This could alternatively be described as "not as much as I should" and "exactly as much as I feel like". The actual number is around 25 hours per week.

Keep in mind that this is time actually spent working on a task, not time spent in the lab but surfing the internet. Still, the number seems a bit sparse, given the usual informal expectations of graduate student time commitments; hence, "not as much as I should". I can come up with various excuses - no time-consuming data analyses to run, assorted stalls in attempts to spend time collecting data, no summer classes - that would explain how the summer has been an aberration. The reality, though, is that time spent is "exactly as much as I feel like".

If I don't feel like working in the evening, I don't work. It doesn't matter if I slept in, and only spent 4 hours of work on graduate school so far today. I have no deadlines; even meetings with my advisor have become "sign up if you want one". I have no significant other breathing down my neck to get on with it already, no parents demanding surcease from tuition payments. The only thing making sure work gets done is my own interest in getting it done.

This provides some excellent perspective. Sometimes it feels as if graduate school eats up my entire life; days where I stay at the office until 7:30, going home only to eat dinner at the desk while continuing to work (last Tuesday, I believe). The constant nag of assorted deadlines, imagined pressures, "I should be doing...", and doing work on the weekends makes it feel like the workload never ends. The workload might never end, and my subjective perceptions might be off, but I'm obviously very good at not spending excessive amounts of time on grad school.

Or, I'm obviously very good at not spending sufficient amounts of time on grad school...but that's all a matter of opinion. There is no exact number for time on task (our lab coordinator does have to keep such track of time, and the random conversations with undergraduates never seem to be made up elsewhere).

There is a lot to be said for working more efficiently, not longer. On the other hand, if I were truly a driven grad student, I wouldn't take that efficiency as a cue to take a break; I'd take it as a cue to excel and get the Nobel prize or get published in Science. Reflections on whether I will start spending more time on work come later.

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