A Year in the Life of a Grad Student

This afternoon I entered the Chandrasekhar Room at 1 PM to do the first part of my candidacy exam, and I am now officially a second year PhD student! It’s quite hard to believe it’s been a year. Looking back on that year, it was a time of growth, change, and learning, and for the most part I had an absolute blast.

One thing that I wanted to do was see just how much time grad school would take out of my life. I’d heard horror stories of 100-hour weeks, little-to-no social life, and scant opportunities for important self-care like cooking, working out, and maintaining relationships. Since I was coming from a consulting job where I was used to billing hours in 15-min intervals, it wasn’t hard to me to log my hours spent each day (I gave myself a break and only did it to 30-min intervals). Now that’s it been a year, I have a full set of data showing how much time I spent!

So how was it? Well…variable. I took an extra elective class every quarter during the academic year, and at times that was hard to juggle. I thought when summer came around I would have so much time to do research, but I struggled with the lack of routine and found it hard to motivate myself to keep a strict schedule. It was also hard to figure out where the boundaries of time off vs work were in the summer, as I traveled quite a bit and took time off.

Here’s what it ended up looking like, in both daily and weekly hours:


The purple line in both cases shows the average over the entire year. Definitely not 100-hour weeks! While I was regularly doing 50-hour weeks in the Autumn Quarter, that tapered down over the course of the year. Of course, by the time summer rolled around, my time plummeted a lot, and this ended up pulling down the yearly average to 37.1 hours. My average workday (so excluding weekends/holidays) was 7.28 hours. Looking at those averages by quarter:

Average Hours
per Workday
Average Hours
per Week
Autumn Quarter
(Sep 25, 2017 – Dec 8, 2017)
9.42 47.64
Winter Quarter
(Jan 3, 2018 – Mar 17, 2018)
8.00 42.41
Spring Quarter
(Mar 25, 2017 – Jun 9, 2018)
6.95 36.18
Summer Quarter
(Jun 17, 2018 – Sep 22, 2018)
4.79 23.42

Some things to keep in mind: Firstly, I have always strongly valued work-life balance, and I have had several years practice in perfecting that balance. I know how to leave even when there is work left to be done (as long as it isn’t urgent), and I prioritize other things besides just school in my life. Secondly, to the best of my ability, this represents time actually spent working. It excludes lunch breaks, long periods of time getting distracted on reddit, and other such things, even if I was sitting in my office. Thirdly, I have depression and anxiety, which sometimes makes it difficult to function as effectively as I would like, and at times that affects my productivity.

As far as how effective I was in that time, well, that’s a bit subjective. I passed all 9 of my classes, I am working on 2 different papers from my research, and no one laughed me out of the room at my candidacy exam today (although I haven’t gotten the official report yet), so while I definitely could be doing more, I don’t think it’s been a failure by any means.

Since I’m already in the habit, I plan to continue my hours-logging for the next year as well!

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