I am intrigued by the concept of a 9am-5pm job. A pure 40 hour work week. But it that possible as a graduate student? Cal Newport did it as a PhD candidate (at MIT, of all places!). I’m beginning to think I can do it, too.
I started by ruthlessly eliminating non-essential tasks–learning to say “no” to things and not feel bad about it. I was also meticulous in setting up my schedule for this semester. I set aside two afternoons a week for telework and spend one day on campus. [My lab is located at a research park about 15 miles away from the main campus, which is great because I don’t have to buy a (way too expensive) parking pass; on the one day a week I need to be on campus, I’m able to use public transit from my home to the main campus.] Doing the math, that means I have a whole two days that I can dedicate solely to research.
So far, I have managed to be very productive using this schedule. Labwork, data analysis, writing, reading, and studying have all coexisted peacefully and I haven’t felt the need to do much work at home. This is good, because after I get home, it’s time to make and eat dinner, play for an hour or so with my daughter, and then put her to bed. I then have about an hour (two, if I’m lucky) to myself before I go to bed.
The key to making this all work is focus. I’ll admit it’s a learned skill but, like training for a running race, I’ve been able to build up endurance over time.
I’m in the middle of my sixth year as a graduate student. Six years! That’s too long. Granted, two of those years were spent working on my MS degree, but still. I have a 10 month old daughter and a guaranteed job upon graduation. I need to graduate. I need to focus.
My institution has a three paper dissertation option, which means I need to have three articles accepted to a peer-reviewed journal. I failed my comprehensive exams–which is a whole other story–and as a result, was required by my committee to write a comprehensive review paper on my field of study. I just turned it in to my committee for their review and hopefully will submit it for publication later this year. Another consequence of failing my comprehensive exams is that my committee required me to change my dissertation topic. I thought that a year and half of laboratory work was thrown away, but it turns out that a year-long experiment might be publishable after all. That means I only have one paper left. My goal is to finish all laboratory work by the end of the semester, do computer modeling over the summer, and start writing my final paper by the end of the year.