PhD lifestyle guilt

This post was written by Paula Hanasz who is currently writing a thesis on the geopolitics of water security in South Asia at The ANU. She is enrolled at the Australia National University but currently spends more time on her couch than in her office or the library.

I’m going to take a moment out of my busy study schedule to interrupt yours by telling you about my experiences with PhD Lifestyle Guilt. This is, as the name might suggest, the perennial guilt about having the sort of life where ‘work’ involves sitting around on the couch reading interesting stuff, and getting grants to go to international conferences.

easy chairOf course the PhD Lifestyle is not like that for everybody. I’m fortunate enough that, in Australia at least, writing a thesis in the humanities means no coursework. And no coursework means very little reason to be on campus. Ever. The communication with my supervisor usually happens by email, phone or Skype, and I have chosen a research topic that doesn’t require lengthy or convoluted studies or data collection.

“So you’re just basically writing a really, really long essay?” a friend one asked, suspicion and resentment in her eyes.

Yup. I’m just basically writing a really, really long essay. Google Scholar is my friend, and seeing as I can access my university online depository from anywhere, I rarely have to visit the library. Life is easy.

Hence the guilt.

I often downplay how much I’m enjoying the process the PhD because, a year into it, I still can’t believe how good I have it. Others, specifically those working 9-to-5 in a an office for a boss, don’t have it so easy. To assuage my guilt, I fill my days with ‘real’ PhD work. I assiduously note the exact amount of time, down to the quarter hour, I spend each day on strictly PhD-related work. Not reading emails, not reading the news, not even reading the Thesis Whisperer blog; just ‘real’ work. I do this so I can tell anyone who asks exactly why I have been doing with my time. No one has actually asked yet – but you never know right?

I set myself little tasks and sit by my computer until they are completed. I create arbitrary deadlines for producing small chunks of chapters and conference papers – then stress about not meeting them. That constitutes work, doesn’t it? I minimise procrastination with every trick I know. I don’t check emails first thing in the morning, thus avoiding the inevitable vortex of replies-to-replies-to-replies and clicking on links to irrelevant things that seem like they absolutely must be read right this very minute. I don’t allow myself to log in to Twitter before 5pm. And I don’t indulge in reading things that won’t in some way expand my body of knowledge on my thesis topic. But just last night I spent nearly an hour reading an article – an academic, densely referenced, big-word-using article – that was only tangentially related to my own research. So why did I read it so thoroughly? I was actually enjoying it. It was so well written it was a pleasure to read.

Naturally, I then felt guilty.

All this guilt and shame is ridiculous, of course. After all, part of my raison d’être in being a PhD student is the lifestyle. Yup, the lifestyle. Not academic kudos. Not improved job prospects. Not the vanity of putting ‘Dr’ on my future business cards. But the lifestyle.

The flexibility of independent study has allowed me to follow my partner interstate and, frankly, I like having very little structure in my days. I like working evenings and weekends if I want to, and not getting out of bed before 9am. I love taking several hours out in the middle of the day to go for a swim, or ride my bike around nearby bushland, or a long run in preparation for an upcoming half-marathon. I love being able to watch Bollywood films and documentaries on India (the geographical focus of my thesis) and chalk it up as research. And I love that my office chair is actually my sofa, and that my desk is really a coffee table.

Unlike many people, I much prefer working from home than in an office – I don’t have to commute and I don’t get caught up in the office politics or the constant distractions of phone ringing, people knocking on doors, having to chit-chat with colleagues, etc. Sure, there’s distractions in the home too – those dishes in the kitchen sink aren’t just going to wash themselves! But at least these distractions are of my own creation. I have no-one but myself to blame if I cave into the temptation of spontaneously vacuuming an already clean floor just because it seems easier right now than reading through a stack of articles on hydro-hegemony in the Hindu-Kush-Himalaya region. Ah, so begins the cycle of guilt!

A friend of mine recently completed her PhD on a topic very similar to mine, which she did in a lifestyle very similar to mine. And you know how many hours a day she averaged on ‘solid’ work?

Three. Monday to Friday. Three hours a day.

A quick glance at my conscientiously kept spreadsheet of hours worked since enrolment tells me I am well on track if I take my friend’s example as a standard.

So why do I still feel guilty about having spent half a Saturday writing this blog for you?

Thanks Paula – I must say it’s refreshing to read such an honest account of the pleasures of PhD study! Do you indulge a PhD lifestyle? Does it make you feel guilty? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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91 thoughts on “PhD lifestyle guilt

  1. Great! Love it. Maybe one day I will write my own version which involve a change in my life style from a frequent traveler CEO to a student that works mainly in his unique office (located in the local coffee house).
    Yoel

  2. Things got complicated in my PhD lifestyle after I had kids but I have now worked longer without a brick and mortar office than I have with one. I do enjoy having a flexible schedule but it can get lonely sometimes. Then off to the coffee shop to write and problem solved.

  3. Yep – 3 hours a day. If you can get in 3 focused hours of work, not email, not dishes, that’s all you need. Profs have told me this. It’s my own goal daily. I don’t think many people in offices work much more than this (hello meetings, water coolers, coffee breaks). And if you take away teaching obligations, then 3 hours on research (reading, writing) is an impressive feat daily.

    • I manage a care home and don’t even manage a lunch break – 8 hours per day – jealous of the PhD lifestyle; my partner is in his final year and manages to spend lots of time gaming each day

  4. Makes me want to pursue a PhD. :-) But I’m a terrible procrastinator. And I always feel guilty about it, even though I work well under last-minute pressure and always hand in good work.

  5. Reblogged this on prior probability and commented:
    I loved this post on PhD lifestyle guilt … I know the feeling … I often feel professor lifestyle guilt because I love my work … As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, it the “command of ideas” that is most rewarding in life

  6. Thanks, Paula. The PhD lifestyle works for me and my family, too. Dropping off and picking up kids, walking the dogs, etc. I have a semi-strict schedule for myself and I create deadlines for each chapter. I also go to student workshops, conferences, and networking opportunities. There can be lots of distractions working from home, but when I was an office worker, there were also lots of distractions (farewell morning teas, lunches, meetings, etc.). I now work about 6 hours/day, 4 days/week on my PhD, and I’m on schedule to finish it next April. Now, if only I could find a job with as much flexibility!

  7. I remember our esteemed guru saying somewhere on this blog that she spent two hours per day on dedicated PhD work. I took this as Gospel and have just submitted at the 3.5 year mark by doing 2 hours of really dedicated research and/or writing per day. The final 2 weeks I hit it pretty much 24/7 but that was it! All I can think is that people who work in offices must do an awful lot of chats, email, Facebook and Candy Crush! :)

  8. Thanks for a lovely post. I tell everyone who will listen how great it is to have the luxury to sit down and read stuff that I find fasciniting (especially relevant in my first 6 months). I have seen so many PhD students really struggle that I refuse to pretend that its harder than it really is. Great lifestyle and I go and use a hotdesk in the postgrad room when I need company. My university (Deakin) is also really good at making sure there are opportunities to get involved in research conversations and social events.
    BTW – those “chats” that people with “real” jobs have are incrediby important to their work.

  9. I’m currently enrolled in a humanities PhD and after reading this post I feel PhD Envy!
    I’d love to be able to lie around reading interesting stuff in prep for my very very long essay. But I have no grants to support me, I work full time and I have two young children.
    Enjoy your guilt while you can! :})
    Sigh …

    • I feel your pain… though I’m only doing my MSc. I’ve been starting to think about doing a PhD, though, chiefly in order to get called Dr and travel to conferences. How is the PhD + kids + work lifestyle? Can someone please write a post about that?

      • Personally, I found it too hard to juggle working 3 days/week work, plus family, plus study. So I fortunately got a scholarship. I still work 1 day/week, which is nice because I get to ‘go to work’ and see colleagues. I also have 2 teenagers, so the 9–3 study fits with the family lifestyle really well. My husband is terrific and does 50:50 around the house. You have to be disciplined and organised, and learn to say No to other stuff (P&C meetings, volunteering, etc). Good luck!

      • Do you get to go to conferences? By the time I get around to PhD level I’ll have teenagers as well… eek! I’m also blessed with a wonderful husband, and my mum and dad live upstairs from us and help out. And I’m getting better at saying No, and remembering to say Yes to the things that are good for me like exercise and singing in the choir. :)

      • Yes, I’ve been to several conferences, including 10 weeks overseas last year, attending 4 conferences! I had to miss both kids’ birthdays, which was a shame. But you can’t have it both ways, all the time.
        On the whole, I am around much, much more for them than I would otherwise be, if I were working full-time.

      • While the PhD + kids + work can be a tough juggle, I have so far found that it has also allowed me the flexibility that my little family needs. I have a 2 year old, and I work 1 day a week. I am enrolled part time for the PhD, and I work when my son sleeps (1.5 – 2 hours / day). I am fortunate to have very supportive family around, which eases the panic load when there is a deadline coming up! I do find that the guilt is the most intense at work where I feel that I have to justify why I only work 1 day per week, in an environment where everyone else works full time. Overall, though, this lifestyle is working out really well, and I continue to enjoy the process!

    • Yeah. I was doing my PhD full-time on a scholarship for almost three years. Loved it. A real privilege. But part-time for the last year, working four days a week – harsh. I haven’t had parenting on top, so all power to you Gordon!

  10. I have no words right now other than a sincere thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your experience and thoughts. It resonates strongly and I feel a tonne of guilt and shame sliding away. A really powerful post. xxx

    • I second this. I was seriously looking around and thinking, “Am I doing this right? Shouldn’t this be much, MUCH more difficult?”

      I guess it’s different for everybody, but working from home is amazing. Perhaps it helps with the creative juices or something.

  11. This is so far away from ANYONE I know in my cohort or others that I am inclined to take this a ironic or sarcastic. If not, then good for you, but I would not go anywhere near suggesting that folks take this to be a typical example of what a PhD experience looks like.

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  13. Great article, thank you!
    I am also undergoing a great PhD experience; I don’t want this time to end! I feel fulfilled intellectually and still have time and money to be fit, active and social.
    I think it is just important to appreciate our situation in the moment…post doc may be very different.

  14. First of all, thank you for this post. I have been and am in the various scenarios described above. I am currently struggling with the lack of structure that the author relishes. I have never heard the three hours of solid work rule before and I plan on trying that out.

    Question for all other PhDers loving the life: how do you budget your time for solid PhD work when you have many other things going on at the same time? I consider myself lucky that I don’t have any kids (yet) but I have just bought a house that needs minor, yet endless, repairs that I don’t have money to pay someone to do. I also feel a special twang of guilt when my dog, who is the most chilled animal on the planet, brings me his squeaky ball and I suffer to take 2 minutes out of my precious work time to play. Add this to the infinite other house things that fill the remaining hours of the day and I feel like I’m getting nowhere a lot of the time. Tips/Suggesions?

  15. Wonderful post, I too feel the guilt, especially on cold wet days like today when I get to sit up in my bed with my laptop on my knee, electric blanket on when I’m cold, but I’m not swapping it for anything. I know I only have limited time till I submit and I go back to the real world. Until then I’ll continue to use the Pomodoro technique to keep focused and most days it works well.

  16. Thank you Paula for such an honest blog entry! I think I would have loved this kind of PhD but in addition to having multiple problems crop up during my PhD (family/supervisor etc), my initial primary supervisor insisted that each of her students spend (at least) 4 days a week in the office – and would notice if you weren’t there. It got to a point that I would feel guilty for arriving late or leaving early – even though I didn’t even have a scholarship! Towards the end of my PhD I realised that I generally work better at the office anyway (if I can avoid long chat sessions with fellow students and RAs!) than I do at home. For me, temporally removing myself from the home environment helped me to focus and get my thesis finished. However, I do look at other students who have this lifestyle and wish that I could have had the same!

  17. well, this just made me sad and envy. first world problems, feeling guilty when doing nothing. just try to finish PhD in third worl, when library has no recourses, have lots of course work, no grants for research, and can’t survive from your scholarship.

    • oh, and should I add, that there are no place at all formPhD student to work in my university! so home is what you get anyway. ok, will try not to get all angry from the working day’s morning.

  18. I totally agree. This is why I am always so puzzeld, when angry Ph.D. students on a fellowship tell me that it was “unfair” that there are not as many jobs in academia available as there are Ph.D. fellowships and that it means that many of them will have “wasted” 3 to 4 years of their lives, if they don’t make it. How can time spent like this be called “wasted”? I really don’t get it. Worst case it means that a person has to spend 3-4 years LESS of his or her work life in the corporate world or unemployed. But these wonderful years nobody will be able to take away anymore. Unless, of course, one isn’t really interested in one’s research project. Then indeed, one should not do it in the first place.

  19. Very upsetting and infuriating post. So PhD is like is sitting on a couch having fun and writing a really long long essay????? Really???And you choose to commit to this because of the lifestyle??Good Lord!! Probably I have been so mistaken to do a PhD in Chem Engineering that included 10h experiments a day and had to be completed in 3 years since the sponsors demanded that. And oh in this so very funny and relaxed atmosphere of long essay writing people feel guilty for not which reason exactly?It is ok to have an easy life and get a doctorate out of it and a fully funded one but rubbing this to the face of other people who might worked so hard to get funding (passing exams etc) , immigrated to achieve the best level of education and sacrificing a lot is at least provocative.By the way , you excel to highest level of education because of love of knowledge not for any other shallow reason including lifestyle.

    • Myrto, no one here has said this experience is funny and relaxed. But if you’re not enjoying your topic of research, it’s the wrong topic. And when you have a family to consider, the lifestyle factors are very important.

  20. I totally agree that the beauty of the PhD is the lifestyle – the freedom and space it gives you. I think we only feel guilt because we have been told that work should be something to be endured and complained about, it is something that is done in set hours and is separate from the rest of our lives. But many people, artists, musicians, writers do not ‘work’ this way. Their work is their life, in the sense that what one calls work is in fact how one spends their days, its a way of living, not just a means to making money. I wrote my own response to hearing one too many PhD students complain about work on my blog, you might be interested to read: http://politicsofthehap.wordpress.com/2013/06/19/why-being-a-phd-student-is-actually-kind-of-amazing/

  21. I am quoting exactly the words in the post:”I love being able to watch Bollywood films and documentaries on India (the geographical focus of my thesis) and chalk it up as research. And I love that my office chair is actually my sofa, and that my desk is really a coffee table.”Surely watching the tele and having coffee while sitting on a sofa are still considered relaxing and fun activities right?Lifestyle is utterly important when doing a PhD whether one has a family or not especially here in Britain where we are not blessed with the wonderful aussie weather, so we are limited in indoor activities and people snap over the pressure and often suffer depression or quit their PhDs.The Thesis Whisperer is read by people all over the globe and is highly respected, so not all the posts can be palatable. The post comes across as -to my opinion- I am rubbing my amazing lifestyle to you guys and that is simply not nice.I agree that people should and in most cases do deeply enjoying their subject of research but in a Sciences doctorate the effort both physical and mental is highly demanding and often excruciating. Myself , I deeply enjoyed and still being fascinated by my MPhil, PhD, and two post docs but I do believe as other commentators of this post that this post is not representing the current reality at least not in all the disciplines.

    • Fair comment, Myrto. And I’m glad you still enjoy your research after such a long process!
      I guess this post has just shown there are many different PhD experiences, some better than others.
      Now, back to my writing ;)

  22. I read this and was sad… I am working full time and doing my phd part time externally. I would love to have the time and luxury to enjoy the process. It is extremely nerdy of me, but my holidays and weekends are spent enjoying the writing experience!

  23. Reblogged this on Scientist in a Skirt and commented:
    This is very enlightening! I have certainly been feeling this when I compare myself to friends with more lab based PhDs or real world jobs. If I don’t fancy going to the office (as its raining, for example) I can work from anywhere with internet access. I don’t have to stick to a 9-5 slog either, as long as I’m doing enough work I can have a brain break if I’m really not feeling it. Kinda like today!

  24. I know everyone is entitled to have an opinion but your post is really unfair to a wide range of people who are really struggling family, finances and work to finish their PhD and on the top of that they are doing their PhD in a second language. I am deeply offended by your post as it does not represent the reality of the vast majority of people I know (me included) who are really struggling to do a PhD, work ridiculous amount of time and are under a lot of stress.

    • You are right of course, many people are not so fortunate – but some are. I’m sorry if it upset you, but I do want the blog to represent the full range of the phd experience. What’s interesting is how much this post resonated with a lot of readers and got passed around a LOT on SM. Nearly 8000 people read it the first day it posted, which is significant even for us.

      • How can someone’s experiences…offend someone else? Give me a break! If you are a 3rd world PhD’er or one doing it on a second language you’ll have it hard…but life is not easy to anyone (By the way I’m from a third world country and am now a Lawyer in Australia. As well as writing my PhD in a second language and woe is NOT me!!) … That in and of itself gives nobody any logical reason to snipe at other people’s lifestyles..,you didn’t walk in their shoes! Give me a break…when was it that we all lost the live and let live ethos?
        Further, I apologise if I don’t feel sorry for anyone taking a PhD. You were not forced into it. It’s merely a choice! And you made it. You don’t have to stay in it. You can quit. So no…I’m not sorry for you for one single second! In Fact first or third world…anyone studying a PhD is a privileged person in my books. That’s my say! :)

  25. I totally understand the feeling of being so lucky to study what you love, though my guilt mainly comes from getting to travel for my research/conferences while many of my family and friends back home rarely even leave our home state.

    At my institution there’s a lot going on and I enjoy the face to face interaction with my adviser rather then over the phone so I put in lots of hours in the office, but I enjoy it so much I don’t mind. I get to study a group of species that I love, but I still feel guilty when I see friends struggling to find work or hating the jobs that they have.

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  27. As I read this post, I could see how it resembled to the experiences of lots of my fellow PhD australian students, and it made me feel jealous. For me, this experience of studying a PhD in an australian university without an scholarship, and as an international student has been the opposite. I have to work to support my self and paying for the tuition fees for me and my husband’s (who’s also studying a PhD without a scholarship). Certainly I wish I could have more of those days when I can sit and read and write the whole day without worrying or working.

  28. Oh I wish I had this lifestyle. I am so envious of full time PhD students who swan in and out. I am doing my PhD in nursing while working full time shift work with about 8-12 hours of overtime per week. I also do about 17-21 hours of PhD per week and also have other commitments. My lifestyle is crap. I have very little me time…tv is a no go and lying on the couch is only if I am throwing up from exhaustion and cant make it up the stairs to my bed.

    • BJ, It sounds like maybe you could need to reassess the level of commitment. Maybe could you go more part time on the PhD or on some other work? Nothing is worth that level of stress not even a PhD. I believe that it’s really important to have a level of health in working on a PhD too. This is meant to be supportive not judgemental. I also don’t think that the blog here is indicative of all PhD students and reality. J.

  29. I am right know on the same boat you were, I only hope that in the end it will pay well. This has been an exausting and long trip, I love my research, and that’s why I keep going, but sometimes I feel that I’m gonna die.

    • If you are having a go at me for doing 17-20hrs a week of study, please note that I am part time over six years. I am doing 6 years of 70hrs of study/work per week and on-call for work 24 hrs a day/7 days a week. It is not a holiday!!!!! I love my topic but it is just so hard to have a life outside work and study.

  30. The whole situation is pretty much familiar. But I tend to be much more distracted.. the housework is eating up my time and it’s soo diffucult to focus on the research while there’s so much to do at home… yet I know it’s a problem of time-management and self-management.

  31. Well done for speaking to a hot topic!
    I admire the honesty of this post, and the diversity of PhD experiences and comments it has evoked. I have a foot in both camps– I am Australian, and feel incredibly privileged to be living on a scholarship. It is perhaps a once in a lifetime luxury. I supported myself through my MA. I agree with the writer about the flexibility of self-directed research, that’s my experience too, and I love it.

    At the same time, I can’t relate at all to the cruisy, three hours a day approach. I work incessantly, five days a week, a bit on weekends.
    Nobody has raised this–perhaps wisely– but PhDs vary widely in quality _and_ (separate issue) the amount of work that they represent also seems very variable. I’ve read theses that barely seem to have been edited, and yet they passed. Another factor in all this, surely?

  32. I’ve read this article multiple times now. I keep coming back to it and trying to work out what makes me uncomfortable about it. I think it’s because, despite a throwaway comment at the beginning that this lifestyle is not everyone’s experience, the article does repeatedly refer to ‘the lifestyle’ and ‘the PhD lifestyle’. As many commenters have said, the lifestyle described is only a possibility for a small number of full-time, fully-funded PhD students working in the humanities. But even within that group, it’s not that simple. My experience of working from home, with relatively few other commitments (a part-time job, but no family to look after), is nothing like the experience described here. Where the author likes “having very little structure in my days… working evenings and weekends if I want to, and not getting out of bed before 9am,” I found those same things contributed greatly to the depression which was my near-constant companion through the process. Unstructured days gave me endless opportunity to withdraw, to procrastinate, to play mind-games with myself, and to fall further into the cycle of depression.

    I’m glad that the author is enjoying her experience and I certainly don’t think she should feel guilty for it. I just wouldn’t want anyone reading this to think that the author is a typical PhD student. I can count on the fingers of less than one hand the people I know whose PhD’s have gone straightforwardly from beginning to end. For almost everyone, so far as I can see, it is a struggle. Different people will struggle with different aspects of it, but very few will escape unscathed. Someone has described the PhD experience as ‘a lonely, existential journey’. Perhaps it isn’t like that for everyone, but I’m very sure that the idyllic lifestyle described in this article isn’t what it’s like for everyone either.

  33. I started my Ph.D. twenty-five years ago when my kids were 1, 3 and 5 (finished it six years later, with a bit of a break in the middle). I’m always amazed when people are awe-struck at this ‘accomplishment’. Why? Because it was so much easier having a flexible Ph.D. lifestyle than it would have been for me to work full-time or even part-time with three kids. I managed with a minimum of childcare and a fantastically supportive husband. When they all got chicken-pox – sequentially, not even concurrently! – I just adjusted my schedule. When my youngest was in pre-school I took a year off and drew a deep breath. I could ‘be there’ at all the important things I wanted to share with them, and now they are all adults have never thought ‘I wish I’d spent more time with them’. I spent fewer hours in the first couple of years when my little one was tiny, and worked in 10 week blocks (matching school terms) when they were all at school. I’ve worked in my industry for twenty years now, and thrive on my work as a more than full-time senior executive. But for anyone who’ll listen, I say to savour your Honours or Ph.D. years and enjoy the opportunity to let ideas accumulate and percolate slowly. Don’t feel guilty about it. You’ll probably never have the same intellectul freedom again, so enjoy all the good bits like a flexible lifestyle, as they’ll give you strength for the big push you’ll need to do in your last year.

  34. I get both humour and annoyance at this blog post. Firstly, I think it’s valid to enjoy the PhD process. Secondly I think it’s naive to entertain the idea that working in humanities is such a piece of cake and involves sitting around on the couch all day and getting up late. This might give the sciences more fuel for thinking that the arts and humanities are soft-mushy-not-real-research areas! That, we don’t want. And i don’t think this post is at all true of all PhD students. My work time is fully flexible, but I have other life commitments and many issues to deal with as well that I won’t go into here but they are very real and belong fully in the real world. Although I do have a flexible lifestyle, and have occasionally felt some guilt about that, mostly I counteract that guilt by getting the work done. On reflection, it’s when I’m procrastinating that I feel the guilt. When I am working well I don’t at all feel guilty about it as I am working towards something that has meaning for me and hopefully might make some difference to some other people too. I personally think that it is really important to not go on and indulge in the so much stress scenario of doing a PhD as I think there can be a culture of who’s stress is stressier at times… For me, i simply couldn’t cope with some of the conditions some students do their PhD through. I just couldn’t and wouldn’t do it if it was going to be that hard on my health and life. But it is challenging for sure. I think this post undermines or under values that challenge. Maybe the student of this post is not working very hard. But many of us do. I sometimes do 12 hr days on my PhD. By CHOICE. Then I also have other times when I don’t do much for a week. That is my also my choice and how I like to work. I do intensives. It works for me. However, I do have some issues with this post because I think it kind of trivialises some of the seriousness of working on a valuable piece of contribution to our respective fields. The End.

  35. one more to the blog poster,
    Be sure and let us know when you enter the ‘valley of shit’. We will be the ones high up on the cliff top at the edge of the canyon, having traversed our own respective journeys and momentarily looking back far, far behind us to see that speck in the distance, waving condescendingly in humour, and signing ‘Eat my dust, honey, eat my dust!’

  36. I certainly appreciate the honesty of this post. I think that if you’re getting your work done efficiently, and you’re supervisor’s happy with you, then you have no reason to feel guilty. However, posts like this one do increase my concern that what’s required to get a PhD varies so widely from area to area as to make the qualification itself something of a joke. In my area of the Humanities, I — and all the other 30 PhDs in my department! — are expected to have competence in a minimum of 5 languages and preferably six — Greek, Latin, English, French, German and Italian. We not only have to read all these languages, but actually use the scholarship in our theses, providing all our own translations and working across as many as a hundred ancient sources, all to be dealt with individually. My cohort and I already complain that the English literature students have no idea what ‘real’ work is, but I am now wondering whether this is true of other areas also. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not having a go at the poster — she sound like a very honest and disciplined student, and I’m sure she’s a credit to the university, but there’s no doubt at all that my colleagues and I would be expelled if we only managed 3 solid hours of work per day. The time an effort involved in simply PREPARING our sources before we can even think about secondary scholarship or actually writing the thesis means that our PhD ‘lifestyle’ bears no resemblance whatsoever to the OP’s. Sigh.

    • maybe you picked the wrong “topic’. I sure would go crazy with what you describe above…..but then it is the area of interest to 30 other folks!!! Also it begs on the area of competency, which may vary from person to person……..I left an executive position to do a PhD in politics as the pollies are starting to shit me with their crap. I am an engineer……

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  38. This is a very interesting post but I wonder if the ability to enjoy the lifestyle described depends a little on the discipline, a little on the temperament of the PhD candidate, and quite a lot on your longer term goals.

    I received my PhD over 15 years ago in the human sciences and have worked as an academic in large Australian universities ever since (and a US university). I certainly enjoyed the flexibility of my PhD days and the opportunity to work in an area I loved. But I was encouraged to treat my candidature as a (more than) full-time job. I worked long days and weekends.

    I now supervise PhD students as well as help my University to select winners of our postdoctoral fellowship scheme. For those PhD candidates who are hoping to pursue a career in academia (whether as a postdoctoral fellow or as a teaching/research academic), I don’t think it is enough to simply produce “a long essay” at the end of the scholarship. Successful applicants to our postdoctoral scheme, even those only a year or so out, have the most amazing track records: publications, conference presentations, teaching, outreach activities, media, involvement in university and disciplinary activities.

    I advise my students to use their 3.5 years or so to invest in themselves as deeply as they can; to yes, produce a thesis product, but also to take time to learn a broad range of meta-skills from their supervisors, peers, departmental colleague etc etc (how to write a grant, how to review a manuscript for a journal, how to be a part of a team or department, how to write a “good” email, how to network at conferences etc etc etc). I genuinely don’t think that a student can do such a task justice in just 3 hours a day at home (being in the office has advantages as well as potential distractions). My view is that you get one shot at the PhD — one period of 3 or so years — to invest in yourself and to set yourself up for the future (especially if you want to continue into academia). I believe that this requires a highly motivated, vigorous, strategic, broadly involved approach to the PhD.

    I especially admire PhD students who are investing in themselves in this way — really reaching — in the midst of family and other commitments. I understand that different supervisors and different disciplines take different approaches, but in a rapidly tightening funding environment I urge my students to do all that they can to make themselves as competitive as possible for jobs and applications at the end. In my view this implies not a cruisy lifestyle; hopefully an inspiring and personally fulfilling one but not cruisy!

  39. I’m about to start a PhD and seem to be suffering pre-emotive guilt! Desperately trying to make it sound like it will be a sludge (which sometimes heaps of academic articles are!) to make it seem less like coffee-drinking in nice cafes whilst my husband will be coming home tired after a long gruelling day at work!
    Although part of me also wishes I could have that structure… Procrastination is a definite problem if mine!!

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  41. With four kids under 13 and a full time tenured academic job plus part time PhD candidature, the only lifestyle guilt I’m feeling relates to the constant fear of all the juggling balls falling down on my head.
    And frankly, fifteen hours a week is a bit dodgy if a full time student is accepting Commonwealth scholarship funding, in the form of fee relief and/or tax-free scholarship, on the basis of studying full time.
    A thought from the cranky overworked mummy trenches – guilt isn’t always bad. Sometimes it is your subconscious telling you to fix an ethical deficit.
    Back to cooking the dinner, then – happy faces people! :)

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  43. I thought from the title this would be an article about how adding a PhD to a working life meant so much else in life got ignored or abandoned! The author does point out how lucky she is to have the chance at this sort of ‘PhD lifestyle’ and I think she is right-she is lucky and so is anyone else who has been lucky enough to get the chance to take 3/4 years out in this way. For those of us who undertake a PhD part time in addition to full time work, this is not the reality and I believe there is a high drop out rate as a result. Why do we do it part-time? I often asked myself that as I tried to fit in an hour’s PhD work here and there after putting in a full day ‘at the office’ and tried to be a little bit sympathetic (without much success) when those doing full-time-nothing-to-do-but-PhD complained about how hard they had it. I was one of the lucky ones and got there in the end with a lot of support and 3 years worth of house-work to catch up on! And bottom line- I really respect anyone who does a PhD part-time as a result. How about a post which balances out the argument and the realities of what a PhD lifestyle might entail?

  44. Great post, although I don’t think I would be able to complete my PhD with only 3 focused hours per day….and I am not going to research if I am wrong! However, it has helped me feel much better about the days (which are many lately) where I only manage to get in 3-4 hours. I can also relate to the amazing lifestyle….I am fortunate to rent a 2bdrm apt overlooking the water in a resort building…so I have a jacuzzi, sauna, pool and gym a few floors below and I am walking distance from the beach. As I live in Qld, the weather is perfect…every morning I awake to a 270 degree view of sparkling azure waters from my floor to ceiling windows….And I about never leave my place (why would I?) except to pick up the occasional inter-library loan. I skype weekly with my supervisor and write from home with my desk overlooking the ocean….I interrupt myself to take a walk on the beach, or a dip in the spa …. It is hard work intellectually but I could not ask for a better environment in which to work….when I need company I schedule coffee on campus with some interesting academic or sit in on a class (without doing any of the assessment…hee hee…) to get the social/creative juices flowing through interaction….my toughest problem is the distractions from my overabundant luxurious “starving PhD student” lifestyle…..

  45. Shhhhh! We can’t let everyone know the truth.

    And do remember, some fields have it tougher than others. Some of us have research trips to nice foreign places and software-wrangling to do too.

  46. Reblogged this on sarahrcreel and commented:
    I think this goes along nicely with my post about people asking me when I’ll graduate. For me, the PhD IS my job, and while there are times I dislike it, I mostly love it! I wish the guilt over “when I’ll get out” didn’t exist.

  47. Only having come across Thesis Whisperer a few days ago and had a nagging to return to remind me of some great advice I read then reposted on FB. This post though I considered a bit tongue in cheek, if anyone knows exactly what I mean. (I came to this blog because I struggle with writing). My first two year were somewhat deadly albeit exciting. I consciously had to get off the ferris wheel in at the end of my 2 year course work cycle and heal myself. I am doing a PhD in nursing on healthy lifestyles so how could preach/teach living as I was? I took my third year to research and beginning my 4th to write. I pray! I have long lonely days when off the job (yeah, I still work as a nurse). I struggle to do really good work but after reading this blog am assured I am on the way, a difficult way sometimes but the way and I do not regret any of it. Yeah, the house is falling apart as is my mind and body but I am doing it, proud and grateful to be living authentically and finding my voice.

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  54. Love it! I’m 12 months of part-time study away from completing my second masters degree. I also work full time and my daughter is in pre-prep. Once I’m finished this masters (I already have a MBA in finance and currently doing a Masters of Public Health), I want to work my way up the corporate ladder and figure I can get to hospital senior management within the next 5-7 years (after having run multi-million dollar investment projects during my MBA days). My plan is to complete my PhD while my daughter is completing years 10-12, perhaps doing some part-time consulting on the side. At this point, my topic will marry business and health decision making (which isn’t being done very well right now), and I’d say 30% is for pure vanity (Dr Kate and eventually Professor Kate sound awsome!), 30% is my competitive streak and the other 40% is because I’m sick of watching the clinicians and purse-string holders argue and get nowhere!

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