Friend: “How are things?”
PhD Student: “Meh…”
When muttered to most PhD students* those three words often conjure up thoughts of contempt and general dissatisfaction. However, what most of us seem to forget is that regardless of how any work may be progressing, we actually have one of the best jobs going.
A bold claim, maybe. Let me explain.
For the majority of the year (deadlines and experimental constraints aside) we have one of the most flexible work schedules possible. As long as the work gets done and the thesis is completed in time, it doesn’t matter when, or indeed where, we work. True, most of us may choose to work a ‘normal’ week (see the average PhD student), perhaps so our schedules coincide with those of friends and loved ones, but that needn’t always be the case.
And it is this flexibility that sets a PhD program above any graduate job (as well as bridging that gap between ‘undergraduate world’ and ‘real world’).
Imagine this weekday morning scenario:
07.30: Alarm goes off.
07.45: Stop snoozing, pull self out of bed.
07.50: Make self open curtains.
07.51: Oh sh*t, it’s really sunny…
What happens next?
For those that may have followed the train routes and taken a job in ‘the city’, it’s likely to be an overcrowded and rushed commute with a take-away coffee and floppy pastry. In constrast, a PhD student could conceivably take the day off, go for a long run, sit in the park, sunbathe with a book, have a picnic with some friends, cycle 50 miles, hit up a beer garden, go climbing, play football. The list goes on…
Any work missed out on can often be made up by working a few longer days or coming in on a wet weekend (as I am now while I write this – it’s work, honest…).
Even if taking a whole day off when the sun is shining isn’t feasible, much more common is taking a few hours here and there, regardless of the weather. This allows us to take a lunchtime yoga class, play sport on a Wednesday afternoon for the university, or go shopping in off-peak hours. Whatever takes your fancy.
Then there’s ALWAYS a day when you just can’t pull yourself out of bed, be it due to the previous nights debauchery and an apocalypse hangover, or just straight up tiredness. Easy solution: sleep in, catch up on rest, and come in refreshed later on. Not possible if you’re working set hours at a multinational company or law firm.
This is why I believe, despite the stressful work and relentless chasing of supervisors, PhD students really are living the life, and when next asked those three words, at least a little part of us should acknowledge that things are going great!
*(Obviously not those in their first year and still feeling super keen…)