The average Bristol Earth Sci PhD student

Just who are the mysterious creatures who spend their days tucked away in the Wills Memorial Building, beavering away at their computers and in underground labs? I set out to find out the answer to this question using a rigorous and unbiased scientific survey*.

The average geologist? Photo credit:

There are currently about 75 PhD students in the University of Bristol Earth Sciences department. Most of them are aged between 22-29 (with some minor but valuable contributions from the older demographics!), so thankfully have no experience of the real working world and strange concepts such as “deadlines” and “budgets” that would hinder the groundbreaking research they do. Pretty much all the students have a geology undergraduate degree, though a few exceptions to the rule are the odd mathematician and physicist (the majority of the cohort view them with suspicion because they actually understand things like calculus and statistics).

Surprisingly, most people who completed the poll described their average working day as 9-10 to 5-6…for some reason I was under the impression that PhD students didn’t follow the same reference frame as the rest of the working world. For some people, eight hours of work is clearly a struggle, with 35 % of respondents needing 3-4 caffeinated drinks just to make it to the end of the day. It also seems like the student budgeting is a hard habit to kick: 55 % of people make their own lunches, with Boulangerie the clear runner-up.

So does that equal healthy work-life balance, or are students consumed by their PhDs? Encouragingly, when asked to list “two to three hobbies”, the responses were wide and varied:


Good god people, on this evidence Earth Science PhD students might be NORMAL; however, my favourite answer came from an anonymous participant who was clearly having a bad day:

“[My hobbies are]…Mooching, trying not to think about my PhD, drowning PhD-related sorrows in the pub. (There is no ‘away from the PhD’).”

A quarter of of PhD students surveyed said they had no idea what they wanted to do with their lives to do after graduating. For those that did express a preference, the overwhelming response was the desire to continue in academia; other career options being considered were oil, gas, mining, consultancy and baking.

Finally, asked to rate themselves for attractiveness between 0 and 10, the overwhelming response was a solid 7 (and you can add on at least 1 for a good fieldwork tan).

Notwithstanding all of the survey answers, perhaps the most revealing aspect of the poll was that 50% of responses were completed within the first ten minutes, definitely doing nothing to dispel the myth that PhD students just sit at their desks hoping to be distracted by some form of procrastination.

*Survey was unscientific and probably biased.


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About Charly Stamper

I’m an ex-experimental petrologist.
I used to make pretend volcanoes; now I work in renewable energy

4 comments on “The average Bristol Earth Sci PhD student

  1. Love this. How life in the PhD world is consistent is reassuring! (Although there seems to be more cake these days). Disappointed that no -one mentioned “writing the comedy weekly Happy Hour email” as a hobby though!

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