My summer was pretty relaxed and now the semester is in full swing. I am currently taking three classes, editing a project for peer review, writing a conference paper, working with colleagues to (re)launch a graduate student journal, and teaching an undergraduate course. I also have personal obligations. Yet, by and large, I loved being a graduate student. Despite the feeling of being on call 24/7, I am very happy.
I worked for 5 years in between finishing my Masters and beginning a Ph.D. at Virginia Tech and I much prefer the graduate student schedule to a full time work schedule. When you work full time for, in my case, a non-profit organization (and I imagine it’s the same at a for profit business) your schedule is 9 to 5 or similar and it mostly doesn’t change. You wake up, go to work, work, and come home. If you are lucky you don’t have to take work home with you. I found the requirement to sit in an office 8 hours a day, 5 days a week to be much more stressful than the graduate student schedule. I also had very little control over what I got to work on. This is why I say if you are lucky you don’t take your work home with you; I didn’t find the work terribly intellectually engaging.
My workload is higher now but I have much more control over when I do my work, how I do my work, and what projects I take on. This is the first time as an adult that I have felt I have the intellectual and professional freedom to pursue my own interests and create and exercise my own internal structure rather than the external constraints of a 9 to 5 job. One of the major differences I have found between working full time and returning to the university is that I have control over how busy I choose to be. My hope is that upon finishing my Ph.D. I will find a position that allows me to keep some of this flexibility and freedom.
I signed up for the hard work of completing a Ph.D. and I try always to remember that fact. The fact that the work was chosen rather than forced upon me makes a big difference on how I relate to it. Opting into a project is much different than having to do work because you don’t have a choice. There are of course moments (and stretches) of stress and the feeling that I can’t possibly get everything done. But so far it has been worth it for the luxury of time to think, read, write, and explore what really engages my mind.