The Truth About Grad School, Part 3: Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That

(If you missed Parts 1 and 2, start here)

Although it would be logical to think so, previous experience with being a student doesn’t actually really prepare you for the sheer volume of time that being a doctoral student will consume. Your doctoral program is basically a bottomless pit where time is concerned. No matter how much time you give it, there is always more you can be doing, another article you could be reading (or, even better, writing!), more coding or testing of your data. Even when you are done, you’re not really done. You are just done enough for the deadline.

Obviously, my experiences of the time constraints of grad school are shaped by the fact that I work full-time and have a family. There is another cohort within my program that appears to be full-time students who work part-time in grad assistantships and who are on the track toward faculty positions as opposed to administrative positions. These students seem to skew a little younger and more single than my cohort. Perhaps they feel like time is on their side.

I suspect they don’t.

A doctoral program is supposed to be about exploration of existing research to lead to the creation of new knowledge, which is a far less finite task than the “learn these Spanish verbs and complete these 10 equations” types of tasks of an undergraduate program. It is, I think, one of the reasons it sometimes takes people a little while to get used to the idea that they don’t really know how long it will take them to finish when they are starting out. Even now, if you ask me when I’ll be done, I’m likely to shrug and say “um, fall 2015? Maybe? I hope.”

I’m due to give my dissertation proposal next month and am still in the process of writing it. I’m starting to feel pressed for time to get it to my committee, so it may be surprising when I admit that I didn’t actively write anything for almost two weeks. Those two weeks were spend on the invisible task of thinking. In my academic life, I’ve never felt that I need to allocate time for thinking but as I approach this project, I couldn’t quite get my research questions to come into focus. I had a strong idea of what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it but it took me two weeks of turning my rough questions around in my mind until they became smooth and clarified. I wasn’t doing anything that anyone else could see and I had moment of “Ahh! I am wasting time!” panic.

But then the questions emerged and now I am writing at a breakneck speed because everything fits more logically now.

I have until January 21st to get my proposal to my committee. It won’t be nearly enough time. But that would also be true if my deadline was March 21st.

The fact is that once you are writing your dissertation you both have as much time as you need and not nearly enough time at all.

Next time: let’s talk about the point of grad school


One thought on “The Truth About Grad School, Part 3: Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That

  1. Catherine says:

    I’m an undergraduate, but this post made me smile anyway as its exactly how I feel about my final year dissertation. So much time, but not enough time. After so many years of being given a specification and working to it, its weird suddenly having to make your own specification. Or just go crazy by being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work and possible work and deadlines there are. That “thinking” time is the worst time consumer – where you are just trying to figure out your plans. it’s very stressful having to tell your project supervisor you haven’t made progress…

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