Monday, June 20, 2011

62. You have no free time.

To an American with only two weeks of vacation per year, the idea that a graduate student has no free time must seem absurd. Not only do graduate students have considerable control over their daily schedules (see Reason 61), but the academic calendar is marked by long breaks at Christmas, in the spring, and in the summer. However, whatever time is under your control is time that you could spend working. For some reason, awareness of that fact makes it hard not to feel that you should be working all the time. When doing something other than working, you may experience a feeling uncomfortably akin to guilt. This is one aspect of the tyranny of the dissertation (see Reason 60). Academic work has a way of burdening your mind on every weekend, every holiday, and every vacation. There is no end to the workday. You are never free.

Of course, your work is more than a mental burden. It is real work. Graduate-student labor obligations (see Reason 7) can consume most of your time during the academic year, making “vacations” precious work opportunities for the research and writing that you have to do in order to graduate. When you are teaching, it can be especially difficult to balance the obligations of your job with obligations to yourself (see Reason 41). Because there is no blueprint for research and writing, figuring out how much work you “need to do” is a process of discovery. There is no limit to the amount of time you can devote to any single work of scholarship, but there is an expectation that you will produce many (see Reason 38). The fact that you have no free time is made worse by the misconceptions of those around you who are (understandably) unaware of the taxing nature of graduate school.


Monday, June 6, 2011

61. Unstructured time.

At least since the Industrial Revolution, most every institution of human life has been organized according to a schedule, because there is a general understanding that productivity and efficiency are hard to maintain without one. Most of us tend to be more disciplined when we must meet the expectations of others (such as a boss) than when we are left to our own devices. While graduate school certainly has its share of scheduled obligations, the life of a graduate student is not typically regimented by the forty-hour workweek, the eight-hour workday, or the half-hour lunch. But relative freedom from the clock creates the problem of unstructured time.

In graduate school, you have to manage your scheduled obligations (courses that you are taking, courses that you are teaching, grading, etc.) on top of the immensely time-consuming tasks of reading, researching, and writing for which there are no set schedules. This is why graduate school requires an unusual degree of self-discipline that most people do not possess (see Reason 47). The organization of modern civilization (with all of its faults) tells us something about human nature. You shouldn’t despair if you are not an expert at managing unstructured time. You are human. But graduate school is a solitary business. It can easily devour ten years of your life. Ask yourself if you would do better in a collaborative setting with clear schedules and expectations.