Overworking/overdoing it?


Having spoken with several PhD's (some of whom are close friends) across various disciplines I have noticed a rift between two approaches. Whilst a PhD does seem like an intensely committed project, some people appear to manage fitting a PhD into their life (like a job), managing children and families - with good time management and sensible planning. Others seem to allow the PhD to literally become their life, and withdraw from everyday life.

Does the former approach produce weaker research and the latter stronger?


I often think that it's the former who produce the better work as they seem better able to stand back from it. Whereas those who are entirely consumed by it can lose sight if any problems or weaknesses that begin to see into the thesis.

A lot depends on the quality of supervision, though. A good supervisor will be able to direct you in such a way as to know when to stop reading a particular literature or what have you, whereas a poor supervisor will, happily let you spend months working seven days a week through a particular literature that may not even be all that relevant to you anyway.


Thanks. That's kind of the answer I wanted to hear:-)

I compartmentalise fairly well, so found in both previous degrees that good time management meant I had time to see family and friends etc. I was worried at seeing some PhD's that literally have not stepped away from their PhD for a single night in a few months. I'm appraoching with a gym mentality at the Gym 3 good work outs a week are more productive than overdoing it all 7 days.


Apart from the specifics of a person's topic, a lot of the PhD process is about effective project management. It is possible to not let it take hold of your life. Having said that, due to family committments it was not possible for me to work 9-5 and so I often had to work weekends, evenings etc. However, I don't think it took over my life. I try to keep a lid on my work when I am with people who don't really understand what's involved as I think it's pretty boring for them.


I think letting a PhD take over your life is a really bad precedent to set for later working life. It's not sustainable long term, and if you start doing that as a postgraduate what's to stop you doing that in later post-doc work? It's not remotely healthy, and should be nipped in the bud completely.

My husband was great during his full-time PhD, treating it as a 9-5 job and leaving it in the office when he came home. I also compartmentalised in a similar way during my part-time PhD (which I completed, and the full-time PhD I had to leave a decade+ earlier).


I lost my balance in the last 6 months of my PhD, which is easy to do when every hour counts trying to get through in 3 years. Foolishly, I didn't take a break between submitting and starting work in a different city (RA post) and am now off work with burnout due to residual stress from the PhD which I suppressed and ignored.

So, I strongly agree with the advice to compartmentalise as best you can, take weekends (or the equivalent) off etc in an effort to develop these good habits for now and life ahead. Oh, and one of the most important skills to develop is the ability to say NO from time to time!


It's actually really reassuring reading this. I'm largely treating mine like a 9-5 job, sometimes I work later but most days I'm home at the same time (sometimes earlier because my journey is shorter) as my housemates who have "proper jobs".


Thank you for all the responses (and reassurance). It's good to know that others have succeeded by treating the PhD like a 9-5, especially as I will be going Part-Time with a medially involved part-time job and a set a familial commitments.


Thank you for all the responses (and reassurance). It's good to know that others have succeeded by treating the PhD like a 9-5, especially as I will be going Part-Time with a medially involved part-time job and a set a familial commitments.


Some of us didn't have that wonderful choice to make, as we weren't funded. Kudos to those who were. For the rest of us, getting this over and done with, in the shortest possible time, with the smallest effect on our former income was what mattered. We wuz shafted by a system in which people think life works in dichotomies. How short-sighted and cognitively impaired is academia?

There aren't two approaches. There are fluidly intersecting multitudes of approaches (didn't you ever do qualitative analysis?). And one you haven't taken account of, as have few on this board, is the emotional and intellectual need for some of us to sacrifice our entire life for the passion we felt for a PhD subject, throwing ourselves into it without funding, and ruining our careers rather than enhancing them. WE DIDN'T HAVE ANY INCOME FROM A PHD STUDY. IT COST SHED-LOADS IN EVERY WAY. I hope I said this loud enough. And several of us had no partner nor any other form of support. And some of us have no rewards at the end, except the satisfaction of a job well done before we die.

I've said this often enough. So now I'll just shut up and get me coat..... :-s :$


I totally do not get the mindset that the PhD is a 9-5 job. This is just a product of my own cultural and work background...but I do have to say that saying something is a 9-5 job when it is a PhD sort of puts my teeth on edge. This is why...

In my own work background, a professional is paid a salary to deliver a product. ( ie their job). This product is not tied to a clock. The professional works until the product is delivered as needed, and without regard to the clock. The only "hourly" paid people were those not in professional positions and without professional responsibilities--typically in an office the person hired to answer the phone. So I cannot help but equate a "clock" mentality to an unprofessional mentality....I realise the work ethics and experiences of others are different than this, I do after all come from the land that eschews even its paltry two week holiday...

I do find baffling the mindset in the UK regarding a "need" for lots of holidays. I just come from a different experience and perspective.

But I do think that there is something naive and unrealistic in thinking a PhD and the research process conforms to a clock. Research and writing works in ebbs and flows. Some days are more productive than others. It is of course necessary and healthy to not be subsumed by a PhD, but at times implicit in the whole conversation about whether a PhD can be done "9-5" is some sort of judgment that people who do not approach it this way a) have no life; b) cannot manage their time; c) have priorities out of whack.

Of course people have outside demands on their time, be it family, friends, etc...but I have yet to see anyone who took a 9-5 approach to the PhD in fact complete it...

I did the first part of my PhD while doing a fulltime professional job that could take 40-60 hours of worktime a week--the PhD fit in and around that. Needs must. It got done. No one would say it was ideal. But the work I did was of high quality. Looking back it is hard to see how I managed that schedule...but I did.

No one approach is right or wrong. What matters is the result, not how you get there.


It's not a literal issue. The real question is this:

Some people manage to compartmentalise their life, and so a PhD fits in with their day to day life and other commitments. To do this there are several approaches, for some a structured approach works - they enter their office, the library or switch on their laptop at a preset time and finish at a preset time (I am sure there is room for flexibility here). For others of this mindset, it can occur by goal i.e. I'll get the first section in Chapter 2 completed by Friday so I can relax at the weekend etc.

Several people I have met allow their PhD to become their life, losing track of which films are in the charts, what music is in fashion, oftne becoming despondent with daily life to the detriment of familial and friendly relationships, and also to the point that the excessive hours ploughed into it have been detrimental to the end product quality.

My initial query was more of a self-reassuring gauge that others compartmentalise well, partly because I will be doing my PhD part-time 2 weekdays and a Saturday while working on an intensive project at work 3 days a week. The reassurance gives me the confidence that it is possible.

I am sorry that you are not able to empathise with the diversity of working modes PhD candidates hold. I wish you luck.


Assuming people are funded, a PhD is really not that different from quite a few jobs. People doing PhDs often seem to think that people in "real jobs" don't get stressed, don't have to think at any kind of high level and get to clock on and off exactly on the dot every day. Truth is that lots of people in "real jobs" get stressed, have to think hard constantly through the day and have to take on unpaid overtime to complete projects on time. "Real jobs" and PhDs really aren't that different.

PhDs are different from most jobs in one way and that is that you have the freedom to say how you want to work as it is only you relying on your work. For some of us 9-5 works best, for others it doesn't. Obviously if your not funded then there is a difference, but I'd say most people doing PhDs are funded (they all are in my office!). Often (though not always) people who are working every hour of the day simply have poor time management and/or are not working on the right thing or in the right way.


There is some truth in all these posts. Obviously every PhD is different, and people have different ways to manage their workload. However, personally it would have been very difficult to achieve anything had I used the 9 to 5 approach. I agree with Olivia here. I had to travel to get most of the resources I needed, and in those occasions it was 8-6 weekdays, 8-2 Sat-Sun (opening times of archives, libraries etc). If you are not flexible and adapt yourself to the circumstances it can take forever to complete.

If you have family and you don't have an office to go to, or anyone who can look after the children, you can only work around them. Equally if you work p/t or f/t.
So working 9 to 5 does not necessarily mean that these people are better at managing their project.


I don't know the answer to the main post but I have come perilously close to complete mental and physical burnout probably by overdoing it since I've had to do the complete PhD including writing up in 2.5 years due to supervisor mismanagement.