PhD Life - it does scare me! Tell me about your experience (few words)


======= Date Modified 14 56 2010 14:56:34 =======
Hello guys. You don't know me but I have been reading this forum since I accepted a PhD offer, and I very liked it. This is my first post.

I am suppose to start in Sep for PhD in Eng in New York (NYU-Poly) with RA.
I have accepted the offer in April. I am quite a good student (not a genius but I used to struggle until I achieved my goals), I think I like the topic (cooperative networks, MAC algorithm, etc..), and I have an American girlfriend (I met her during an MS in USA) that is looking for a job in NYC just to continue our relationship (otherwise impossible). These are the reasons I accepted. I have been thinking about a PhD for many months but I can't say it is the goal of my life. I like interesting (aka new) problems, but it is not like the feeling you have with "I want to fight the cancer".

In the mean time I have applied for few but good jobs here in Italy. At the end of July I will receive an answer about a quite good job in Rome (management/eng for a satellite company).

What scares me about the PhD is that I remember how I was during my Master thesis due to deadlines: I didn't have time (or very very limited) for friends, I stayed in lab until very late, I woke up early every morning, I ate bad and quick food, I didn't have time for sport and, moreover, I was jealous of friends of mine with a lower work load. I am scared my life will be like that forever.
I can understand my first year will be difficult (courses again, qualifying exam, first draft etc..) but I am scared the researcher life is something close to it. Strict deadlines, a lot of very hard work (more than a job), competition to the highest level, and very very few free period and limited free time. Is it like that?

I don't want to live for my job, I would like to work for living!

I have never worked for real yet (this is a drawback of the italian system) but I see a job as an easier choice. There are exception but you will be working for 8 h per day and you can go home, have your own schedule, free on weekends, and u can grown inside the company.
I don't know the detail of the job in Rome (the company trains new grad and there are many different positions), but I think i can cope with those kind of jobs and start my career without any problem, I am confident I can do it.
On the other side, I am aware the PhD is very difficult, and I am worried I am not good enough, or it will take too long.

I wouldn't mind a tenure job but it is not my final goal. I think I would like research but I am afraid is an hard life. I am open to many career path like engineer project manager but, as you can understand, I am a bit confused.

What is your opinion and experience about PhD life? Do you have time for a life out of the lab? Thanks and good luck for everything.


======= Date Modified 14 Jul 2010 15:07:57 =======
Hey Rubrik! Well with a PhD I think you get out what you put in. I tend to treat my PhD as a job, and work roughly 9-10 hours per day on it. Some weekends I work, others I don't- but there are plenty of people who put in far fewer hours and still pass within the timeframe. I still have time to see friends, enjoy my hobbies etc, although I suppose things will get more intense when I'm in the write-up stage (I'm currently at the end of second year). One consideration is what exactly you want to get out of a PhD- you can just do enough to pass, or you can also aim for publications, conference presentations, teaching experience etc, all of which will count for a lot if you choose to go into academia afterwards. I suppose in one sense it is a hard life, but it's a life that I personally find challenging in a good way, and extremely rewarding. I can't think of anything I would rather be doing, and I think this is mainly down to my love for the topic. If you're really passionate about what you're researching, then it doesn't seem like so much hard work! So to answer your question, yes, it is possible to have a life whilst you're doing your PhD, but you might find that you have to re-prioritise a few things! Best, KB


Keenbean, thanks for your answer. I see you have clear in mind your goals and your career path as a professor, and that helps for sure.
I am still considering my future, and I see myself more likely working in industry after the PhD. Anyway, I take into account that I have to publish in journals and conferences even if I don't want to become a professor otherwise my PhD will be useless. Publications are probably the only objective method to evaluate a PhD after the student completed the program.

Anyway, there is one thing I don't understand. I understand you like what you are doing but .. would you like to work 8h per day instead of 9-10, and stay with your partner/family/friend a little bit more?
I probably don't understand it because I am not too passionate, as I tried to explain in my first post. My research ends up trying to outperforms results obtain by other research group. I am not gonna save life or discovery something new, it is "just" engineering, try to improve things and obtain better perfomance.
I don't feel romance in it. It is just an interesting job (much better than many job out there).

The point is that, even if I like what I do, if I work 10h per day, I will end up hating it. I guess. I am not sure yet, just trying to figure it out.
Anyway writing things down help for a better evaluation.


Hey again! Well I'm quite happy with my 9-10 hours really, but everyone works differently! I don't have a long-term partner (although I am dating someone) so it's not like I have to feel guilty for being at work and not at home with them or anything. My family don't live in the same area, so if I go to see them it has to be at the weekend anyway, which I do quite regularly as we are a close family. I suppose if things were different and I had children or something maybe I would have different priorities and spend less time on my work, but I feel quite happy with my work-life balance as it is right now...I have time for family, friends, hobbies, and fun, so I'm more than content! Best, KB



I've just started my PhD (part-time) and although it is hard fitting everything in (I am in my forties with a husband and two children) I am still glad I am doing it. I gave up a very good career (high salary and perks etc) to go into academia and at the moment I travel at least two and a half hours a day to go to work, I earn less than half what I did in my finance career but I am so much happier. Although I worked 35 hours a week in theory , the reality in the corporate word (especially if you rise through the levels) is very different.

I still have time for a social life and my family but things just have to get prioritised - sometimes it is the children sometimes it is the PhD.

You have to decide what you want to do though and it sounds like your heart isn't really in the PhD.


jepsonclough you are right.
My hearth is not in the PhD. I wouldn't mind to try, I think I can do it, in a successful way too.
Based on what you say, it will be hard but I could have also a social life.
I am afraid of the workload and temped by the industrial job (not high salary but you can start your career and feel relaxed).
I also am tempted to go for the grad school because of my girlfriend, but what I have learnt in this forum is that this is not a good reason.
Many people say that if my hearth is not in the PhD I shouldn't go, it will be painful, and I am not a pain seeker. I would like to have my job, go home at 5/6pm, live during the weekend, have time for extra activities and so on.
I know the PhD can be very interesting (but also the job can be, in my opinion) but means also a lot of sacrifices. Uff..
I will flip a coin


Hi Rubrik

I don't want to sound negative, and lots of people here do just treat their PhD as a job and have week-ends and a life, however that's not my experience. Doing a PhD, for me, has required lots of long hours and not much of a life. I have always worked every week-end, and most nights for the last few years. I might have two nights and a morning off a week. I have a full day off about once every two months. I hardly ever take holidays. This has been necessary for me to complete in 3.5 years, give lots of conference papers, and publish 5 articles, 2 of these being first authored.

Other people can undertake a PhD when they're not passionate about it, but I couldn't. Ultimately, I'm not sure if this is all worth it - I suspect not. If you don't want to work in academia, be very cautious about doing a PhD.


Sue2604 thanks a lot. I know every PhD experience is different but I am also sure that a serious PhD word requires a bigger effort in comparison to almost any job. You work just for yourself (and the advisor) and it doesn't make sense to undertake a PhD without trying to work very hard aiming to very good results. After that, a person can be lucky or not, but the success of a PhD is stricly related to the effort you put on it.
You sincerely described me your experience and it does scare me a bit. I don't know if I would be strong enough for that workload, and even considering to take 4 or 5 years instead of 3.5 to finish it (i don't know if u are in the US or UK system) I am sure the hours demand is still very very high.
I am dreaming how beautiful can be a job 9am-5pm in comparison to a situation like yours (i am taking you as an example but there are plenty of PhD doing that I guess). I respect the strength you put on your PhD, though. It sounds like you have done a great job and u love your subject. that's cool!

By the way, In 3 days I am leaving for the US (PhD in september) and this week I will know if I get the job in the satellite company.
I am still thinking about it.. oh god!

Thanks for your post, it helped.