How Many Hours a Week Do Grad Students Work?

Congratulations of going to grad school or just getting in to grad school. Let me first tell you that grad school is definitely a fun time and was 100% worth the time and effort that was put in. I think I actually enjoy grad school more than undergrad, but that is a different post. Today, I want to talk about how much grad students work. You may wonder, “how many hours will I work in grad school?” Also, while you’re in grad school, you’ll also ask yourself, “am I working enough hours?” Both questions are important and I will discuss them further.

Realistically, how many hours do grad students work each week?

So, How many hours a week do grad students typically spend working? A good range would be between 30 and 50 hours a week with an average of about 40 hours. This includes classwork, TA duties, research, and anything else that they have to do. Many grad students, especially PhD students will treat their grad program like a job. They will come in around 9 am and leave around 5 pm. Some overachievers may show up earlier than this and stay late into the night. I highly recommend not doing this or you’ll probably hit burnout. I wrote all about burnout and ways to prevent it. You can check that blog out here.

How many hours do grad students work:PhD

So, I mentioned overachievers, I really meant PhD students lol. Actually, we might not be overachievers, just individuals trying to make sure we catch up on the pile of work that was given to us. So a PhD is a full time job. In fact, PhD students ,may even work more than a full time job. The whole 9 to 5 deal might be ok for the majority of your doctorate, but I guarantee that you will have moments where it’s more like 9 am to 12 am. I have had weeks, especially close to my qualifying exam, where I put in maybe 70 to 80 hours in of writing. My qualifying exam period was only writing and that was about the same as before, when I was writing my proposal.

The breakdown

For the most part, a PhD student will probably spend about 30 hours a week in their lab or working on their research and another 10 to 20 doing other things such as classes, TA stuff, homework, or writing. If you don’t work in a lab, replace the 30 hours of lab work with 30 hours of writing and research. This can vary significantly though.

When it is slow and when it is not

Usually in the first year or two, you’ll be working primarily on classwork and some basic lab stuff. This may mean that your day may only be like 4 to 6 hours long. My first year in my PhD program was only about 5 hours long. I would get home relatively early each day and just watch movies, play games, or workout. Now, it’s a whole different ballgame. For me and many other grad students, we get to our offices around 8:30 and leave around 6 pm. Depending on the day, I may spend 12 hours in my lab. Usually at 8 pm, no one is here, other than a few grad students and the lab ghost.

The sweet spot

So, for PhD students, I would say your range of work each week would be around 35 to 70 hours. More towards 70 when there is a deadline. That’s usually when you have the most motivation to actually work. I would say a good average amount of work would be around 40 hours to 45 hours. Of course, this doesn’t mean you’ll be working that entire time. This includes breaks, lunch, dinner, and the occassional few hours where you put on Netflix and binge watch a few shows.

How many hours do grad students work: Master’s

Getting a master’s is a little different than getting a PhD. If you are in a non-thesis track then you’ll only be focused on school work. For a full time master’s student, 9 credits is usually the amount of coursework you take each semester. They say that for each credit, prepare to put in 3 hours of work a week. So a 9 credit semester looks like 27 hours of work. Depending on the subject, this can vary drastically. Quantum mechanics may take you much longer to work on than say a course on technical writing.

Non-Thesis Based

So, your weeks may vary a lot. I would say that you’ll probably put in about 25 to 30 hours for a non-thesis master’s a week. This is fairly close to a full time job but also gives you some room to actually enjoy your time in grad school. Since you won’t be dealing with research, you’ll only have to spend your time doing school work. This can vary a lot depending on where you are in the semester. Towards the end, expect to increase your hours so you pass your exams.

Thesis Based

For a thesis based master’s, the first year is pretty much the same as the non-thesis master’s. You’ll work on your school work until probably the last semester and then you do a research project. This semester will be probably close to what you experience in a PhD program when you get close to you defense or qualifying exam. This semester or two will be 40 to 50 hours of work so you can finish your degree and lab work.

Overall

A master’s may not be a busy as a PhD but you will definitely be plenty busy. Some master’s are fairly easy and you work a little, other’s you will be working as much or even more than a PhD. Don’t think that a master’s is easy, it’s not. Also, depending on how busy you are, you may pick up even more things to do. Some master’s students will tend to pick up other projects or even help TA classes. They definitely find ways to use their free time.

Final Thoughts

Grad school is a great time. I promise you that it is. It is, however, a busy, busy time. You’ll be working a lot, but you’ll be working on things that make you a better scholar. The projects that you will be spending hours and day, and even years on will be what you are interested in and they will be worth your time. Don’t be afraid of a little hard work. In order to succeed, you’ll have to work a lot.

For those that went through grad school, how many hours a week did you work? Let us know in the comments. I hope you all have a great week and hopefully you make time to do something that you love.

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