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I wanted to share a typical day as a grad student. This is my typical day and may vary significantly based on many factors. These include deadlines, your adviser, when you wake up, as well as if your lab is available to you during a certain time. Some of these factors are a bit weird but grad students understand.
On Days Where There are no Deadlines
I usually wake up around 7:30 AM to either my alarm or my cat, Sirius. If you are a cat owner, you understand the struggle of trying to sleep in and not being able to. Lately, Sirius has been letting me sleep longer which is kind of bad, since I do need to get up and do work. But if I do get up at 7:30, I usually have coffee, get ready and get out the door by 8:00.
I walk to campus instead of riding the bus. I found out that it takes about 10 minutes more to walk than ride the bus so it just makes sense to walk. Also, Gainesville has been absolutely beautiful this time of year, so the walks have been amazing. Walking takes about 30 minutes and I tend to listen to music or audio books on the way over. (Link to audio books that I listen to).
Getting to the Office
I will get to my office at about 8:30-8:45 and make a second cup of coffee. I really love coffee, if you guys didn’t know already (lol). So after my second cup, I am usually ready to tackle the day.
My days consist of either writing or lab work mostly. On weeks where I do lab work, I come in at really weird times. Depending on the day, I may get to lab at 7:30 AM or noon. So, for this blog, the day I am referring to is a writing day.
Around 9:00 AM, I start off with a blog post. So blogging has had many benefits, and one that I have noticed is that it warms me up for scientific writing. There are days where dissertation writing is difficult, so blogging beforehand gets me ready to do even more writing later. I have noticed that writing articles has become easier and I have blogging to thank for that. I usually am done with this writing by 10:30-11.
Lunch is at 11 and then start actually writing for the day. I try to get at least 500 to 1000 words in a day. When writing, I don’t focus on the flow of the paper, or the grammar. I mainly focus on getting the words out. If I focused so much on perfecting my writing then I would maybe get 100 words in a day. Going back over what I wrote later and correcting is way better than correcting as I go.
I usually write until about 2 PM. I do need a break, right? 2 is usually a good time to either get coffee or go on a walk. Some days I will have meetings at this time, so it’s a good time to change up the day. I will also go to my friend’s office and talk to her for a bit. PhD students don’t always work. We may complain that we do, but there is plenty down time.
I will usually get back to work around 3, after coffee, of course. From 3 to 5 PM, I usually write a bit or read some papers. My research topic doesn’t have too much to read about, so I will branch out and maybe read about physics or other engineering topics. Reading bores me easily, so in that time, there is plenty of phone time.
After The Lab
I will usually leave my office around 5-5:30 to go to the gym or do stadium workouts (check out my blogs about those here). My brain just shuts off at 5:30 for some reason. If I don’t get the work done by this time, it won’t get done haha. I think it is because I conditioned myself to not think of work after 5 when I was a full time civil engineer. Of course, if there is a deadline, my day does not end at 5-5:30, but those occasions only happen once in a while.
After the gym, I usually go home and hang with Sirius. Lately, I have been just playing with him for an hour to wear him out. I think this might be the reason he doesn’t get me up at 7:30 anymore. He has been sleeping a ton. I will usually make dinner at this time too and possibly catch up on email reading.
I know this isn’t too exciting, but this is a typical day for me, when writing. If it’s lab work, well that is a different story. I will probably make a blog about that one of these days. If you are just starting off and are trying to compare your day to other PhD students 1) Don’t do this because people will lie and maybe make you feel like you aren’t doing enough and 2) if you really want, look at reddit forums (here‘s a good one). Just know that a PhD is different to everyone. Some people will work constantly and other’s won’t.
On Days Where there are Deadlines!
So, you will get to a stage in your grad school tenure where you will be busy beyond belief. The typical day as a grad student during these times will be quite different than most of the other time. You will be working many hours, and feeling quite overwhelmed at times. There have been days where I have been on campus for 15-16 hours, working. These days usually occur close to your qualifying exam, the deadlines for paper submissions, as well as when you are getting close to defending. I will give you a taste of what the typical day as a grad student is like during times when things are hectic.
On days or weeks where it is hectic, I usually get up at 7 am to start my day. This has occurred so much lately that Sirius is now my alarm at that time since he knows I need to get up lol. I usually drink so water to truly wake up, get ready, and I am out the door by like 7:20 at the latest. I have been riding my scooter lately to get to my office quicker. If you are thinking about getting a scooter to ride to class or your office, I highly suggest getting the razor A6. It’s the one I have.
Getting to the office
I get to my office around 7:45 and make sure that all my labs are open and the coffee is brewing. I have really tried not to drink a ton of caffeine lately, but coffee is just so needed on these days. I have been staying away from energy drinks so my anxiety doesn’t go through the roof. After 15 minutes of enjoying my coffee, I am off to do work.
If I am doing experiments, I spend a great amount of time in my lab. It takes forever to clean and set up my project so I will end up spending maybe 3 to 4 hours in my lab before I give up to take a break. Breaks may consist of eating lunch at my desk or taking a quick walk around the campus. I usually don’t spend too much time away from work on these days.
I will usually end these days whenever my lab stuff is finished. Some times I am so tired that I won’t really clean up my lab and just put it off until the next day. I have had days where I get to campus at 7 am and don’t leave until 11 pm at night. These are the days I dread the most because I know that I will come home and Sirius will be pissed off lol. These are also extremely long days.
Writing is a major part of the typical day as a grad student, when grad students are busy. On the days where I need to write a ton, I will spend hours at the computer. I’ll get into my office and just start writing. I hope to get at least 2000 to 3000 words written that day, but it often comes short of that. If my anxiety is super high, then I will definitely be able to finish my writing for the day.
These days usually end at 4:30 because I am usually brain dead by that point. I will go home, relax for a bit, possibly hit the gym and get food, then I will end my day with at least an hour more of writing. That little extra at night is what really allows me to sleep. If I just give up completely for the day at 4:30 then I usually have bad anxiety at night and can’t sleep.
When I Get Home After These Days
I hate the busy days because I get home late and don’t have the energy to work out or do anything else. Usually these days are even worse because I end up eating very ad food that’s convenient. Unfortunately this will be my life for the next few months as I finish up my PhD. I think most doctorate students will get to this point eventually. You get used to it though and it’s somewhat exciting. It means you are close to being done and getting out of school completely. It also means that you are a researcher, a true scientist.
I would suggest keeping a schedule that does not keep you in the lab/office forever. There is a whole life for you outside of work and it is very easy to forget that. Do not feel like you need to work on something constantly because that will burn you out faster than you know. Make time for friends and family. Join a club or sports league. Make sure the hours after 5 PM really count. You will have busy weeks but way more slow weeks. So occupy the time with things that make you happy.
When things get really rough and you are forced to stay in the lab or write for hours on end, make sure to take ample breaks. You do not want to hit burnout at any stage in your academic career. Take care of yourself in grad school.
For those that are in a PhD program, what does your typical day as a grad student look like? Is it similar to mine? Way different? Tell me about it in the comments. As Always, thank you all for reading my blog and supporting this grad student as he works his way through the PhD process. I hope you all have a wonderful day and I will see you in the next one. Peace!