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Odysseus56
01-15-2015, 09:03 PM
Hey guys. I applied to a few schools and am waiting for response, but estimate to end up somewhere in Top 10-20. Since I am a bit undecided if I really want to do a PhD (I am interested more in policy-oriented work, rather than an academic career), I want to find our more about how exactly the life of a grad student looks like.

From some of my professors I heard that it was literally "hell" where they had to pull all-nighters at least once a week and pull their hair from workload/stress. Others meant it was OK. Also many say that they had literally no free time for relationships/hobbies/blogs etc. Yet others still manage to do random stuff (e.g. blogging - think Noahpinion).

Of course, it depends on the preparation, but a general trend should be there. In case relevant: I have good math training and successfully tried my hand at research (MSc.). (Just for a note: I am not scared of difficulties, but it is good to have objective healthy expectations of what your next 5 years will look like.)

PhDPlease
01-15-2015, 10:06 PM
I spent the majority of my waking hours working but I sleep 8 hours most nights. I do not really have time to pursue hobbies that require a regular commitment, but usually do take a bit of time to check the computer most days and a meal with my partner or friends on occasion. There are some things I have had to give up such as taking weekend trips (since on the weekend maybe I can take a little time here and there to do something like a meal at a restaurant or a bit of exercise but could not afford taking an entire weekend off). Many people in my program are in a relationship, and I do not know of anyone who has had to end a relationship due to grad school. I think your post covers a reasonable range of experiences, and it is kind of hard to predict what you personally would experience. Personally if I ever got to the point where I had to physically make myself sick on a regular basis and never see my partner, I would probably just decide to work less even if it meant not being as successful as I'd hoped.

Remember, if you are making yourself sick, you might not be performing at your best. Personally I find that I can learn much faster when I am feeling healthy. Everyone has to make their own decisions regarding what is best for them, but don't necessarily think you are obligated to do something that is unhealthy because someone else has done so. It is important to recognize what works for you personally. If you are making yourself very miserable and never sleeping, your performance could end up suffering no matter how many hours you spend studying.

Kaysa
01-16-2015, 03:44 AM
Graduate school is hell. What makes it worse is that what makes graduate school unbearable evolves and changes over time.

The first year is a non-stop cramfest. For me, each graduate course was equivalent to taking 3-4 undergraduate courses. The workload was unbearable. The pace was unbearable. Competing with others that were superior test takers was unbearable. You're always tired, always behind, always confused, and always stressed.

The second year continues the non-stop cramfest.

In the third year, coursework transitions to conducting research. I enjoyed this transition. However, it came with new problems. For some, research is impossible. They cannot come up with topics, study topics, and evaluate topics. In words, they cannot do research are kaput. Those that can do research soon realize that they cannot stop thinking about research, worrying about research and whether they work enough each day. This wears on you, especially when it is a holiday and you feel like you should be relaxing instead of wondering why your t-stat sucks.

Finally, comes the last year. Have fun worrying about getting a job. That's a real hoot.

Insti
01-16-2015, 07:48 AM
I basically have had the exact same experience as PhDPlease. With the only exception that I sleep less most nights. Expect to have absolutely no time for anything else, except maybe a beer on Friday night or catching a movie. The program will take all of your time and if you hate it and hate doing the work it will be hell. If you love what you are doing, it will not be such a bad experience. Most of the time I find my self enjoying my work and not feeling the need to "take a break", so working 12-14 hour days is not a big issue.

Econhead
01-16-2015, 12:53 PM
Anyone who is in a relationship and says that graduate school does not stress the relationship is, to be as blunt as humanly possible, a F******g liar. It is incredibly stressful, as is getting tenure. Most of the 'horror stories' that I have heard about grad school emphasize the stress it places on relationships. It's hard. You can't prioritize both your relationship and your work (that's why it is called prioritizing) - it's one or the other. Some relationships make it through, some don't. Sometimes the reason is that people figure out that they are more devoted to their work than their spouse, rather than simply trying to consciously put the relationship 'on the back burner.'

This has been my greatest fear throughout my graduate experience so far, and will continue to be throughout my time as a Ph.D. I try my best to give as much time as I can to both and give less time to me. In the strictest sense this meant less sleep, and certainly no 'free time.' The lack of sleep resulted in an overall lower quality of work (although greater quantity). I've found that going to sleep with my wife and getting up before she wakes is a better compromise than going to bed after her and getting up at the same time.

Note that there are different issues throughout different years as a Ph. D candidate. You start off (often, usually) with no TA/RA responsibilities, just cram untl quals. Then after that, you have an added workload. -Unless you are lucky enough to have a 5 year fellowship of some type.

(EDIT: These comments weren't directed at anyone in this thread. It's common for people to play-down their own issues when talking with someone about their relationship, especially if you know both parties. No one wants their dirty laundry aired, especially to people they know. It's also hard to admit, sometimes, and once we admit it...it's real. But people should have a realistic understanding of the stresses. It's not an 8-4 job where you can spend several hours with your spouse each night, have date night twice a week, do something fun on the weekends, etc.)

tm_member
01-16-2015, 03:05 PM
Anyone who is in a relationship and says that graduate school does not stress the relationship is, to be as blunt as humanly possible, a F******g liar. It is incredibly stressful, as is getting tenure. Most of the 'horror stories' that I have heard about grad school emphasize the stress it places on relationships. It's hard. You can't prioritize both your relationship and your work (that's why it is called prioritizing) - it's one or the other. Some relationships make it through, some don't. Sometimes the reason is that people figure out that they are more devoted to their work than their spouse, rather than simply trying to consciously put the relationship 'on the back burner.'

This has been my greatest fear throughout my graduate experience so far, and will continue to be throughout my time as a Ph.D. I try my best to give as much time as I can to both and give less time to me. In the strictest sense this meant less sleep, and certainly no 'free time.' The lack of sleep resulted in an overall lower quality of work (although greater quantity). I've found that going to sleep with my wife and getting up before she wakes is a better compromise than going to bed after her and getting up at the same time.

Note that there are different issues throughout different years as a Ph. D candidate. You start off (often, usually) with no TA/RA responsibilities, just cram untl quals. Then after that, you have an added workload. -Unless you are lucky enough to have a 5 year fellowship of some type.

(EDIT: These comments weren't directed at anyone in this thread. It's common for people to play-down their own issues when talking with someone about their relationship, especially if you know both parties. No one wants their dirty laundry aired, especially to people they know. It's also hard to admit, sometimes, and once we admit it...it's real. But people should have a realistic understanding of the stresses. It's not an 8-4 job where you can spend several hours with your spouse each night, have date night twice a week, do something fun on the weekends, etc.)

I don't think it's as black and white as this. It depends on the partner and their patience and level of support, whether you are married, your age/maturity, if there are kids or not, the amount of work your spouse does etc.

It's as much a compatibility issue as anything else. Lots of electricians and carpenters work 60 hours a week, too.

Grad school is a pain and you could always be working more but from casual empirical observation of the dozens of grad students I know the point at which diminishing returns can set in isn't that far past 45 or so hours per week. That's 6 days of 7.5 hours a day which is no walk in the park but your time is incredibly flexible. While there is a lot of work, it can be done almost anywhere on the planet most of the time. That's a huge bonus. I know people who have very good flyouts this year who work no more than 30-35 hours a week, have a family, etc. The trick is to not chase the rabbit down every rabbit hole. Pick a topic early, focus, commit, and work consistently 35 or more hours per week for 51 weeks per year for 3 years on that topic. If you can't write a dissertation in that time frame, you can't write one. People like me, who completely changed their research focus at the end of the third year, end up needing 6 years to graduate! :-/

Econhead
01-16-2015, 03:32 PM
I don't think it's as black and white as this. It depends on the partner and their patience and level of support, whether you are married, your age/maturity, if there are kids or not, the amount of work your spouse does etc.

It's as much a compatibility issue as anything else. Lots of electricians and carpenters work 60 hours a week, too.

Grad school is a pain and you could always be working more but from casual empirical observation of the dozens of grad students I know the point at which diminishing returns can set in isn't that far past 45 or so hours per week. That's 6 days of 7.5 hours a day which is no walk in the park but your time is incredibly flexible. While there is a lot of work, it can be done almost anywhere on the planet most of the time. That's a huge bonus. I know people who have very good flyouts this year who work no more than 30-35 hours a week, have a family, etc. The trick is to not chase the rabbit down every rabbit hole. Pick a topic early, focus, commit, and work consistently 35 or more hours per week for 51 weeks per year for 3 years on that topic. If you can't write a dissertation in that time frame, you can't write one. People like me, who completely changed their research focus at the end of the third year, end up needing 6 years to graduate! :-/

Completely Valid and well said.

PhDPlease
01-16-2015, 05:25 PM
Many people I know who are not grad students are in careers that are also very demanding and time-consuming (med school or residency, Wall Street, management consulting) or are working two jobs to make ends meet and/or repay student loans (ie one job during business hours + bar-tending at night for an example). Among lower-paying jobs there are often people who have to take on a 2nd job to make ends meet and end up working tons of hours as well (so long hours isn't just something for high-income career paths). At least the PhD allows for some flexibility regarding when you work/whether you work at home or in the office, and doesn't require travel on a regular basis like certain consulting jobs do. So my frame of reference is relative to other options that are also time-consuming. Maybe one's expectations varies depending on your location (if you are in a location where long hours are very common and your non-PhD friends are also doing long hours), what other people from your undergrad are doing, and so on. I would love more time with my partner but at this point in life I know many people who are in careers that require a similar number of hours and make it work. If I had not been admitted to a PhD program, my alternative would have been to do a masters (which would probably have required a lot of loans, and studies show that debt/loans also strains relationships). At least when you finish the PhD, you get more control over your schedule than something like doctor (patient might have emergency at unusual hour) or consulting (client in different time zone might demand to meet at inconvenient time). I do not know that many people who have landed a job that is 9-5 yet reasonably interesting/fulfilling and pays enough to have a decent life and didn't require some sort of grad degree that required either an extremely high amount of hours worked and/or an extremely high financial cost. I am not saying that the PhD is easy on relationships but nowadays there are so many paths (other than the PhD) that are also time-consuming and competitive. I do think the buy-in of your partner is very essential to making it work (whether the partner is providing support because s/he values your sense of career fulfillment or because s/he thinks that you getting a PhD will result in a better life for you both or some other reason) and attempting to do a program in a location that works given your partner's career and any personal location preferences they have.

chateauheart
01-16-2015, 06:20 PM
I don't know, I found the grad school coursework phase to be less demanding than some of my undergrad years, simply because I no longer needed to care about the grades as much. The whole "starting your own research" thing is difficult, and unlike most of what you do in undergrad, requires some communication and organizational skills. This is probably why, from anecdotal experience, a lot of people who work 2-3 years before they start their PhD find it much easier to transition into the research phase.

Blanket
01-16-2015, 06:28 PM
I don't know, I found the grad school coursework phase to be less demanding than some of my undergrad years, simply because I no longer needed to care about the grades as much. The whole "starting your own research" thing is difficult, and unlike most of what you do in undergrad, requires some communication and organizational skills. This is probably why, from anecdotal experience, a lot of people who work 2-3 years before they start their PhD find it much easier to transition into the research phase.

Where do you attend school, and what was your mathematics preparation? I think your answer is my goal. You sound happy. Good for you :)

tm_member
01-17-2015, 12:45 AM
I don't know, I found the grad school coursework phase to be less demanding than some of my undergrad years, simply because I no longer needed to care about the grades as much. The whole "starting your own research" thing is difficult, and unlike most of what you do in undergrad, requires some communication and organizational skills. This is probably why, from anecdotal experience, a lot of people who work 2-3 years before they start their PhD find it much easier to transition into the research phase.

What's weird for me is that I found coursework, field classes, and starting my own research very enjoyable. Hard work, but very fulfilling. I just can't seem to focus and finish the projects I start in a timely fashion, I just start another project and go head first into that and when it's 75-80% done, I start another! I'll finish them eventually. I'm full of research ideas so anyone who is struggling for ideas and is interested in being a co-author doing applied labor/health should private message me!

Kaysa
01-17-2015, 03:39 AM
What's weird for me is that I found coursework, field classes, and starting my own research very enjoyable. Hard work, but very fulfilling. I just can't seem to focus and finish the projects I start in a timely fashion, I just start another project and go head first into that and when it's 75-80% done, I start another! I'll finish them eventually. I'm full of research ideas so anyone who is struggling for ideas and is interested in being a co-author doing applied labor/health should private message me!

I believe that is one reason why people have co-authors. I usually start to drag once we reach the end stage, while my co-author picks up momentum. Similarly, she has no momentum during the initial stages, whereas I usually charge blindly ahead.

tm_member
01-17-2015, 01:54 PM
I believe that is one reason why people have co-authors. I usually start to drag once we reach the end stage, while my co-author picks up momentum. Similarly, she has no momentum during the initial stages, whereas I usually charge blindly ahead.

They also keep you accountable even if you are both laggards.

Kaysa
01-17-2015, 02:50 PM
They sure do, heh heh.

flopson
01-18-2015, 06:11 AM
I'm only an MA but the PhD's in my department seem pretty chilled out, most have hobbies, relationships, and go out for beers somewhat regularly. They're in the office every day and work hard, but I can't imagine any of them pulling 60-70 hours per week. That sounds like hell. Isn't the whole point of academia to escape wage labor? Obviously labor supply fluctuates across the semester, but post-coursework I feel like you would just settle into a productive but healthy rhythm.

Kaysa
01-18-2015, 03:17 PM
The point of academia is to study what you love to study, not to avoid wage labor.

Unless you are exceptionally lucky, most students have to work at least 60 hours to graduate in 5 years with 3 decent papers. I worked upwards to 80 -90 hours per week.

to2012
01-18-2015, 04:22 PM
I am a second year student at a top 40 place. Frankly, I think that there is a strong relationship between the amount of work/stress people perceive from graduate school and their work history, as chateauheart suggests above. There are rough patches: for instance, in the first year, my program assigns a paper due at the end of the second term and our prelims are right after finals, so most of us were working for a significant chunk of the weekend for the last month or so of the term. That got a little tiring, but it certainly wasn't "hell". Second year courses are much more relaxed. There can be a lot of work due at the end of the term if you take a lot of courses, but it's very low pressure. FWIW, I have above average mathematical preparation.

I think that people tend to exaggerate the overall number of hours they work. I have a great deal of flexibility in scheduling activities for the most part (i.e. I can work out in the morning before work without waking up to an alarm clock: if you want to do this in the working world, you can plan on waking up several hours before you'd like to). If you have literally no research ideas I suppose that the coursework-research transition would be more difficult but then we'd have to wonder if grad. school is the best place for you, anyway, if you still can't get started on anything even after taking field courses.

Bottom line: I'm not at a top place, and my comments speak to the first two years of graduate school only, but my work life is no more stressful (and often much less stressful) than the office job that I worked in before grad. school, which was itself a long cry from investment banking on the hours/stress front.

behavingmyself
01-18-2015, 05:43 PM
The average amount of time in which I am doing actual, focused work is certainly less than 25 hours per week, probably even less than 20. I spend a lot of additional time thinking about economics, but not with the attitude that I'm setting aside time to accomplish anything in particular, just that I'm enjoying thinking about a problem. This latter category of time expenditure turns out (at least for me) to be enormously valuable; your job is to produce ideas, and ideas come much more naturally when your mentality is that you're playing, not working.

Obviously different people have widely different work habits and experiences of pressure in grad school. I have friends who seem to do actual work for 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. Fortunately nobody cares about your work style so long as you produce.

publicaffairsny
01-18-2015, 08:02 PM
The objective of entering academia may be to escape wage labor. However the need to work hard persists; you may just feel that the work you are doing is less corrupted by the capitalist construct of labor. (I am not a Marxist but I love Marxist theory and believe that work as currently constructed in our society is a form of slavery especially among low and middle income workers.)

flopson
01-18-2015, 08:50 PM
The point of academia is to study what you love to study, not to avoid wage labor.

Unless you are exceptionally lucky, most students have to work at least 60 hours to graduate in 5 years with 3 decent papers. I worked upwards to 80 -90 hours per week.

I was just joking about the avoiding wage labor thing. But 90 hours is brutal, I am sorry. The variety of responses to this thread suggests different people have different relationship between marginal productivity and hours worked. Either that or those of you clocking under 12 hours per day are slacking, lol

nontrad dreams
01-18-2015, 09:21 PM
I don't know, I found the grad school coursework phase to be less demanding than some of my undergrad years, simply because I no longer needed to care about the grades as much. The whole "starting your own research" thing is difficult, and unlike most of what you do in undergrad, requires some communication and organizational skills. This is probably why, from anecdotal experience, a lot of people who work 2-3 years before they start their PhD find it much easier to transition into the research phase.

Yeah, I am just starting semester 2 and, while my first was the hardest thing I have ever done, it was not by some order of magnitude, it was just somewhat harder than my hardest undergrad semester.

There are people in my cohort who seems less "all-in" on being in grad school and I think the psychic costs are a lot higher for them than for someone like me who feels this is a huge privilege to be able to pursue my dreams while being (moderately) paid for my trouble as well. I think also that if you sweat grades more than just sweating your ownership of the material / theory / economic intuition, it is probably a lot harder. Keeping your eye on the end goal and not treating grad school like your GPA will kill you helps, I think, a lot with the first year (or two), that said, I am still a bit terrified by the idea of comps/prelims, but all things must pass.

As far as not being able to keep up relationships, etc... I have a wife and a 2-year old kid and a co-owned business that I still keep a bit of a hand on the tiller of. I also do some modest exercise and share household duties pretty equitably. Probably spend about 50-55 hours per week on class and studying. I'm sure some programs are harder than others, but I have been happily disabused of my fears of all the "grad school life is hell" stories I heard before starting.

Also, yes, go to bed with your spouse/S.O. and just wake up early to get a leg up on the day.

Kaysa
01-18-2015, 11:48 PM
I was just joking about the avoiding wage labor thing. But 90 hours is brutal, I am sorry. The variety of responses to this thread suggests different people have different relationship between marginal productivity and hours worked. Either that or those of you clocking under 12 hours per day are slacking, lol

Hah hah no problem. I just like to warn people just in case they are serious. I have some friends that made that mistake, and it is one worth avoiding.

Econhead
01-20-2015, 02:40 PM
There seems to be a lot of disparity between individuals in this thread, and on pasts thread on this forum. I can recall a similar thread where I asked how much more difficult (or # hours worked) during a ph.D program vs. my current situation (Work 40-50 hours full time + TA + master's grad student). The answer that I got was seemingly congruent that "it doesn't compare, Ph.D is harder." It seems like I am working a greater number of hours now than I should expect to during my Ph.D (assuming an acceptance this cycle).

There also seems to be a great difference in the emphasis Ph.D grades play (in terms of placement afterward). Several individuals that I know presently have emphasized the importance of getting A's throughout the Ph.D. Some on this forum have said that it matters heavily, others that it matters little. Obviously your ability to do research matters more (as well it should), but I am still surprised at the disparity among answers. Given this, I would also think that as a master's student applying to Ph.D cycles, that other than first-year students I am likely stressing much more than most Ph.D students would about grades.

publicaffairsny
01-20-2015, 03:06 PM
There seems to be a lot of disparity between individuals in this thread, and on pasts thread on this forum. I can recall a similar thread where I asked how much more difficult (or # hours worked) during a ph.D program vs. my current situation (Work 40-50 hours full time + TA + master's grad student). The answer that I got was seemingly congruent that "it doesn't compare, Ph.D is harder." It seems like I am working a greater number of hours now than I should expect to during my Ph.D (assuming an acceptance this cycle).

There also seems to be a great difference in the emphasis Ph.D grades play (in terms of placement afterward). Several individuals that I know presently have emphasized the importance of getting A's throughout the Ph.D. Some on this forum have said that it matters heavily, others that it matters little. Obviously your ability to do research matters more (as well it should), but I am still surprised at the disparity among answers. Given this, I would also think that as a master's student applying to Ph.D cycles, that other than first-year students I am likely stressing much more than most Ph.D students would about grades.

Knowing your workload, I think you will be very relieved to have one professional center of attention when you enter your program. I think that will make more of a difference than the actual number of hours worked.

fakeo
01-20-2015, 03:14 PM
There seems to be a lot of disparity between individuals in this thread, and on pasts thread on this forum.

I can only talk about a masters program but my experience confirms that indeed there is a lot of disparity even within the same program. Some students (who by the way do not seem to have a worse preparation) spend an enormous amount of time working on classes. Others can manage with much less work.

I suppose it has to do with lots of things, e.g. proper planning, sticking to your plan, efficient studying (as opposed to stopping to check Twitter every 5 minutes), etc.

PhDPlease
01-20-2015, 06:53 PM
There seems to be a lot of disparity between individuals in this thread, and on pasts thread on this forum. I can recall a similar thread where I asked how much more difficult (or # hours worked) during a ph.D program vs. my current situation (Work 40-50 hours full time + TA + master's grad student). The answer that I got was seemingly congruent that "it doesn't compare, Ph.D is harder." It seems like I am working a greater number of hours now than I should expect to during my Ph.D (assuming an acceptance this cycle).

There also seems to be a great difference in the emphasis Ph.D grades play (in terms of placement afterward). Several individuals that I know presently have emphasized the importance of getting A's throughout the Ph.D. Some on this forum have said that it matters heavily, others that it matters little. Obviously your ability to do research matters more (as well it should), but I am still surprised at the disparity among answers. Given this, I would also think that as a master's student applying to Ph.D cycles, that other than first-year students I am likely stressing much more than most Ph.D students would about grades.

Re your 1st point, I think there is a lot of variation in people's perceptions depending on what they did previously. I know of a few people who did things like investment banking before the PhD and worked more then relative to while in the PhD. Also as someone who has worked for a while, I've learned skills in how to recognize that diminishing returns to additional time learning are setting in and when to draw the line and call it quits for the day. There are also students who have the ability to primarily focus on the important topics (in terms of what is likely to show up on exams as well as what is important for their research interests) while other people are very adamant on trying to do everything with the highest amount of effort.

Re grades, I think grades are of mixed importance. It is important to master a general theoretical foundation as well as expertise in your specific field. To the extent that grades correlate with you learning things that are important, there is value. Grades may serve as a signal to faculty you want to work with, especially if you are taking a course with a professor you want to work with. Some faculty might not be concerned with your grades especially outside of whatever field you will pursue assuming that you are doing well enough to stay in good standing in the program and not drastically below average, but other faculty may prefer students who have higher grades. I do not think that employers (at least assuming you go the academic route) generally look at your transcripts and care about your grades. In the end it is research that matters, but to the extent that good grades signal that you are mastering the material upon which you will build a foundation and/or signal your capabilities to potential advisers/faculty, I think there is some value in reasonably decent grades.

chateauheart
01-21-2015, 06:15 PM
It definitely varies program by program. Like a lot of other students I went through the first year PhD of my undergrad institution as well. The typical workload for the first-year cohort I studied with during undergrad was about 80-90 hours a week, including during school breaks (not inflated - I didn't join a study group, but I did work with some students, and I know for a fact that they don't stop working before 9pm). Most of them still can't finish their problem sets for at least one of the three core sequences (micro, macro, metrics), so most essentially choose to "drop" one, and every year a few 2nd-year students have to retake one sequence (if one standard deviation below class average in that sequence - if you get -1sd for two sequences you fail out). It's a constant nightmare for everybody the entire year. On the other hand, the typical workload for my proper first-year PhD cohort (at a higher ranked program) was 30-40 hours, maybe even less for those with a prior master's, and almost everybody takes an extra field class along with the core sequences. There's a huge amount of variance in difficulty of first-year coursework that's orthogonal to rank.

undecidedman
01-21-2015, 06:52 PM
It definitely varies program by program. Like a lot of other students I went through the first year PhD of my undergrad institution as well. The typical workload for the first-year cohort I studied with during undergrad was about 80-90 hours a week, including during school breaks (not inflated - I didn't join a study group, but I did work with some students, and I know for a fact that they don't stop working before 9pm). Most of them still can't finish their problem sets for at least one of the three core sequences (micro, macro, metrics), so most essentially choose to "drop" one, and every year a few 2nd-year students have to retake one sequence (if one standard deviation below class average in that sequence - if you get -1sd for two sequences you fail out). It's a constant nightmare for everybody the entire year. On the other hand, the typical workload for my proper first-year PhD cohort (at a higher ranked program) was 30-40 hours, maybe even less for those with a prior master's, and almost everybody takes an extra field class along with the core sequences. There's a huge amount of variance in difficulty of first-year coursework that's orthogonal to rank.
hmmm
I see some endogeneity problems here man

publicaffairsny
01-21-2015, 06:53 PM
It definitely varies program by program. Like a lot of other students I went through the first year PhD of my undergrad institution as well. The typical workload for the first-year cohort I studied with during undergrad was about 80-90 hours a week, including during school breaks (not inflated - I didn't join a study group, but I did work with some students, and I know for a fact that they don't stop working before 9pm). Most of them still can't finish their problem sets for at least one of the three core sequences (micro, macro, metrics), so most essentially choose to "drop" one, and every year a few 2nd-year students have to retake one sequence (if one standard deviation below class average in that sequence - if you get -1sd for two sequences you fail out). It's a constant nightmare for everybody the entire year. On the other hand, the typical workload for my proper first-year PhD cohort (at a higher ranked program) was 30-40 hours, maybe even less for those with a prior master's, and almost everybody takes an extra field class along with the core sequences. There's a huge amount of variance in difficulty of first-year coursework that's orthogonal to rank.

Let me see if I understand you: Folks at a higher ranked school work half as much? is that because the students are more prepared or the coursework is easier?

mcsokrates
01-22-2015, 02:23 AM
I've said it before, but (many? most?) people who are working more than 10 hour days are probably not being optimally productive. Learning to work more efficiently is the lesson grad school is supposed to instill. Some people instead learn to tolerate working soul-crushing hours at low average productivity.

(Personal experience: worked no more than 55 or so hours a week the first two years, and I've averaged closer to 45 since then. Never work in the office on weekends, never stay past 7:30. Get 7 hours of sleep a night, and run three times a week.)

Canuckonomist
01-26-2015, 02:09 PM
I think mcsokrates has really put it best: it is, in my experience as well, about working productively, and not just working for the sake of working. For those that say grad school is hell, I'd say there is more heterogeneity to it than that. I, on average, loved it.

Being at the end of the PhD line now, about to start a TT job in the new academic year, I found that the hardest part of the PhD was finding out what worked best for you, and then not letting the work habits and perceived opinions of colleagues (you'd be surprised how often you infer opinions that are not there) change your strategy. Especially when you share offices, you may get the feeling that so-and-so is working harder than you, and that you should be working harder to keep up, else you look bad. It's up to you to decide how much you want to work (above some minimum threshold), and you shouldn't forget that, lest the stress of over-working burn you out.

An advisor once told me that if I managed "6 good hours" a day, 5 (sometimes 6) days a week, I'd do just fine. I liked the sound of that, and thought, "that's it?". So, I took their advice, never working on Saturday, and sometimes I wouldn't work Sunday either. You'd be surprised, though, how hard "6 good hours" can be. It means being conscious of your productivity, staying off the internet, shortening lunches, and knowing when chats with your colleagues are more about wasting time than being productive. It may take you 9 hours to get a good 6 in. But then you get good at it, and you're productive without feeling over-worked. Sometimes you work more than 6 hours in a day because you're on a roll, and that's fine too. Maybe you sleep in a little bit more the next day as a reward (I usually get 7-8 hours of sleep a night, as I can't function on less).

As a final note, this thread started with the OP asking how hard a PhD is, and in the end, it really depends on the program, your skills, and your goals. I'll admit that pretty much anywhere the first year is pretty intense, and you might find little time for anything else in your life, save for a good relationship, and occasional commiseration over beers with your colleagues. The research part, however, depends more on you than anything else. I've been able to make time for almost everything else I've wanted to do (similar to people with full-time jobs), and perhaps that means that I could have finished more papers than I have, but that's where trade-offs come in, and as economists, we should know a thing or two about trade-offs. You should also know your utility function, and mine has always insisted on balance.

Canuck

Mathew952
11-01-2015, 04:08 PM
I don't normally Necro-post, but if there's one thing I've learned, both when I was working two jobs as a full time student and as a 1st year PhD student at RAILROAD_MAGNATE University ,quality always counts far more. Yes, the hours need to be there. But if you go in, phone on silent, laptop closed, and really sincerely focus for 6-8 hours a day, you're going to be fine. No playing around on the devices. If you can, find study partners who scowl at you if you so much as sneeze.

Develop study plans that work for you. Constantly assess whether something is an effective use of time. For example, I used to read the textbook sections and take notes, then go back later and make flashcards, but I realized I virtually never went back to the outlines I made, ever. So I stopped doing that. But, I realized that forcing myself to do each and every proof/example in the text helped a lot. Avoid the temptation to get stuck on minor details- I once spent 3-4 hours trying to understand what the heck the transversality condition really meant or did, when I could have gotten just as many points by just writing the thing out and quoting Sargent. You get far, far more points for managing to answer everything pretty well than if you get some questions perfect and leave the rest blank.

Also, chunking is vital. Suppose you want to spend 12 hours studying for micro and 12 hours studying for macro over the weekend- you're better off going through things once kinda roughly for 6 hours each on saturday, then coming back fresh and reviewing on sunday. Sleep is kinda magical like that. There are many problems where I was tearing my hair out to find the solution, only to realize the next day that the answer was staring me in the face.

Finally, what everyone else has said about not worrying about what your classmates are up to is true. Maybe you think you're earning some kind of masochistic swag by showing everyone that you're torturing yourself till 11pm every night in the lounge or your office, but chances are your productive juices dried up hours ago and now you're just limping along. There's a massive variance in study hours at my program, and it seems relatively uncorrelated with performance. I know that's likely due to unobservables, but it also throws a real wrench in the "you need to study 90 hours a week to have a chance" argument. We have some people studying like crazy and still doing bad, some people who barely study (on a relative scale) and do fine, and a lot of people in the middle. Really the key is to just be honest with yourself. Be self-critical, but constructively, and you'll figure it out.