Not all grad school all the time

Since I’m a day late, I’m gonna talk a bit about the fact that I don’t do grad school stuff all day every day. I actually tend to work in the 40-50 hours per week range. And part of that is because the type of project I have right now is fairly time-dependent, so there’s just not much I can do at 2am. Each experiment I do takes a few hours (inject embryos), then 24 hours later a few more hours of work (dissect spinal cords and culture* them), then 24 hours later a few more hours (fix and stain the spinal cord cultures).

*culturing is basically the process of growing cells or tissue outside of the organism (i.e. in vitro). For instance I grow chunks of spinal cord on glass dishes (that way they’re near other cells, which helps the neurons grow better, but they extend out axons so I can image individual axons without other cells getting in the way).

So my work isn’t super conducive to staying in lab all night (it may happen, and I’ve done it before, but it’s far from the norm). Also when picking my program and picking rotations, that was a huge thing I was looking for: an expectation of work/life balance. Because I love science. I love doing research. I love being in lab. But I want to keep loving it. I’ve talked to several people with PhDs who said that by the time they finished, they hated research and regretted getting their PhD (or at least weren’t entirely sure they’d do it again if they could go back). And my career goal is to actually stay in research doing some amount of bench work rather than get out of it (typically faculty move out of the lab the further they get in their career; but that’s not the track I’m interested in).

Also I’ve seen no evidence that putting in 80 hours per week makes you twice as productive as someone who works 40 hours per week. Heck, it doesn’t even seem like it makes you any more productive at all. Especially if that extra stress caused me to question being there or to potentially drop out. I’d rather focus on using my time wisely and enjoying my life. Because yes, I have career goals, and I love what I do, but my primary goal is to be happy.

And there are grads students who definitely work 60+ hours every single week, and if that works for them, that’s great. But that doesn’t work for me, which is something I realized awhile ago.

So for anyone who’s afraid that grad school necessarily demands all of your time: it can if you pick the wrong lab or program for you, but it doesn’t have to. And you’re not a failure or inferior if you don’t want to spend every waking moment in lab. In fact, I think knowing how to prioritize activities and be productive with limited time are far more important than working constantly. So take that extra time to eat your lunch outside and take your Saturday off to hang out with friends and pet their cats and dog! That’s what I did today and it was great!

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