Shaping Time

Despite the rather philosophical-sounding title, this post is about juggling timetables and commitments as a PhD student, and not on the subject of temporality which makes up my PhD thesis…

At a humanities training seminar yesterday, an early-career academic made clear the importance of carefully choosing a ‘pathway’ as a graduate student. What sort of pathways might these be?

When starting the PhD, I’d imagined that all graduate students did a little teaching, a few papers, some extra admin / organising events along the way, published one or two things, and one or two extra-curricular activities alongside this; as well as trying to have some sort of social life, sleep and food. Clearly this is not entirely the case.

A PhD student is recommended to spend around 6 hours a day (at least) working on their research, which doesn’t sound like all that much. But add in all the extra work that surrounds a doctoral student, and this can suddenly seem like quite a big ask.

The post-doc at the training event yesterday placed a fair amount of significance on choosing what sort of ‘pathway’ we wanted to have as a PhD student. In three years, most of which should be spent focusing on researching and writing the thesis, we are expected to create a portfolio of extra academic achievements in order to have any chance at an academic career later, or in order to enter into another profession. But there are different approaches to tackling timetabling commitments depending on what sort of career you want to have later.

More tutorial teaching will require a lot of preparation time and marking, but ultimately might stand in good stead when trying to apply for a lectureship/teaching position, in the US especially. Publishing papers will require a lot of time in editing and spending research hours away from your central thesis, but may improve academic standing and demonstrate research credibility. Giving papers will give you the opportunity to make valuable contacts in the field, and get useful feedback on your work. Equally, organising a conference will give you valuable management skills and networking opportunities.

So how to make sense of all these different commitments, all of which we are told we should do? It isn’t possible to do all of these things successfully, and still finish the PhD within three years. So it’s necessary to shape our time, to choose a pathway, to decide: what might I need later? What sort of career do I want? What is most important to me?

Right now, I’m still struggling to stand on my feet with the research. For now, two weeks into the DPhil, I think that’s ok. But already I find extra-curricular activities creeping up on my research time: admin work and harp teaching, for example.

The most important thing is to find a balance of activities that works for you, personally. Nobody can tell you how to live your PhD. It’s about finding the right juggling position between gaining enough academic achievements around the periphery of your research, finishing your research and thesis on time, and managing to stay sane enough so as not to give up half-way through.

It’s a hard balancing act to achieve, but if successfully done, will be hugely rewarding. It’s a learning curve, like anything else. I’m looking forward to working out my own balancing act.


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