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How do academics (faculty members, PhD students, etc.) balance their work and life?

I am a PhD student and I find myself spending at least 10-11 hours working everyday. Sometimes even 10 hours is not enough for the day, I need to burn midnight oil.

However, everyone (mostly my parents and friends, who are non-academics and do not have PhD degree) is telling me that I am working too much and that I shouldn't burn out myself by doing so much work. When I hear these comments, I can't help myself but thinking 'Yeah, but that's only because you are not working in academia...you don't really understand my situation'.

For those who are working in academia, do you think I am working too much as a PhD student? How much time do you typically spend a day working? If you think that I am working too much, how can I possibly strike the balance between my academic work and my personal life?

I am genuinely asking because I really do not know "how to take care of myself properly" while I am constantly facing a huge workload. I do think that this will hurt me in a long run, especially if I am to pursue a career in academia.

Thank you,

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    Does this answer your question? Is it important to maintain a work-life balance as a PhD student?
    – cag51
    Dec 13 '20 at 3:00
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    What answers can there be besides "stop working after X hours"? Dec 13 '20 at 3:30
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    What are they going to do if you don't? Fire you? Let them. Dec 13 '20 at 4:16
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    There’s probably some areas that you can find efficiencies in to help improve how much time you spend working. Lots of us are just really not as efficient as we could be, but if you pick your habits and routines apart, you’ll probably find a lot of time you’re just burning away. Dec 13 '20 at 5:46
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    How much hours of work per day is too much? That is a question that only you can answer. There are some indicators: if you're feeling depressed, anxious, did not feel any joy in a while, need to use substances to cope, then you're probably working too much. Otherwise you might be fine. Dec 13 '20 at 9:46
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Firstly I'd say around 50 hours a week is not unusual for academia (whether that's 10 hours a day, 5 days a week, or 8 hours a day 6 days a week). Its about what I work in an average week i'd say. That doesn't quite answer your question, because rates of burn out are also high in academia. I will however add that all my friends that work in any of "the professions" - doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers, management consultants, financiers, all work more than the standard 40 hours a week.

You should also qualify if you mean "working" 10-11 hours a day, or working 10-11 hours a day. A 9-7 work day might not be unusual for me, but that would include 30 minutes for lunch, and perhaps grabbing coffee with a colleague at some point.

Its almost impossible to say how many hours you "should" be working. You should ask yourself whether it is working for you or not. I know some super organized people who can mostly work 9-5 and still become very successful. I am not one of those people. But I do also maintain some hobbies, and try very hard not to let work interfere with those. If I am teaching a dance class, I leave work whatever I'm doing at the time. I rarely decline social engagements because of work. But I don't watch a lot of TV, read a lot of books, or play many computer games these days (or I didn't till lockdown killed my other engagements). These are my choices and they work for me (most of the time). People with children of course have no choice. Once you've decided what is important, then you can fit work in with that, and if its enough its enough. And if its not, its not.

A wise man once described to me something like a Laffer curve for work. If you work 0 hours a day you'll achieve nothing. If you work 24 hours a day you'll also achieve nothing (because you'll be dead). Somewhere in between there is a peak of maximum sustainable productivity. You'll never find the peak, but you want to make sure you are to the left of it, not the right.

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  • "...Laffer curve...' -> sounds like the Extreme value theorem to me. Dec 15 '20 at 20:25
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Disclaimer: Feom your question, I assume that you feel you work to much or have to little time for outside activities. If you are happy with your working hours and feel well, all is great. If however, you have the feeling you don't have enough time for life, have to work in order to get better positions in academia, to make your professor happy or because there is so much work to do, keep reading.

My advice is simple: Work fewer hours. Make yourself a schedule and leave after eight hours. (Of course, I don't mean to "never stay a second longer than eight hours", but "after arouns eight hours, finish your train of thought and then go home".) There can be exeptions (like a deadline). If they occur only once in a while, that's okay - work longer and take that time the next time off. Or maybe at some point, you think you want to do this a dditional work because the problem is so exciting. Then it's okay to do it (at least for you, probably not for society as a whole). But don't negligate your friednds, family, hobbies, partner, time for yourself,.. Maybe this doesn't work out because your prof doesn't like it or because you don't have enough results then - but do you really want to work in a system where you have to work constantly so much that you are burnt out? (By the comments of your family and friends, there are jobs where this is not the case in your region.) Wouldn't it be good to leave the system when it doesn't turn out?

One more advice: In your free time, find out about industry. What kind of work do your peers with similar qualification? What do they do exactly? Do you have the industry skills you need? Goal of this shouls be to find out you have a safety net - if Academia treats you like a slave, you can just go and do something else. (Many students believe Academia is good and Industry is evil or that they are too bad for Industry or whatever - you should get rid of those thoughts so you can really say you are working in Academia because you like it and leave when you don't like it and not that you are in Academia because Industry is bad.)

My last advice: "There is too much work to do" is not only in Academia, it's in every job and every non-job. The difference is how people react to this - in your case it is"I have to work more", in other jobs it is "well, it's not my problem, I work my hours, if the boss is not happy, he has to hire additional personel". My point is: don't discard your family's and friends's opinions just because they are in Industry. Many academics work in healthy ways - yet you ask in an Academia forun. And if you look in the Internet for advice on working schedules and "I have too much work": don't discard any industry advice because you are in Academia. In amount of work, there is no difference at all between Industry and Academia.

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  • Why does it have to be specifically eight hours? Dec 13 '20 at 9:49
  • I took eight hours because this would be the usual working time in my region. Thus it is a time on which worker's parties agreed (meaning that it is thought that eight hours is not too much) and employer's parties (meaning that it is not too less). One can of course change and adapt - but I wouldn't invent a value myself if I have no experience how much working is good for me, but take a value which is "accepted" in society. (Plus, if your working time is similar to those of your friends and family, it's easier to meet them.)
    – user111388
    Dec 13 '20 at 9:57
  • Then I think that this answer ignores the crux of the matter. There is a tension between academia as a workplace and academia as a place for advancing knowledge (which also affects if and how one can advance in an academic career). Dec 13 '20 at 10:14
  • I don't see what you mean by that. Would you mind to elaborate? For advancing: If what you can do in reasonable time is not enough to advance, I suggest doing something else (and if everyone did that, Academia would be a better place). And the eight hours is adaptable to your own needs - but to really find them out, you should work a few months a "normal" time, I think.
    – user111388
    Dec 13 '20 at 10:20
  • What a reasonable amount of time is differs from the perspective of workplace rules/conventions and science. Put into an exaggerated example: when Einstein discovered relativity, he might not have treated his work as a 9-to-5 job, but from the perspective of science, any effort that he invested into it is justified by the groundbreaking outcome. If you follow Einstein's example or not, that is a question of your personal values and priorities. Dec 13 '20 at 10:29

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