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There are questions on here about getting married, having kids, and other major time commitments during graduate school. But one thing that I haven't seen posted -- but that I've seen come up with some frequency (at least in the US) -- is concerning people getting pets during their PhD. Yea, I know certain pets (e.g. fish and reptiles) take less time to care for than others (e.g. cats and dogs), but I'm specifically wondering about what to consider in the latter case.

Pro: Pursuing a PhD can be a very lonely process, so having some companionship can be worthwhile and perhaps even lead to increased focus and productivity.

Con: Cost and time commitment, particularly early on with a pet.

What are other things to consider in getting a pet during the PhD? Does the timing make a big difference? That is, should I wait until I'm ABD, or should I get one over a summer?

Does having a companion, like a dog, for example, often help students' productivity when they were otherwise adrift in isolation?

Also, I'd be interested to hear from a faculty perspective as to whether it's ill-advised to get a pet during the PhD. I assume most don't care as long as the student stays productive, but I'm curious if there are any anecdotes that support either the pro or con I listed above. Same goes for anyone who got a pet during grad school.

NOTE: The help center explicitly states that questions pertaining to "Life as a graduate student, postdoctoral researcher, university professor..." are on topic (emphasis added). Thus, this question appears to be fully within the stated guidelines.

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    We're starting to veer into boat programming territory here. There isn't much specific to pet ownership that wouldn't apply to someone in almost any other occupation. – aeismail Mar 14 '16 at 2:06
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because boat programming. – David Richerby Mar 14 '16 at 7:51
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not really about academia. – Pete L. Clark Mar 15 '16 at 13:32
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    With all due respect, until there is a good explanation why this is off-topic, but all of the other balancing-personal-life-with-a-PhD questions (basically anything with the "work-life-balance" tag) are valid, it seems only natural to conclude that we are operating under a very whimsical and arbitrary definition of "on topic" on this site. – marcman Mar 15 '16 at 19:37
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    @keshlam: Also from the help center: "What topics can I ask about here? ...If you have a question about... Life as a graduate student, postdoctoral researcher, university professor... ... then you're in the right place!" (emphasis added) – marcman Mar 15 '16 at 19:41
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I bought a cat recently - I'm in the 4th year of my PhD, but I wish I had done it sooner. Particularly if you are working at a very high intensity, a pet provides 3 incredibly useful things:

  1. A reason to go home. Many students, particularly international PhD students working at top-tier institutions where 18hr work days is not uncommon, tend to spend their entire life at work - after all there's nothing else to do. If you have a particularly one-sided work-life balance, a pet will force you to break up your day into work time and home time.

  2. Time management skills. Before I had a pet, I would go to sleep when I was too tired to continue working, and so it doesn't really matter when I go to bed or when I wake up, so long as that period of time spent asleep is short. However, doing this for several years can enforce some pretty bad habits! With no strong circadian rhythm and poor eating schedules, you get worn out faster. Having a pet forces you to adopt a healthier schedule, for your pet's sake. New mothers/fathers often say the same thing, although a pet is certainly less work. It's not just sleep though, it filters down into everything you do - because you're responsible for two now.

  3. Perspective. If the other two were wishy-washy answers, this one certainly is - however it's also the most important. I don't know about other pets, but cat's don't live all that long, depending on the breed. Mine has about 10 years, which means for every day I am alive, my cat burns up 7 or 8. 'Is he getting the most out of his life?' quickly becomes 'am I getting the most out of my life?'. Another similar but slightly different emotion that you get when you are the only person responsible for something else is, "am I being responsible with his life?". If I was to get hit by a bus today, there's a good chance the cat would also perish. Asking yourself how responsible a pet-parent you are, forces you to ask yourself how responsible you are being with your own life too.

There are obviously a bunch of practical reasons like time, energy and money (although honestly its not so bad), but im sure you have considered all those things already.

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    As an international PhD student at arguably a top-tier institution, an 18h workday seems to me like a terrible exaggeration. If you consistently work that much you are more likely to die of heart attach than to graduate on time. – Drecate Jun 10 '16 at 4:42
  • I agree it's not healthy - but if you're the sort of person that can't help but say "yes" to unreasonable demands..... then a cat is for you ;-) – Wetlab Walter Jun 10 '16 at 11:31
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    Also in the "perspective" category is that a pet gives you unconditional love. Your pet won't judge you by how smart you are or how well your research is going. So when you come home after a bad day in the lab and see how happy your pet is to see you, it helps you realise that your worth as a human being hasn't changed. – mhwombat Jun 11 '16 at 19:14
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I'm going to presume in my answer you're looking to stay in academia post-Ph.D.

One of the biggest concerns you're going to have isn't now, but after the Ph.D. Consider if you get a super playful mega cuddlebug kissing dog, there are many places with ignorant breed-specific legislation that would mean you couldn't bring your dog with you.

Unlike in other fields where you probably have a good idea (or decent say in the matter) of where you'll be living at, jobs in academia are scarce, and if you're only offered a job in, say, Denver which bans the aforementioned nanny dogs, are you willing to leave your dog behind to advance your career?

If you're in a field that may require a lot of traveling (public health, foreign languages, anthropology, ecology, marine bio, etc), I would absolutely not recommend getting one unless you have someone that you can consistently and always count on to be willing to watch your animal for extended periods of time. Let's face it, you're not going to be able to afford boarding on a GTA stipend. OTOH, if you're needing to be in the same on-campus lab virtually all year, that might not be a concern at all.

Lastly, consider something else: fostering. You get all the benefits of pet ownership without the long-term complications (unless you become a decide to become a foster failure and decide to adopt). You can also often workout with the foster coordinator to give you dog/cats that are a year or two or older to reduce the initial time commitment because even if not house trained, they can hold it for a work day.

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    A similar consideration is that you may find that after the PhD, you want or need to take a job in another country. The regulations and logistics for transporting a pet internationally can be daunting (6-month quarantines, etc). – Nate Eldredge May 2 '16 at 13:49
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There is a middle option you can take between having a pet and not having one: you can volunteer at a local animal shelter for a few hours a week. I've listed some pros and cons compared to getting a pet.

Disclaimer: I have neither worked at an animal shelter nor have I ever owned a pet.

Pros:

  • Contact with animals: Although you won't spend as much time at the shelter as you would with your own pet, you still have many animal friends.
  • Social element: You can bond with other volunteers and like-minded animal lovers.
  • Cost: Both your time and monetary investment are much lesser compared to actually owning a pet.
  • Less direct stress: If your pet falls sick, you have to take care of it all the time. At the shelter, there are other people helping out with the work, so it's less stressful for you.
  • Flexibility (possibly): While a shelter will most likely ask you to give a regular schedule, you might be able to ask for different dates etc. if you have extra work or have to attend a conference. Asking somebody to take care of your pet at short notice might be relatively difficult.

Cons:

  • Compassion fatigue: If most of the animals are usually kept in poor conditions or if most of them are sick, and there isn't much you can do about it (lack of funding, poor management), then taking care of the animals all the time can take a toll on your mental well-being.
  • Possible "break-up": If your favourite animal at the shelter is adopted by somebody, you might not be able to stay in touch (of course, this depends on the owner).
  • Lack of intimacy: If you have a pet, you are probably best chums. You can cuddle them, take silly pictures, take them for a walk anywhere etc. However, if you don't spend much time at the shelter (say 3-4 hours a week or less), it may take a much longer time (and it will be more difficult) to bond with the animals.

Other factors to consider (depending on your priorities and opinions):

  • Animal welfare: You are helping a large number of animals at the shelter. Even if you are adopting one animal as a pet, you are just improving the life of one animal.
  • Young animals: A young animal like a puppy or a kitten will demand roughly the same amount of time from you as an infant (of course this also depends on the breed/infant in question). This can be difficult to manage unless you have a partner helping you out. At the shelter, there are others helping you out.

Note: Some shelters do not keep young puppies/kittens but give them out to foster parents who take care of them for 8-10 weeks or more.

Guifa has mentioned fostering as an option as well in the answer here. With fostering, you have the pros of "Contact with animals" and "Cost" and the cons of "break-up" where it might be difficult for you to separate from the adopted animal and possibly "lack of intimacy" depending on your fostering duration.

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When I was an undergraduate (engineering) , I wanted a dog. The summer before my senior year I got a large blue-heeler mix from my cousin. Immediately my life changed because my dog was a bright smiling face for me to return home to at the end of the day, which cured alot of loneliness that I had during that time. In addition, my dog would require 2-3 walks per day of about 20 minutes each, so I got much more exercise than I would have if I did not get a pet. 6 years later I still have my dog and she still provides the same benefits as when I got her. I enjoy the responsibility and companionship of a dog and it definitely helped me during school because of the social aspect. I would walk her around my university and people would often stop to pet her, compliment her, etc.

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I have always wanted a dog, then I started my PhD and thought it is better now, the first year is always a bit calmer... So I got a puppy, a whippet puppy, indeed the first 2 months my productivity went waaaay down because I could sleep and had to go home many times and was worried. But after those 2 months I had the most perfect dog - does not chew, was house trained (after much effort xD), did not bark, did not scratch and I let her loose on the house (this took many months, increase one division of the house per month).

Now, half-way through my PhD, I actually want another :)

nothing helps more those awful tired days than that dogs smiley face. I force myself to have lunch at home and never do more than 6 hours morning 6 hours afternnon because she needs to potty, so I never work more than 12 hours, and my productivity is higher, my lifestyle too! and social stuff, I try to take her!

is great to have a best friend living with you during the PhD, and I would chose a dog everytime!

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