As a PhD student, during the four years of research, you are your own boss. PhD students are not restricted to specific working hours (or place) – as long as they do the work it doesn’t matter when, how, or where they do it. I spend most of my time working at home or in coffee shops instead of my desk in uni, and I take a day off after long meetings... I find that this freedom is what enabled me to be creative, come up with new ideas, start collaborations with others in my group, and publish papers.

Now that I am almost done with my PhD, I am worried about life after PhD. I am wondering if it would be difficult to get back to a normal job working a set amount of hours every day, in the same place. Is that why most people stay in academia after getting a PhD?

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    What is your major and which part of world you are living in?Because the freedom of life style as you mentioned is not true in all cases. It depends on your major, country and culture of research group etc.
    – Mohaqiq
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 1:21
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    If you like being your own boss that much, you should consider starting your own company.
    – user9482
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 7:17
  • There was another question (some time ago, I cannot find it now). This guy was complaining that his wife was getting an academic job, and that she would no longer be able to take a week off in the middle of the year so they could go skiing in the Canadian Rockies, as they had done in the past. (It seems that if they went during school vacations, the skiing wold be too crowded.)
    – GEdgar
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 13:01
  • If you are in a field where you can work remotely, then such freedom of movement/location is quite typical. So this is going to vary hugely by industry and employment type. In some places you clock in and out at set times, only leave your position for 15-30 minutes for breaks 1-2 times a day - but most types of employment leave you somewhere inbetween in terms of freedom of movement.
    – BrianH
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 16:10
  • Did you thing about a career as an uber driver? Just kidding, but being a consultant or an entrepreneur might be for you. Or continue to work in academia in a groups that are compatible with your preferred lifestyle. Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 19:56

2 Answers 2


To answer your question, we have to clarify some misconceptions it seems to carry. First, a fixed routine is a staple in most jobs you'll come across. You're going to have to accept this. Even at Google, employees are given the freedom to take time off anytime they want -- but this time has limits, and it's on the promise that they'll return to work for a chunk of hours. The vast majority of jobs, no matter how flexible, will not be lax enough to let you work at a coffee shop in the long run.

The same goes for academia. As a professor or academic, you'll be required to teach, do some forms of public service, and, of course, do research. A lot of things from the first two will be fixed beyond your control in terms of task variation and scheduling. As for the rest, there's some freedom to allot time to tasks as you see fit, but given the amount of work you'll have to do, it will come to be structured in some way or another.

Second, it's more accurate to say that a lot of people aren't staying in academia after their PhD. The market today is vastly different than it was twenty years ago. Academic jobs are harder to come by, and tenured positions are an endangered species. Most people will find themselves working as adjuncts or lecturers for a large chunk of their careers. And so PhD grads are now more commonly seeking employment outside academia -- industry, governments, NGOs, etc.

Third, most importantly, no one chooses or should choose a job because of a free schedule. That's far too limiting. Choose a job whose tasks click with your interests, something that motivates you to work. Consider the reverse for your own background: if you hated research, I'm sure that no matter how many hours you were allowed to spend in a coffee shop, you wouldn't have enjoyed yourself or done well.

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    Fourth, while this schedule seems to have worked for OP, it is by far not a "normal standard PhD" one. I am free to do with my time what I want if I get my work done, but I have loads of meetings to attend, teaching to do, and then squeeze the actual PhD work in. For a lot of people it means to be "free" to work long hours, come in on weekends and sometimes (rarely) use that freedom to get to personal appointments without having to juggle this all with your job.
    – skymningen
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 7:57
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    Strongly disagree with the last part. Prior interests does not correlate with later job satisfaction. Focusing on a career because of the lifestyle it allows it's actually a pretty good way towards a happy life Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 19:51

I am wondering if it would be difficult to get back to a normal job working a set amount of hours every day, in the same place. is that why most people stay in academia after getting a phd?

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but it looks like the question you're really asking is if you will be able to find a workplace with the same schedule [lack of], or if not, if you'll be able to adjust. The only advice here is: try it. Get a job, in academia or not, and see how you handle it.

From what I've seen, this kind of organization is definitely not the norm even in the academic world, since once you start collaborating with people, they will expect to be able to see you at office hours without having to set a meeting weeks in advance. (For what it's worth, it's not even that common for PhD students in my experience).

However, this does not mean that you will not be able to find a boss who allows you to have your own schedule - though in the "normal life" (amazing choice of words in your title!), working in coffee shops or spontaneously taking a day off because you're tired may be pushing a bit too far. The point is, every workplace is different, every boss is different: some people will trust you and only care about results and allow you to set your own schedule, some will be controlling freaks and check if everyone arrived on time. Depending on the field, some companies have policies for working remotely if the kind of work you do allows it. Don't hesitate to ask about the schedule and flexibility if you're offered a position, it's definitely one of the points to consider - and obviously an important one for you.

Basically, you will have to find a job, either in academia or not, and see if you can handle their rules. If you can't, look for a more flexible one, and repeat the process. If you still really can't handle any of it, you may need a longer job search to find the perfect place where no-one will care. Personally, I noticed that the more interesting the job is, the less I care about having to be there way earlier than I'd chose to. And a lot of places offer flexible time, which is a good compromise even if it still means you have to come five days a week... all in all, you should be okay. Good luck!

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