Behind First Year: The Numbers

(Update: I passed both exams on the first attempt. Hopefully that helps readers to judge the information below.)

Grad students constantly talk about how much they work. It's a badge of honor to explain how terrible life is. Even I have gotten a little mopey about things lately. I apologize.

This post attempts to put some numbers to the amount of work one specific PhD student did. My purpose is not to brag, neither about how much nor how little I worked, but simply explain how the time I put in. (If it turns out I failed my exams, I'll make a note on this post in the future.)

Instead of relying on my biased recollection, I used data. Of course, this has its own biases, but it is better than my memory.

Since about 2 years ago, I've used an app called Toggl to track my time. I highly recommend it. It pushes me to work more and stay focused. I always feel bad when I'm clocked into work and I'm actually checking Twitter, since I'm only fooling myself. That pushes me to get back to work.

A quick note on how I track my time: when I arrive at the office and start to actually work, I mean actually work and not just get ready for the day making tea, I begin clocking my time. I have the app on my phone, iPad, and on a browser. I am able to keep them synced reasonably well. When I take a break to eat, I switch the tag to "Personal." When people come into my office to chat, I do the same. I want to get a real estimate of my time doing each activity.

I originally tried to keep track of smaller categories of activities, but I've found my optimal tracking is with broad categories like Personal, Courses, Studying, and specific projects.

Categories I included as "work" time:

  • Courses: the actual course lectures
  • Coursework: studying, problem sets, related readings
  • Non-Coursework Econ: reading for my Adam Smith fellowship, fun economics readings like Hayek, programming, departmental lectures
  • Projects: I have three papers at various stages and I've tracked the time on them.
  • Blogging: This is the least like work, but I only tracked about 10 hours over the year. I likely missed a lot of blogging time or put it as personal.

The most obvious bias is from checking Twitter. If I just glanced quickly, say less 30 seconds, I wouldn't mark the time. If I got in a conversation, I would count that as personal time.

I tracked personal time to try to see how much time I was wasting at the office. If I wasn't working, I wanted to be home with my wife. My apologies to her for wasting the time I did at the office.

Categories I included as "personal" time:

  • Eating
  • Browsing the internet
  • Working out
  • Practicing Spanish

So here is my non-perfect data from September 1st to May 27th.

Aggregates:

Number of Weeks- ~39 weeks - 4 for Christmas Break and my honeymoon = 35 weeks. This is what I will use for my averages.

Hours: 1664 hours - 100 "Personal" Hours = 1,564 working hours

Hours per week = ~44.7 working hours per week

 

monthly

 

As you can see, there is a dip around the holiday time. Otherwise, the monthly average is quite steady. There wasn't an upward movement toward the prelims. This is because I switched from working on other stuff to studying for prelims.

There is one estimate for potential students: 200 hours per month.

Don't take it as gospel, but it is a more precise estimate than what I heard from grad students, "I worked a lot." Although each person is different, it is my impression that I am fairly normal (on this aspect). Remember though, that this is time actually spent working, plus some quick glances at Twitter. It is NOT time at the office.

After an undergrad program, master's program and one year in a PhD, my impression is that when students say they "worked X hours," they mean they were at the office, library or computer for X hours. Again, that is only an impression. Some students in my different programs worked much more than me, no matter how one tracks it. Some probably worked much less.

If asked me before looking at the numbers, I would have guessed I worked almost 60 hours a week. That comes from my bias. I remember the times I work 65 hours and forget the times it was only 30.

For example, I traveled to the Mercatus Center three times this year for a fellowship. I did not include that time, because it was hard to distinguish work and personal time. Since I was only at the office 3 days, those weeks were much lower. I forget these short weeks when looking back on the year. But enough excuses. That is what I worked. 44 hours. But what exactly was I doing?

Time Actually Working

This is where I am different from other students. I got extremely, EXTREMELY bored with the coursework and needed to do other stuff. The professors were fine. It's just that my interests are a little too weird to be excited about the material.

While I would not recommend submitting a paper during the week of prelims, I would recommend doing other economics to keep life interesting. If you like first year, good for you. I didn't and would have dropped out if I worked solely on the coursework.

weekly

 

The rough averages per week is

  • Coursework: 21 hours
  • Courses: 8.5 hours
  • Teaching: 5.5 hours
  • Non-Coursework Econ: 5 hours
  • Administrative (just dumb other random stuff I had to do): 1.5 hours
  • Smith/Hayek + Panic of 1907 + Network Papers: 2.7 hours

Not surprising, I spent the largest part of my time on coursework. This increased over the last few months as my work on other papers turned into time for prelim studying.

What surprised me is that I spent less than half of my time studying. Only about 21 hours a week were directly studying with another 8.5 hours at the lectures for class. In the spring, I devoted less time to the courses since I took fewer courses and attended fewer TA sessions.

Teaching took up another 5.5 hours. That was the most consistent from week to week with 3 hours in the classroom, an hour for prep and an hour for my office hours. It was a great experience and I hope to devote a whole post to it. Other sections of time varied greatly through the year.

Most surprising to me is that I spent around 36 hours on stuff I had to do for my first year. The other 8 hours or so were just things that kept me going, things that I found fun. And believe me, they were a lot more fun than coursework. I'm excited to get back to learning more programming and reading more Austrian economics.

So that's that. I know I'm almost committing blasphemy to the Church of PhD Students by admitting to working only 44 hours a week. But my goal is to be honest with incoming students, not to make myself feel like I'm working hard. If I'm working hard, it will show in my output. I don't need to talk myself up.

So as I said, my information is not perfect, but it is one more piece of information for people to know about when they are deciding to enter a PhD program.

6 thoughts on “Behind First Year: The Numbers

  1. I don't think it's bragging at all - it is helpful. How was this first PhD year compared to your master's program in terms of coursework?

    • It was much more work, not twice as much, but still a significant step up. I'm glad I did my master's first.

  2. I think I worked roughly the same amount in the first year, at 225 hours a month though I spend more time grading, like 50 hours a month than you did teaching. Though in my masters I worked way harder, like 275-300 hours a month.

    Nice blog by the way.

  3. Interesting! I think I found that for me, on average, 40ish hours a week was about what I did, though I didn't really keep track. I'll just say that I had plenty of time to get all my work done and have a life outside grad school - so I suspect that my time commitment was roughly the same as working a full time job like I do now.

    • That's what I was hoping to get across. The first year is tough, but not that much more than a standard job. I think people who come straight from undergrad don't realize that.

  4. Pingback: Second Year Update |

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