Work, Optional?!

The Daily Prompt:

Work? Optional! If money were out of the equation, would you still work? If yes, why, and how much? If not, what would you do with your free time?

I find it amusing that this prompt pops up now. I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the past few days. I had an appointment with my psychiatrist on Monday. It wasn’t pretty. Tears streamed down my face during the whole appointment as I desperately tried not to sob. He recommended that I see a psychologist for regular therapy and take some time off work/school to figure out if doing a Ph.D. is the right thing for me. I haven’t told my supervisor yet, nor have I decided whether or not to take psych’s advice about taking time off….but this is what started my thought processes. Money is already not part of the equation. I finally got a fellowship this year, but it doesn’t pay much. I guess I’m hoping I’ll make money some day in the future. If I could spend my days doing anything without any consequences, would I still be doing this?

After much thought and more tears, I think the answer is yes. I would still like to be doing vision research…..but not like this. In an ideal world (aka, not this one), I’d have a flexible schedule and do research part time so I could focus on my doodles, blog and writing the rest of the time. I’d love to have time to learn to paint, develop my writing skills and maybe write a children’s book or something. That would be my answer to today’s prompt but, I’m only dreaming.

Back to reality. I want to continue in vision research because I enjoy learning about the topic and helping the older population I work with. The thing I like about research is the learning, the challenge and the information. I love collecting information, breaking it down into the basics in order to understand it and then building up the story from there. This makes me think doing a Ph.D. is the right thing for me. I want to be a student though and at the moment, I think I might be juggling more responsibility than a student is supposed to have. I’m not sure though, I may have a skewed perspective because I have nothing to compare to.

I run the lab. I organize the people and the paperwork and I mentor the students and volunteers. I am involved in everything from study planning and grant applications to recruitment, testing, data analysis and reporting results. Right now, we have 6 studies running. I have spent the last year trying to get them all through ethics and am now finally collecting data. This does not include my dissertation by the way, that makes 7 studies. There is also an ongoing research-clinician program that I had to take over and the results of an 8th study that have to be published. I appreciate the opportunity to be involved in such a variety of projects. It will only look good on me when the research starts moving and I get to populate my CV.

Is this the way it usually goes? Or am I only supposed to be worrying about my dissertation? I am overwhelmed, but I’m not sure if my workload is normal for a Ph.D. candidate or not. What do you think? Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

tree with roots

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. gravbeast
    Aug 21, 2014 @ 12:31:26

    It’s awfully late where I am, & I’ll try and comment more in the morning if I can – but I just wanted to say, that sounds like a *very* onerous set of duties for someone who’s still a student – I’d be quite worried that it would significantly over-load any PhD student. I think it’s good that you’ve raised the question on your blog, & I think it’d probably be worth your while seeking IRL sources of independent advice.

    What PhD students are expected to do does vary from discipline to discipline, but at my uni, it’d be unusual for a student to be taking on any onerous administrative, organizational or mentoring duties at all, unless they’d expressly communicated a particular desire to do so. (Which they sometimes will do, since it *is* useful to get this sort of experience — but one’s main job, particularly towards the later stages, is to Finish The Dissertation, and supervisors are supposed to be aware of this.)

    Most unis should have some independent advisors or sources of advice for postgrad students who have queries about whether they’re being supervised appropriately. Or, if nothing else, the student union at your university may be able to provide advice.

    Anyway. I hope this is of some use, & will try and comment further tomorrow or on the weekend. [I have some pressing PhD deadlines coming up, myself, unfortunately.]


    • somberscribbler
      Aug 21, 2014 @ 12:58:44

      I really appreciate you commenting! I was considering quitting for a while because I was just too overwhelmed. I know a Ph.D. should be difficult and time consuming, but this is more than I think I can handle. I spoke to the few people I know who are also undertaking grad studies and their dissertations seem to be gift wrapped for them, so I didn’t think they were very good examples. I expected to be responsible for my research and mentoring students under me. I also originally wanted to volunteer on other ongoing projects to keep my CV current during my dissertation. I didn’t expect to be running the show. I need to talk to my supervisor (I’m scared!!) but I wanted some input to see if I am just in making a complaint. I didn’t want to bring it up only to be told I am more easily overwhelmed than most.
      Again thanks for saying something. It helps a lot! Good luck with your deadlines! 🙂
      P.S. What field are you in?


      • gravbeast
        Sep 01, 2014 @ 05:05:51

        No worries … sorry for the delay responding to your comment.

        I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that a PhD *has* to be difficult and time-consuming. I already had some research experience coming into my PhD (from my Masters, and a previous job), and – if it weren’t for (mental) health issues – I think I’d find it reasonably straightforward. Not *easy* exactly – but definitely not unmanageable. I know how to do lit reviews, I know how to write a paper, I know how to design and conduct experiments; I’ve got good and helpful supervisors. My stats knowledge could probably do with a bit of a refresher, but by and large I think I’m on solid ground.

        And I know there’s other people in similar positions – though they may not have previous research experience, they’re coming into a well-run lab, they have sensible supervisors who don’t overload them, and they should get through their PhD just fine.

        I think a PhD should definitely be a *challenge* – and I think it’s probably difficult to complete a PhD, if you only expect to work a 9 to 5 workday – but I don’t think that’s quite the same as a PhD having to be “difficult and time consuming”.

        Even for the students who have the thesis topics “gift-wrapped” for them: there’s still a lot to learn in the course of a PhD – a lot of academics see it as being like an apprenticeship for becoming an academic. What the “skills of the trade” are will vary from discipline to discipline – there may be lab skills, research skills – and identifying a thesis topic from scratch may not be the most important of those skills. (I did: but apparently this is a rarity – most people rely on suggestions from supervisors, it seems.)

        Mentoring students, I’d say, is rather an exceptional task for a PhD student to take on. I’ve *agreed* to mentor a new PhD student in the last couple of weeks (and I was always at liberty to say “no”)- but it will be a very easy task – basically the equivalent of explaining where the photocopiers and toilets and so on are, and how to get administrative tasks done. I am a little surprised at a supervisor even suggesting that a PhD student mentor multiple other students at a time.

        If you haven’t spoken to your supervisor already, I’d strongly suggest getting in touch with whatever counsellors, or student advisors, or student union representatives, are available at your university.

        Talking with a supervisor (whether in industry, or as a research student) about being over-loaded is difficult at the best of times. It makes sense to get as much help as you can. Furthermore, it sounds like your supervisor hasn’t been very careful in ensuring that his or her students aren’t being overloaded beyond capacity; this may be accidental, but it does suggest that perhaps your supervisor is not the best communicator and/or delegator. When combined with the fact that you’re not able to speak to your peers due to language barriers, I’d say this makes getting advice or assistance from outside even more important.

        I hope this helps.

        (My thesis is in a multi-disciplinary area, btw – mostly computer science & software engineering, with a little mathematical logic and experimental psychology thrown in.)

      • gravbeast
        Sep 01, 2014 @ 05:08:32

        Oh – I forgot to mention – some universities have charters of “rights and responsibilities” for postgrad students and supervisors – it might be an idea to check and see if your uni has one of these, as that may help give a better idea of what is expected from PhD students.

      • gravbeast
        Sep 01, 2014 @ 05:16:21

        Yet another thing I forgot to say. Sorry :/

        If I’m having a depressive episode, I find my ability to know what are reasonable expectations of me is completely skewed. And my ability to do things like get help from health professionals, supervisors and so on, is impaired.

        Having recently *recovered* from a depressive episode, I can look back on the support provided to me during the 1st half of this year, and see it was completely inadequate, and I was being way too hard on myself. So it goes. If I’d had close friends or family to assist me in “navigating the university system” (i.e. getting sick leave, extensions of deadlines etc.), things might have gone a bit better, but unfortunately I don’t – the close friends and relatives I have in this city are all, unfortunately, in worse shape than I am, so I’ve had to rely on no-one but myself and Twitter people for support [and I do value their support; but having someone available IRL really does make a huge difference].

        At any rate – if you’re having, or just are still getting over, a depressive episode, then I think it’s even more important to seek support from advisors, online people, etc if you can. Again, hope that’s of use.

      • somberscribbler
        Sep 03, 2014 @ 13:06:18

        Thanks so much for your perspective. It helps to hear from another academic. I guess I am in the midst of a depressive episode. I’ve talked to other friends (non-academic) about my workload and they seem to think its a bit much, but I keep thinking maybe that’s just the way academia is and I need to suck it up, but maybe I’m being too hard on myself. I switched fields…..went from bioinformatics to vision research, so although I do have some previous research experience, none of it is with regards to humans. I am finding the process quite different. My dissertation was started from scratch as well, probably why I am feeling unsure about it. The other Ph.D. candidates I know are just continuing a project started by someone else in their lab, so we can’t really compare experiences. I did have a chat with my supervisor about my workload and my mental health. She was understanding and I felt optimistic afterwards, but not anymore. Nothing is really going to change. I guess I’m going to have to just learn to be ok with dropping the ball on other things sometimes and focusing only on my own dissertation. It will never get done otherwise. I am going to go back to seeing a psychologist regularly. Hopefully that will help me gain better perspective and get through this.

    • somberscribbler
      Aug 21, 2014 @ 13:01:31

      Oh, I forgot to mention, I don’t speak the same language as my peers at my university, thus why I haven’t spoken to any of them about this, lol.


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