I spent 3 years working in a corporate office before I started my PhD. The corporate world is a different breed of work than the PhD, but many of the skills learned are transferable to a successful PhD. I will to do a short series on what I learned in my experience in corporate work and how I use these skills every day in my PhD.
The first topic I will tackle in scheduling. Most corporate offices have relatively strict work hours, typically 9-6 or 8-5 Monday through Friday. This is a trope of corporate work which is accurate for many. During the first year of corporate work, waking up at 6 AM every day to get to work on time is tough. This ungodly hour feel likes a punishment every morning. Then winter comes and you drive into work at sunrise and leave at sunset. And it sucks. After a year, you get used to 6 AM, maybe even waking up a bit earlier to get in a morning run and you learn to embrace your free time when you have it.
I hadn’t realized how much my schedule had changed until I returned for my PhD. My fellow students were overwhelmed with classes and finding time to do all the work. They would have a hard time making it to our 9:30 AM class and struggled to find time to study. Meanwhile, I kept my 9-5 schedule (and many weeks less) and was successful in my classes and not stressed at all.
When you are in college, you tend to think about your life in waves. The semester starts and everything is easy. At the end of the semester, you cram of all of your tests and are so busy you can’t find time to sleep. Then you do nothing for a couple weeks before it starts all over again. When you work corporate, you go into work every day and do something. Sometimes you go into work every day and do nothing for a week but you still go into work every day.
PhD work is often highly self-driven, as it should be. You are learning how to be a competent independent researcher. Part of this skill set is self-motivation. You need to be in your office working every day even if you feel as if there is nothing to do, just as we do in the corporate world. If I work an extra hour every day when I wake up at 7 AM instead of 8 AM, it won’t feel like much an any single day, but it is an extra 250 hours in a year. I just got an extra 6 weeks of work out of my year through just one hour a day.
Some people are confident they ‘work better at night’ or ‘can’t wake up so early’. If you are one of these people, I urge you to try keeping a corporate schedule. Try it for one month, diligently get up and get your butt to work at 9 AM every morning Monday through Friday and see how much more you can actually get done. Then when 5 PM comes, go home. Seriously, just go home, leave your work on your desk and forget about it until tomorrow. Then when the weekend comes, sleep in and enjoy a lazy day. You already did your work! There is nothing more magical than a completely free weekend.