How do you split your time?

Everyone always talks about the work-life balance, but I don’t want to focus on that. Instead, I was wondering, how do grad students divide up their “work” time. Because “work” time rarely ends up being strictly “doing your own research” time.

In fact, I can think of numerous categories that my “work” time gets split into. Some of them, are listed below.

  • Doing your own research time
  • Doing side research time
  • Helping friends/classmates with their research time
  • TA time
  • RA time
  • Attending classes and studying time
  • Attending seminars time
  • Volunteering and/or out reach time
  • Dealing with scholarships/grants/money time
  • Attending conference time

At most universities, professors are given a basic breakdown as to how they should spend the time. Sometimes it’s something like 40% teaching, 40% research and 20% administrative. But this always fluctuates depending on the school. Schools that conduct little research (or possibly none at all) will likely have a much higher weight put on teaching. And so on.

However, as a grad student, you’re likely never given a clear idea as to how you should be spending your time. I’ve never heard someone say “grad students should split their focus with 80% on their own research, 10% on classes, and 10% on “extras” (which may consist of many of the others above). But I think it’d be really useful to have a basic split. Mainly because it allows you to look at what you’re doing and seeing if you’re spending your time wisely.

Personally, I really don’t think a grad student should probably exceed something like 90% of their focus on their own research. And even that is kind of high. Because I think one of the big benefits of grad school, that is often under emphasized, is the learning environment that’s available to learn bits and pieces about lots of other topics, while still focusing on your own research.

Obviously, if you’re TA-ing or working on an RA that is not directly related to your own research, you’re going to have your time divided up a bit for you. Where I am, a full time TA position is 12 hours a week. So, assuming you put in around 40 yours a week, you should be spending about 30% on TA, leaving only 70% of your time for your own work. Of course, it’s unlikely that you’ll only ever work on either TA stuff or research (or that you’ll only ever put in 40 hours). So likely you’re expected to end up closer to 30% TA, 50% research and 20% the rest.

In the first year of your Master’s here (and somewhat for the first year of your PhD) you’re really focused on classes. And usually TA-ing. And in those cases, actual individual research may not even occur. Leading to a completely different split of almost 30% TA and 70% classes.

I don’t really know how I split my time. I think my guess would be something like 75% research, 15% other research/group research, 10% volunteering/other. But, these all fluctuate day to day, week to week. What do you think your split looks like?

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One thought on “How do you split your time?

  1. As TAs, we were expected to teach 50% of our time. Luckily we only had to teach for the first two years, but between TAing and classes, there wasn’t much time for research in those first two years before taking Quals.

    I think that grad school applicants aren’t often aware of how time consuming teaching can be – its something I wish I had known about when I was applying – I would have quizzed the profs and current students on it much more closely.

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