Throughout your PhD I’m sure that the work hours have been extremely scatty, unstructured, and possibly excessive. It’s very common for PhD students to not work a typical 9-5 work schedule and it’s extremely difficult to exercise good time management skills whilst completing your PhD. At time of writing this post, I’ve just completed my first week at a new job in industry, and I thought it would be good to share some my thoughts about the working hours i.e. 9-5.
I think the most notable difference now that I’m in a structured 9-5 is the clear boundaries that have been imposed on when I should and shouldn’t be at my desk. This makes it a lot easier to know when to stop working, or when to go for lunch. Partly because my new job is really respectful of a healthy work-life balance. Even if they weren’t, I suspect that I’d feel a lot more at ease in a ‘proper’ job that expects 9-5 as the norm. This reduces the guilt massively when I decide to only do work between 9-5.
Usually in academia, this isn’t the case. There’s a hidden expectation that you’d work outside the typical 9-5 routine and this can be a dangerous game to play. Because this isn’t defined or expected for PhD students, it makes it hard to enforce this – especially when someone (typically your supervisor) is asking you to complete something at weird hours. Even if you’ve been able to discipline yourself throughout your PhD, and deliberately structure your PhD to mimic a 9-5 – it doesn’t quite feel the same. Often, you’d have to justify why you want your PhD to mimic a 9-5, whereas in industry or in the working world this is the norm, so you (or someone else) is going to have to justify why you shouldn’t be working a 9-5. So, first thoughts, 9-5 is good – it takes the edge off. Anxiety and guilt related to work hours outside the 9-5 are diminished.
The second thing I’ve picked up on is how much easier it is to compartmentalise my work and my actual life. Work exists within the 9-5 routine, and after that I am free to do what I want. Because I feel like an employee as opposed to someone who’s doing their own research, it’s a lot easier to leave my work duties at the office and not think about them after 5pm hits. This actually allows me to look forward to work, have energy to work well, but also leaves fuel in the tank for me to work on other projects or aspirations for myself. Some of this might dissipate over time as the first week of a new job is usually not as intense – but I suspect this feeling will continue as it’s very different to doing a PhD. The 9-5 schedule also means ‘what I do in my free time’ is equally important.
Usually, being a PhD student can be engulfing and take up the majority of your identity – which is why I talk about a “leaving academia mindset” elsewhere. This means that even outside the 9-5 routine, you’ll be thinking about your next project, your next paper, or some other abstract concept that is vital to your PhD. Now this has been removed, I’m much more concerned about doing things that contribute to my own personal development and personality. Whether that be reading books, investing time to learn a hobby or new skill, or even spend more time looking after my health and fitness. Speaking of reading, during my PhD I never actually read much in my own free time. This always sort of bothered me, but I personally think one of the main reasons why I didn’t do this was because I spent 50%-80% of my time reading complex scientific papers or my own writing.
From my point of view, my ‘reading’ battery was just depleted day in day out. It made it extremely hard to read in my own time, or outside the ‘9-5’ routine of a PhD I desperately tried to create. Now that my working duties have changed quite drastically, I find myself having a lot more capacity and motivation to read in my own time – after work. This may not necessarily link to the 9-5 working life per se, but what I’m doing in this 9-5 has definitely changed my interests – or at least allowed me to have more time to pursue my interests – which is great! 😀
The last point I’ve noticed after my first week is how exhausting social interacts are. It’s my first week, so meeting a lot of new people, introducing myself, and remembering names is more full-on. But doing this for 4-5 hours of my working hours has definitely taken me by surprise. Previously, during the 9-5 of my PhD I would spend the vast majority of it on my own and have very minimal, if any at all, social interaction with another human being. Overtime, this just becomes the norm and you learn to sort of ‘cope’ with it. Now I’m interacting with a lot of people on a daily basis during my 9-5. My social skills are extremely rusty, so having to find my groove again on how to interact with people, whilst still be professional and productive has (and still is) taking some adjustment.
Interacting with others on a daily basis, for an extensive period of time, is draining and very overwhelming. However, I expect this to change sooner or later as I get used to and adjust fully. This process is one I’m really looking forward to, as human interact is definitely something I missed during my PhD. Again, this might not be due to the 9-5 working hours at my new job, but once again what I’m doing during the 9-5 has changed quite significantly – for the good!
Those are my initial thoughts only after the first week at a new job outside my PhD and academia. Of course, depending on the type of job you get in industry will dramatically influence this experience – you might not even be working a typical 9-5 in industry! But if there’s anything I’ve learnt from my first week is that this adjustment period is very real and it’s going to take a bit of time to get used to. If (or when) you find yourself in a similar situation, remember that it’s normal and as time goes by, you’ll learn to adjust. If you don’t, then it might be a sign that your new job isn’t for you and there is something else out there. Always remember that you have an enormity of transferable skills so you will always have options. Either way, it’s all useful feedback to learn what it is you want to do with your career!
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