One of the biggest frustrations I had as an undergrad was the sheer number of courses I had to take in a semester. Being a materials science and engineering student, I knew I had to take a lot of classes every semester as my degree called for 128 hours instead of the usual 120 other majors at the University of Florida. On average, I took like 5 classes a semester and that was on top of a job and extracurriculars. I hated it at the time. Now, as a 4th year Ph.D. student, I realize that I miss having all of that.
When you’re doing a Ph.D., you come to realize you have a lot of free time on your hands. This is because you take, at max, two actual classes, and the rest of the credits are research credits which means you need to spend time working on your research. These credits are unstructured in the sense that there’s no schedule and you have to plan your time effectively to get work done. A nice thing about this is that you can set your own hours and work whenever except for when you have meetings and classes I guess. The downside is that you have to plan your day yourself, which is a double-edged sword.
When you have multiple classes as an undergrad, you’re basically forced to have a schedule and don’t really have to think about what to do and when to do it. While not at the same level, this is how people join the military to have a routine; it removes the stress of planning and being in control. Now, I’m daunted with not feeling forced to wake up at a certain time because I don’t have classes hanging over me. I’m also daunted by the idea of not using my time efficiently because I don’t have a schedule. Yes, I can make my own schedule but it feels different than a class schedule from the school.
For reference, a Ph.D. student here at TAMU is expected to work 20 hours minimum for their research assistantship contract, and then every credit of research is approximately another 4 hours (at least this is what I have been told). As you progress further and further into your degree, you take fewer classes, and more research credits are taken. This means you have to become more and more self-sufficient and self-reliant to get work done. Sometimes I still have difficulty with that, especially when I underestimate how long a task will take get done or how tired I am. Props to anyone that is able to get work done between 8 to 5, and is also able to wake up early enough to even do an 8 to 5 day. Instead, I like a later start to my day with a working lunch. However, I am starting to get up earlier and earlier so being an 8 to 5 girlie is in the cards for me.
Another mentality I have right now is that I don’t know when I’ll be presented with an opportunity like this where I pick my hours and can work late and have liberty on my working time. I’m savoring it for as long as I can until I have to work in the real world.
What I’m trying to say is that while it sucks to have many classes as an undergrad, the routine removes so much stress when it comes to managing your own time. It’s so funny. When I talk about my courseload with current undergrads, they commonly say something alluding to how nice it must be to not any classes. I really do miss all that structure with my undergrad schedule. However, I need to develop my self-reliance now especially since the finish line for me is coming up next year. With all this free time, I can get a lot of papers and research done so that I make the most out of my Ph.D., and that’s what I’m very excited about.