We're a little crazy, about science!

Work and School

Let’s face it, if you’ve ever gotten any sort of degree, you know it’s a job all its own. You can even say you’re a student on almost all things that ask for employment, so it’s not a new idea. When you start a PhD or in some cases, even your Masters, you even get paid for your work, albeit not great. So I was always impressed, and surprised, by people who work while pursuing a degree because I knew I could never do something like that, then I did.

It’s been roughly nine months or so since I jumped ship and went full time researcher and part time student. I had finished all the requirements for my degree aside from my dissertation, so when I made the leap I thought it would be okay. It has, for the most part been a great choice. I now get paid a semi-livable wage, I have health insurance — because as a student most schools don’t bother… — and I even have paid days off, wild I know. But working full time and going to school, for what amounts to full time, has been a bit of a struggle, after all there are only 24 hours in a day and I need to eat and sleep sometime in there.

It wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t have so many ambitious projects that I’ve somehow created for myself. I have two studies, possibly more, that I am currently working on that wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for my suggestion and sometimes I wonder if I should keep my ideas to myself so I don’t make more work. Maybe one day, probably long after the fact, I’ll learn to do that. Unfortunately for now that wouldn’t solve the problems as it is.

Basically what I’m saying is simply that a PhD, or let’s be real for a moment, any degree, is hard. Higher education is a struggle and undergrad was no joke, it was probably one of the harder things I’ve done in life. Then you add on top of that working full time and things get even harder. You’re taking two very difficult things and doing them at the same time, so I don’t know what I expected, but it’s certainly not easy. Or as hospital-PI likes to remind me, life is hard.

The problem is the balance constantly shifts. It’s not like I can say 90% work 10% school or even 50-50 because sometimes one side will need more attention than the other. Working as a researcher is very flexible, at least in my field so I spend more time in the lab some weeks than others and work from home when I can, because why not and have you seen gas prices?!

Now if it was a bit of a push-pull situation that wouldn’t be so bad. The trick is some days or even weeks where it’s a pull-pull issue. Both sides need my full attention and there’s no real way to avoid it. Deadlines are a good example of this, because deadlines are a thing for both work and school and I find that they like to overlap even though they aren’t really related. It’s times like that, that really remind me just how hard it is to do both school and work.

It’s pretty much how I expected it to be honestly. I imagined it would be hectic, difficult to balance the two things, and there wouldn’t be a lot of free time. I only have about a year left (ideally) so I don’t have to live like this too long. I’m also glad I’ve done it, it’s helped speed up the transition from grad school to PI or prospective PI anyway. I’ve learned a lot and I genuinely enjoy the stuff I’m doing, so not all bad and certainly a choice I would make again if I had the option.

Maybe the important takeaway is that it’s hard. Because I never thought I would be able to work and go to school. I’ve watched people do it, I know it can be done, but I never thought I would be able to do it. There’s a lot of things I can’t do, so no shame in admitting it. Yet here I am doing just that. Maybe we don’t really know what we’re capable of doing until we’re in the middle of doing it. That’s not a bad message I think.

It’s been an interesting few years, I do look forward to finishing school though. I love being a student, but I’m ready for a new adventure.


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