As many of you will know, @Chemjobber and @Vinylogous are hosting a kind of blog conversation called “Is graduate school in chemistry bad for your mental health?”, with many other bloggers out there also giving their opinion on the matter.
As a Brit, I feel like these posts aren’t really aimed at me so much. Although I found the PhD process somewhat stressful, I can honestly say I enjoyed 99% of it (I even enjoyed my viva!). I had a great boss who knew the important of social activity within and outside of the group. He also encouraged us to pursue sporting achievements, in moderation, which for me, involved competing in national ballroom dancing competitions. We were also allowed to take a few weeks holiday and the odd day off, if required. I loved (and miss) the mad research I was doing and I can say that met some life-long friends as well as my boyfriend of three years.
My experience of the UK system is that we work from around 9am-6pm with the working hours getting longer as the end of the PhD draws near (most PhDs are between 39 and 48 months). I worked weekends but only when I wanted to catch up on reactions or set reactions up for the week ahead. I also found weekends a relaxing time to do columns as my favourite (communal) glass column would be available for use and I could control what radio station was played. I was also, of course, productive during the week, except maybe when the Ashes were on. I spent my time between reactions writing up experimental and planning my next reactions.
I am aware that the UK has research groups and departments that do expect much longer hours. I know people at these groups and some of them have told me they stay late just because they are expected to and that their productivity in a day is no higher than if they had done an 8 hour day. I know some academics that require their students to put on a certain number of reactions a day. My view is that chemistry just doesn’t work like that. I am also of the opinion that, because I worked somewhat sensible hours, I kept my passion for the subject that I loved and my sanity.
I was recently of the thinking that I should have gone to the States to get the best PhD that I could have done but I now realise staying in the UK allowed me to become a much more impassioned and motivated chemist. I may not be the best in the world or have millions of results, but I can say I still love my subject.
I hope that this post does not appear to you like I am trying to rub it in your face. I just thought I would share my point of view.
** I feel that I should add that there were plenty of days, especially in my second year, that I thought I was a failure, nothing was working etc but I got through it. It seems most people suffer from “second year blues” so I dug deep and persevered. I am also not a stressed out person generally. I tend to take whatever is thrown at me and deal with it. I have a somewhat easy going temperament which probably would have not been the best personality to have in a huge, cut throat lab elsewhere.