Your Experience is Not My Experience

Today I’d like to discuss my experience on some matters relating to my time in graduate school. I’d like to say first and foremost that I am not ranting or complaining but genuinely curious about other people’s experiences and opinions.

Ever since I started grad school, I’ve heard various people joke about the workload. A common joke I hear is that about graduate students in big research schools are slave labor. That’s obviously not true; we choose to be here and we get paid to be here. But I’ve laughed along to this joke because yeah, sometimes it feels like I spend more time here than I do at home.

Take last month for example. I took 3 Sundays off. That’s it, 3 days out the entire month. I was trying to meet a deadline; crap happens. My house got a bit messy and my husband got a bit cranky. We dealt with it.

But what really confuses me, is when people get all huffy and upset about that joke. Trust me, with the demographics in physics, it has nothing to do with your race, gender, age, religion etc. It’s just a self-deprecating joke about being a workaholic. One time, another student scolded me saying it’s not true because we get paid. I amended myself and said “Fine, I’m an indentured servant.” I think he changed the subject or walked away.

The thing is: his experiences might not be like mine. I know of graduate students who work 9am-5pm weekdays only. They don’t come in on holidays and they don’t work weekends. I also know of the polar opposite: students that I’m not entirely convinced even rent an apartment. To the kids who work 40 hours a week and can graduate with your PhD in 6 years: awesome. But we’re not all in that boat. Some advisors expect more, some require more. Some students require more of themselves than the absolute minimum. That doesn’t make anyone better than someone else. It just makes us different.

Alright. What do you think? Is this an inappropriate joke? Are some people just too sensitive?