Two Years In The Life Of A Grad Student: Time Logging Data

I have had some side gigs in graduate school that involved creating invoices for hourly work—web development, copyediting, research assistance, etc. I used Toggl to log my time. At some point, I realized that I could log all of my work time—not just the billable time. So in 2018 and 2019, I logged all of my work time. In this post, I will summarize the 2018 and 2019 data and mention some take-aways for 2020.

2018 Time Logging

In 2018, I averaged just over 40 hours/week and taking most of December off for a 10-year anniversary trip with my spouse. Most of my work time was spent on publishing, research, and teaching—the first two taking up nearly half of my time (Figure 1).

Figure 1. A summary of work hours logged in 2018.

Publishing. None of my papers were published in 2018. However, much of the work for 2019’s publications occurred in 2018. I spent about 500 hours collecting data, analyzing data, writing, revising, resubmitting, and proofing in 2018.

Researching. I spend a good deal of time sifting through Google Scholar alerts, reading papers in my areas (sometimes to completion), and updating my working papers accordingly. Since I do some of my reading via audio, much of my research occurs while committing, cooking, and walking to/from meetings—that way I can make use of the otherwise less productive time and use the more protected time for more demanding projects. I did this kind of research for about 500 hours in 2018.

Teaching. I spent most of 2018 as a fellow without teaching duties, but I did teach a 6-week course during Summer. Prepping and teaching that course took about 387 hours (over 60 hours per week, if we count only the 6 weeks).

2019 Time Logging

In 2019, I averaged just over 47 hours/week—an 18% increase, year-over-year (Figure 2). Most of my work time was spent on research, publishing, and a category I lovingly label “jobs/funding/bureaucracy”.

Figure 2. A summary of work hours logged in 2019.

Research. Research time was spent much like it was in 2018: staying up to date on the research in my areas. However, this took up a bit more time in 2019 than 2018: 530 hours—a 6% increase, year-over-year. I’ll be curious to see if this research time continues to increase in the next few years.

Publishing. I spent about 500 hours on publications in 2019, matching the prior year. I ran a pre-registered replication and an experiment. I also analyzed data I collected in 2018, data collected by colleagues at US universities, and data collected from New Zealand. I also wrote up the papers for these projects. Some of the write-ups are in preparation, some are under review, and some were published in 2019—you can check out my CV for the latest (byrdnick.com/cv).

Jobs, funding, and bureaucracy. The outstanding year-over-year change was the dramatic increase in time spent applying to job openings, securing grant money, and seeking approval from bureaucrats (e.g., institutional review boards). This kind/funding/bureaucracy category didn’t even make the list of major projects in 2018, even though I was seeking grant money and IRB approval. This suggests that the sharp increase in this category to about 500 hours—about 10 hours/week—is largely explained by allotting more time to job market activities: creating documents, revising documents, trolling the internet for openings (with the help of many robots), customizing documents for each opening, soliciting support from colleagues, submitting documents, etc. I submitted over 150 applications in 2019, which means I spent over 3 hours on each job application (on average).

Four Changes For 2020

In general, I am happy that most of my time is spent on activities that tend to be rewarded by the job market: research and publications. My goals for 2020 and beyond will be to maintain this appropriation of time. However, I also want to reconsider how much time I spend on conferencing, teaching, and service.

1. Maintaining Research & Publication Priorities

I spent most of my work time on research and publications in 2018 and 2019 Given how much weight is given to publications in academia, I would be happy to spend as much or more time on publishing going forward.

2. Less Time Conferencing?

The value of conferences varies widely depending on lots of variables. Nonetheless, the direct career value of conferencing is low. So I want to reconsider how much time I spend on conferences. If its indirect value has sufficient career benefits—e.g., networking, raising awareness of my work, and practicing soft skills—then I might not need to make significant changes. However, if I conclude that the indirect benefits of conferencing are more limited, then I should be more selective about committing time to conferences.

3. More Time For Teaching?

I spent less time on teaching in 2019 than 2018—despite the fact that I taught the same course load and enrolled in a teaching seminar in 2019. This makes me wonder if I dedicated enough time to teaching in 2019. I take teaching very seriously. I’ve spent loads of time studying teaching formally inside and outside academia—see my Teaching Portfolio for the latest (byrdnick.com/teaching). This has taught me a lot, resulted in a debiasing workshop for teachers, conferred a teaching certificate, and given me plenty of ideas for publications that rely and bear on teaching. Nonetheless, I spent more than 100 more hours on conferencing than teaching in 2019. This strikes me as a potential opportunity to refocus more time on teaching—especially if I become more selective about committing to conferences.

4. More Time For Reviewing?

Service is an important aspect of academic work. For me, it includes committee work, reviewing peers’ papers, supporting conference organization, and outreach (see my social media profiles and Reddit activity). Given how many papers I submit these days, I think I could do more reviewing service. Alas, even though I declined only one review request in 2019 (that I recall), I did not quite achieve my goal of reviewing 3 times as many papers as I submitted. So if you are a journal editor looking for reviewers for papers about dual-process theories, implicit bias, or the psychology of philosophy, then hit me up.

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Nick Byrd

Nick is a cognitive scientist at Florida State University studying reasoning, wellbeing, and willpower. Check out his blog at byrdnick.com/blog