Recently there has been few questions (that I will avoid linking) about PhD student workload expectations and how that can compare to a "normal" 40h/w job. Generally, this comes from PhD students or prospective PhD students that are worried or actually overworked.

My worry is, that these questions are generally answered with "Yeah, welcome to the world of superstars, you need to work 60h/w or you will never get your PhD". I understand that academic world is diverse with lots of subcultures, however, in my experience this is completely and utterly false*. My worry is not false information being spread, but actually illegal (in most countries) and utterly unethical information to be pushed and promoted in our page.

Furthering a culture of essentially worker exploitation is bad. No wonder 36% of PhD students suffer from mental health issues. Overworked, underpaid, and when asking for help we say "this is how its supposed to be". Academia has a serious issue with these kind of things. Abusive supervisors exist, and the fact that some of us may had them but survived it is not an excuse to go telling others that that is the normal thing, and we can say the same about overworking PhD students (not even sure its a different problem even).

Yet we do. So, aside of angrily donwvoting a highly upvoted answers, is there anything we can/should do in this page about it? Should we just leave it as it is and let people answer/upvote this, in my opinion, quite unethical advise? Or is it really the overwhelming academic opinion that this is normal, and I have been living in a bubble?

*It is provably false that students need more than 40h/w to get a PhD. Perhaps you need more to become the head of department of a Oxford faculty, but the questions are about getting a PhD. I have known lazy outright not smart people that worked 10h/w in the engineering field obtain PhDs. And I have met almost no PhD student that worked on average more than 40h/w and all of them successfully got their PhDs and some of them are academics now. This is in top 10% UK universities.

late edit: Just to clarify, I understand why people work more than that and I have myself worked more than 40h/w for long period of times, particularly after my PhD. But I am (somehow) attempting to further my academic CV, while the vast majority of PhD students are not.

  • I am not sure what you would like to see changed? It's not a myth, or else people wouldn't answer as if it were. I'd like to see a link to your question that has the same attitude as your quote. Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 16:31
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    @Azor it is a myth, because its not required. Lots of people had the unfortunate circumstances of an abusive supervisor, but we don't come here and say "it's the normal thing, lots of people have it, you should take thr beat". I'm sure that could be flagged, not just downvoted. 60h/w is less extreme, yet equally ilegal and inmoral in most western countries at least, in all fields but academia. Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 20:31
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    @AnderBiguri I don't think that could be flagged, but anyway, I don't think I've seen an answer on this site that says "Yes, all PhD students work 60 hours a week. It is required, and there is no reprieve" and treats it as a good thing. And trust me, you don't have to convince me it's immoral. Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 20:50
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    @AnderBiguri There are certainly students who work many hours because they have abusive advisors who compel them. There are also students, postdocs, and (particularly early-career) professors who work many hours because they are personally driven and competing with their peers for the most prestigious positions. I'd advise to contrast between these when reading between the lines of many of these posts. If you want to advance in a competitive field, you often cannot be successful by doing merely what is required at a minimum.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 22:45
  • Examples of people who work only 10h/week yet get a PhD and have a successful career in academia continuing to work at that level would be people who are simply incredibly efficient with their time - they're the unusual ones, and no one should expect to be able to do what they have accomplished.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 22:49
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    @BryanKrause who said "and"? Nor me nor the people asking imply they want to be successful academic researchers, in general. That does not mean they will not get a PhD. It makes sense to advise people and say "if you want to be the best, you need to work hard", just not everyone wants that. You dont need that much workload to be a succesful PhD. Perhaps you do need it to be a successful lecturer, but not what this is about Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 23:01

3 Answers 3


I think the best you can do is write an answer that shares your perspective. I'd read the existing answers, though, and check to see that they don't already do this.

For example, the most upvoted answer here: https://academia.stackexchange.com/a/151639/63475 as of right now starts with:

First of all, I know many PhD students (also myself) who did exactly that and finished their phd: They worked 40 hours a week (or less)

The most upvoted answer here: Is it true that PhD students need to work 10-12 hours a day every day to be productive? says

The answer is no.

This question: Is it typical to work 60 hours per week as a PhD student? includes at least one counter-example, and the first answer agrees with you that it is a problem though it also argues that it's still a reality:

The experience of working long hours, for little pay and little power is, unfortunately, an almost universal experience for science PhD students ... However 60 hours a week is not normal for the simple reason that very few people can be productive for 60 hours a week on a long term basis

I think the number of votes those answers get is indicative that others also see it as a reality.

Overall, the consensus I get from the community is that working long hours in academia is common but not necessary. It is clear that some people are working long hours and see others around them doing the same.

If you view things differently, you can offer answers that fit your views. I think you'll find the community responds positively if you say long hours are not necessary; I think you will find less of a positive reaction if you say they don't happen, and I think that claim might actually be covering up a problem you intend to surface.

Echoing @AzorAhai's comment, I did not notice this sentiment:

"Yeah, welcome to the world of superstars, you need to work 60h/w or you will never get your PhD"

in any of the answers receiving a lot of up votes on those questions. If you want to point some out, I'd be happy to take a look and probably downvote them if indeed that is what they say, because I disagree and am myself one of those people who got a PhD while working fairly relaxed hours.

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    I must say that I had this impression in Maarten Buis' answer before her edit today. "I know one student who maintained to work only 40h" and "this was only possible because she was very focused" seemed to be like "you must work really a lot or be that one genius".
    – user111388
    Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 17:27
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    The comparision of phd students with movie stars in another answer also sound like "welcome to the world of superstars" even though it makes no mention of the 60h for students.
    – user111388
    Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 17:29
  • @user111388 It's really really helpful if you would include links; there are multiple questions being discussed here.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 17:31
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    I mean the first question you discuss. I don't have time to find out how to link to exact answers -- if you wish, I could do so, but only in a few days.
    – user111388
    Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 17:42
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    There's also this Question, on which I wrote a bit of a contrarian answer that talks about the "always-on"-myth Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 18:32
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    I will accept this for now, because its essentially the only thing I can think of, but I still strongly disagree with us as a community giving such unethical advise. Commented Jul 14, 2020 at 9:34
  • @user111388 - in case you come back to this: under each answer is a "share" link. Click that, then click the "copy link" link in the box that pops up. You can then paste the link elsewhere, and it will link directly to the answer you chose, something like this for this particular answer: academia.meta.stackexchange.com/a/4752/80004
    – Stobor
    Commented Jul 21, 2020 at 4:52
  • Thank you @Stobor! So here @BryanKrause is Maarten Buis' answer (which was really different before the edit): academia.stackexchange.com/a/151627/111388 and here the "phd students and Tarantino movie stars": academia.stackexchange.com/a/151640/111388
    – user111388
    Commented Jul 21, 2020 at 15:06

The problem is that this myth has nothing to do with PhD students or academia. Most people who have unstructured jobs overestimate how much time they spend working productively.

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    Yet on Workplace SE you will not find the kind of answers the OP talks about.
    – user111388
    Commented Jul 14, 2020 at 6:31
  • @user111388 I don't go there much. Do they provide an answer to this question? Commented Jul 14, 2020 at 6:34
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    @AnonymousPhysicist it has, because no one would advise a non-academic/PhD to break labor law (in most countries) as a norm. Only our job culture thinks this is not only OK but expected. My question here is not "why does this happen" or "is this a myth", my question is "In this webpage we keep telling people that they are expected to work an unhealthy amount of hours (when its not for passion) by their bosses and peers, and this is not only a false requirement to achieve their goals, but also illegal to do and immoral for us to suggest, should we (academia.SE) do something about it?" Commented Jul 14, 2020 at 9:30
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    I think you will find many workers outside academia do not have their hours limited by labor law. My point is that I do not think this website can fix your problem because it is a problem with people's estimation, not with this website. Commented Jul 14, 2020 at 11:05
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    Sorry, perhaps I haven't explained well what I mean. I meant that I think that us, as a website, should not be advising in favor of those things. Yes, people have work-hours breaking labour law, but we should not encourage that, and my question is if we should actively do something about it. If someone encourages someone else in this webpage to be stealing money from the department, should we just leave it for the votes to decide if its OK, or should we actually act on that (e.g. flag the post)? I don't think this example is far off from the real topic at hand. Commented Jul 14, 2020 at 12:58
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    @AnderBiguri I don't know your local laws, but working 60 hours is only illegal in certain specific cases. Stealing money is illegal almost everywhere. These are not the same. Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 3:07
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    @AnonymousPhysicist working +20h/w unpaid is illegal in very specific cases? It is illegal in the entire EU, AFAIK. That should cover a decent chunk of worlds academia. Its called "wage theft", i.e. stealing. If one does it voluntarily out of passion, then its not, but we should not tell people "this is a requirement of your job", when 1)its illegal and immoral 2) its false for it to be a requirement. Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 8:36
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    @AnderBiguri You are wrong about the EU limit, and I didn't say unpaid. europa.eu/youreurope/business/human-resources/… Laws vary. Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 8:55
  • This is not the place for legal advice. Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 8:57
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    @AnonymousPhysicist clearly not, but I hope you are not assuming PhD anyone is advising working +60h/w as a PhD student for that sweet sweet extra pay, because no one is getting it. Lets focus, this is not a place for legal advice as you say, because we are talking about academia and PhD students that work unnecessary extra hours unpaid thanks to our advise, among other things. My questio is, again, about us as a community giving immoral and unnecessary advise (lets remove the illegal so we don't go off-topic, while I still think it is). Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 9:25
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    (BTW, your link says that 48h/w is the max allowed in EU) Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 9:27
  • @AnderBiguri (60 - 20) < 48 Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 10:00
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    I am confused about those numbers. 60>48 is the only relevant one.... right? Perhaps I did not use the right notation in my previous comment. +20h/w on top of the required 40, I meant. Which leads to 60, which is in the title and body of my question. In any case, the point is: 60h/w on average is illegal in the EU and we are telling people to do it when its not required, not by the law, but by their personal goals, which is getting a PhD. Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 10:06

I think, this has something to do with the survivors' dilemma. It's a sampling bias.

Basically, most people here are still interested in an academic career, have mastered it, or are somehow related to academia. Now, most PhD students leave the academia the one or the other way.

So, although those questions rather state "workload as a PhD student", the subliminal understanding of the most, including myself, is "how I nearly worked myself to death, but got tenure".

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    Right, I agree. But well, we should not be more reflective and try to not give biased advise to prospective PhD students! Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 12:12

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