The other day I was riding the bus to university and happened to be on the same bus as a fellow member of my church. They were expressing a typical sentiment about full-time research students: that they ought to be ‘incredibly disciplined’ since there are very few external constraitns on their time. This is, or ought to be, mostly true.
For myself, I aim to spend a full 5 days at my desk, minus an afternoon on which I do some Greek teaching. I get to the office 7:30 (if I drive) or 8:00 if I catch a bus, and leave between 5 and 6pm.
Generally speaking there are six things that fill each day. The first is primary, directly-related to writing the dissertation work. This includes sub-sections like reading secondary literature, working on my primary documents, and working on other ancient documents that are secondary to my thesis. Because this is the real work that is driving the thesis forward, I try and schedule blocks that total up to 4 hours a day for this work. Secondly, each day I spent a little bit of time (45mins usually) on some language work. Since I’m in an Australian context, I have no language exams, but I am supposed to be able to read and utilise secondary literature in relevant languages. For me that means German, French, and Italian. So most days I do a little bit of work on duolingo, and I am working faithfully through “German Quickly: A grammar for Reading German” by April Wilson, and “French for Reading” by Karl Sandberg. A third thing I do each week is spend some time more broadly on Greek and Latin, the two essential languages for my research. So I have about 4-6 hours spread across the week where I work on other texts, classical and patristic, that bear sometimes more sometimes less direct relationship to my field. Fourthly, I allot 30mins for lunch each day. Fifthly, I have about 3 skype calls each week, which involve some language tutoring that I do. They run for about 40 mins each. Sixthly, I do at least an hour’s worth of exercise each day, usually over at the university gym.
Once I slot in all those things, and the occasional trip to the library or the local shopping complex for various errands, and most of my day fills up with things to do. Let’s take a few example days:
Today (Friday): I got to the office at 7:30. Overnight I had posted a reddit comment about relationship of early Christianity and Judaism that received a lot of attention and comments, so I spent 25 minutes responding to comments from the previous evening. Then at 8 I settled into some language work, which meant about 45 mins of French/German/Italian. About 9 I switched to working directly on thesis work, which today meant re-reading portions of Basil’s Against Eunomius, writing commentary on it, and producing material that (eventually) will form a significant chapter. At 10:30 I took a short break from that to work on Augustine’s Confessions in Latin. Normally I have a skype call at 11, but today the other party cancelled so I had some time open up in my day. From 12 I had lunch, and then I returned to thesis work, this time reading some recent secondary sources that my thesis interacts with.
Normally I would go through until later in the afternoon, but today I went to the gym at 2pm, which wasn’t the best timing it turned out. At 3 I came back to the office and did some more reading and tidying up of a few loose ends, before heading home via the supermarket about 4. I then spent a couple of hours in the evening reading more on the Greek perfect and working on the Greek of Ad Ablabium.
So yes, grad student life for me is mainly about self-discipline and a lot of reading. So much reading. Always reading.