One of my fellow ScienceBloggers, ScienceWoman, has made a few waves by saying the following:
I am against accommodating our full-time worker, part-time graduate student students by moving a significant number of our classes to evening hours. There I said it. I don’t want to make life easier for someone who is working very hard to get through her education while supporting herself in full-time employment.
She allows that this sounds harsh, but gives some good reasons for her opinion as a professor of -ology. (She doesn’t say which science, but presumably we can eliminate the physical sciences as most of them don’t end in -ology) What struck me was how not harsh it sounded to me. I didn’t even realize it was supposed to be harsh until she said so, and I wonder if this is just a cultural difference between physics departments and -ology departments.
In my department we’re not allowed to hold an external job, full stop. You live on your TA/RA salary with the understanding that if you have the time for a job you’re probably not devoting enough time to your physics. I’d say this is reasonable – a TA position probably eats 15 hours a week, classes and homework another 20+ hours, and even part-time research easily brings the total into the full-time job range. Now though the wording of the policy is pretty rigid, in practice there’s some flexibility if you have permission from your advisor. The department also doesn’t care if you happen to make some money in your free time, as long as it’s not a job as such. for instance I do make a little trickle of extra simoleons thorough this blog.
So if you’re an undergrad considering graduate school in physics, you should be aware that you’re not going to be able to get a Ph.D. by going to school at night and working elsewhere during the day. You should think of graduate school as a job in and of itself, because that’s what it is – almost along the old-style model of the apprenticeship. It’s not a high-paying one either. But you won’t be starving either. Considering that you get to be on the cutting edge of one of the most amazing sciences, I’d say it’s easily worth it.