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‘A toxic culture of overwork’: The graduate student mental health crisis (stanforddaily.com)
301 points by danso 35 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 221 comments

I’m a professor. I have a few thoughts about this.

First, the grad student/professor relationship is inherently asymmetrical, much more so than most employer/employee relationships. The degree has to last years or else you get nothing, and there are no hard and fast terms of the relationship like there is in many jobs. The professors recommendation might be the most important thing you get, and that is always running in the background. So many professors treat their students like robots.

Second, professors are essentially super students. We became professors because we have extreme standards. Your engineering manager became a manager because he was an engineer and got promoted, but having a professor as a boss is like if a famous open source developer was your boss. Nothing about becoming a professor selects for kindness or empathy, unlike a manager at an ordinary company who might be trained and evaluated—-especially in a large company—-on the happiness of his workers. So a lot of professors have essentially obsessive attitudes and no empathy. Add to this the fact that many students are escaping countries where they have little future. For example, the past few years, the Iranian economic crisis has caused a surge in Iranian applicants.

Third, the professors themselves are under extreme pressure. Everybody knows this.

Fourth, the work a professor outsources to students tends to be the stupidest and worst tasks, because the students usually aren’t good enough to make big contributions. This is depressing for the students: they’re smart people who signed up to work with a famous professor on work they cared about, but their day to day is to do things anyone could do for almost no money.

Finally, the professors are under pressure to create these huge labs. We don’t make profits, so things like funding and number of PhD students are taken to be metrics for evaluating. The US news ranking absurdly includes phd’s per tenure track professor as one of their metrics. So a lot of people are accepted who really shouldn’t be there, and the research is designed to have tons of busy work.

I'm an assistant professor in computer science and have tried a few things to tune down the pressure in my lab. It's always hard to tell what works and what doesn't due to the very small N (N = number of phd students). I also run a small lab (N = 3 right now) so don't have the scaling and funding issues as larger labs.

The thing that seems to be most successful is having every PhD student work with a couple of undergraduate students. Every project has undergraduate student collaborators, so it's never a solo endeavor. There's momentum from others in the project making progress so you're not pushing the boulder yourself. That way they can commiserate together when the results are bad or I'm being sucky.

The other thing I'm starting to try is before I give any negative feedback in person, I ask them how they think they're doing. If they think they're doing great, then it's clearly a mismatch of expectations. I need to figure out how to make the expectations converge before giving negative feedback. I can't think of anything more demoralizing than thinking you're performing well, and then your advisor unexplicably saying you're not productive enough.

Anyways, I think the environment varies substantially between groups. There's certainly some systematic problems (some department culture, some due to the advisor, and some because of being academia in general). But there's probably as many (or more) research labs as startups. So making blanket statements about advisors/advisees is like saying something like "all startups are under extreme VC pressure to monetize" or that "there's a toxic 24/7 work culture at disruptive startups" is similarly overgeneralizing (but probably true for some large number of them).

Nice ideas. Isolation is definitely an issue, and having them work with undergrads will also remind them that they're not at the absolute bottom of the social status hierarchy. They might get jealous of people who actually have a life though.

Sorry, but candidly, this just reads as a bunch of lame excuses to continue a blatant cycle of abuse.

Nothing in my professional 15 year career has come anywhere remotely close to the brutal, absurd reality of what I’ve seen graduate/PhD students go through.

I think academia is nearing a kind of crisis akin to what the the Catholic Church is going through with rampant sex abuse. Diminishing, unimpressive returns in output (aside from a few bright areas), and dark secrets continually being covered up/brushed aside.

Academia needs to do some serious soul searching.

I don’t think they’re excuses. They’re explanations of how things happen. The asymmetrical relationship especially explains how professors can get away with treating students badly, but it isn’t a justification. If you read Bad blood, for instance, E Holmes and sunny treat everyone horribly, but ultimately lots of people quit because they have other options.

The pressure on the professor and the selection for obsessiveness explain motives.

Let me explain why it can sound like excuses.

Collectively, professors are the ones who set almost every aspect of the culture in academia. They are the ones who populate committees that set all the rules, and decide when a professor is being abusive and when he/she isn't. Professors decide how much is "enough" for a PhD. Even the pressure on professors comes mostly from other professors. A lot of people in the funding agency's committees are professors or former professors. If any change is to occur, it has to come from professors. No external or internal group really has any say in the matter.

So as a professor, the burden of change is pretty much on you. It's probably risky for you to do anything about it[1], but no one else can. When an outsider looks at the situation, all they see are professors pointing fingers at other professors as the cause. It is your profession to fix. And you have less to fear than most workers in most industries: Once you have tenure, attempting to fix the problem will not cost you your job. It will cost other things, but that's the point where it becomes clear what a professor's values are.

And you kind of skirt around it, but a big aspect of it these days is essentially the "rite of passage". As an example, I had a group mate who continually cursed his advisor because he wasn't letting him graduate and was being given work unrelated to his thesis just so that the professor could squeeze as much out of him as possible. Yet when he graduated, he said "Of course I'll treat my students the same. If I had to go through all this, then so should they!"

That's not an uncommon sentiment amongst professors.

Let's all keep in mind: This is mostly a US problem.[2] I don't normally hear these complaints in Europe, and most students there get their PhD in 3 years after their MS.

[1] Not really - there are lots of small things an established professor can do that help.

[2] Well, OK. Maybe also a Korean problem.

That’s fair, and I think my wording might have been too harsh in the context of your post.

But outside of this context, these same explanations are exactly the excuses that professors and administrators will ultimately make.

Don’t get me wrong, industry isn’t perfect either. But I know which one I’d rather pick, and it sure as hell isnt academia.

I agree I would recommend industry to almost everyone. In fact, engineers ask me about grad school several times per year and I almost always discourage them. Too many people think of grad school as sort of a vague "next step" that will "open doors" or else a way of "leveling up" as though life is an RPG and a grad degree is a special badge or skin you can get. I encourage them rather to think concretely about what academia specifically entails: reading abstruse papers, writing papers with little chance of being appreciated, debugging software, writing grants, giving presentations, etc. Academia is only appropriate for a rare type of person, like being a classical musician.

I really love research but here I am stuck in a coding job. I tried my shake at academia but I got depressed at the lack of stability. I wanted to start having a life but there was just no stability in any of it. It's hard to plan long term when you're always 6-12 months away from having your income dry up.

Moral of the story: there's always someone willing to sacrifice more than you whether its their health, money, life, ethics, whatever.

Along with the personal cost, this instability can't be great for producing good science either. My lab has learned and lost some techniques over and over again, as people churn through.

If it were up to me, I'd convert some MS/PhD slots into staff scientist roles with longer contracts. I think you could probably do this in a way that increases productivity, and makes more people more happy to boot.

One of my friends who is a graduate student complains about the difficulty of collaborating with other scientists who lack strong coding skills. They are so focused on the science that there's no time to learn or practice good code hygiene.

If often wondered why labs don't hire regular developers to increase research veliocity. I have no interest in research, but would happily work in the context of academia doing thing like handling merges, ensuring code modularity, maintaining infrastructure, writing unit tests, etc.

This has become a little more common lately, but probably still not as common as it should be.

Part of the problem is funding. You can get 3-4 grad students or ~2 postdocs for the price of a developer. Plus there are lots of existing mechanisms for funding them: training grants, internal and external fellowships, working as a TA, etc. A developer would have to get paid out of research funding, which is already pretty limited. The National Cancer Institute had a program for staff scientists, and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative just launched one targeting microscopy, but there aren’t tons of options, especially not for open-ended roles.

There’s been some adverse selection too. I briefly had a programmer but it rapidly became obvious he was working for an academic salary because no one else in their right m8ns would pay him more. I ended up rewriting all of that code, and despite this, my boss keeps sending me fresh-faced undergrads “to do the coding.” I guess the idea that you get what you pay for hasn’t sunk in yet. That said, we’ve also had a few that were excellent and were interested in the projects; I think they were both hired as part of some complicated arrangement where their spouses were recruited for more traditional academic roles.

Another part of it is that code quality hasn’t been a huge priority. That is finally starting to change, but most labs have a lot of code that was unceremoniously promoted from “one-off prototype” to “critical infrastructure” without too many changes. (This, incidentally, gives the lie to peoples’ obsession with YAGNI).

Finally, if anyone does need a neuro/ML themed developer, I call dibs :-) Seriously though, I completely agree that we have have more specialized roles (dev, technical writer/editor) and I think that whatever place manages to make this work could become a research powerhouse. Some of the bigger institutes (the Broad, Janlia Farms, etc) do have some jobs like this already.

Some labs do this! I've seen places where the ratio of engineers to grad students and postdocs was about 1:1. The engineers were salaried and could take courses at the university if they chose to (for free, but on their own time).

Tell me more, please! (Especially if they’re hiring)

A common thread was that these were labs that were joint between the university and a UARC or FFRDC. Academic grant funding doesn't usually include engineers, only PI and students, but FFRDC/UARC funding is different. So look at Johns Hopkins/APL, Penn State/ARL, Georgia Tech/GTRI, then (very importantly) look for labs run by a PI with a faculty appointment at the university.

A friend of mine worked at Hopkins for a few years, did interesting stuff, and walked out with a (free) MS afterwards.

Ah, those are a bit of a special case.

I visited APL a while back and loved it. The job didn’t work out (federal stuff has been....turbulent lately), but hopefully it’ll work out one day.

Thanks for the pointers!

I really do think lab composition's tie to grant wording (if the grant says support for three grad students, you get three grad students, not two grad students and an engineer) has a huge influence on how labs are structured, including why grad students end up doing jobs engineers "should" be doing.

The majority of academic labs do not have the resources to offer the high salaries skilled coders demand and can easily get elsewhere.

And academic research often just needs to be “good enough” for that next paper or grant. Investing lots of time and people into code quality isn’t worthwhile unlesss your whole goal of the lab is to provide software as your output (there are a few, like the Wikipathways group). Bht for everyone else, the ROI is too low, better off working on the next grant or manuscript.

That’s definitely the perception, though I’m not sure how true it actually is. A battle-tested analysis pipeline or experimental control suite is a huge competitive advantage for a lab.

The catch is that it needs to both evolve and stay solid at the same time: it’s hard to predict what you’re going to want in three years—-or find the time to clean up code from the last three years, especially since many of those folks will have moved on.

It is an advantage but not crucial for grants/papers etc.

I agree that it doesn’t matter a whit for any single grant or paper, but one paper (or grant) rarely makes a career.

My claim is that people systematically underestimate the value of good code to a research program. Good infrastructure lets the lab focus on the scientific questions, rather than the logistics of moving and processing the data, which in turn allows them to publish more, better, and faster. This is true for a lot of things: some labs have fantastically good imaging pipelines, or have worked out how to rapidly train animals for certain behaviors, or can reliably do an assay that often fails in others’ hands, and derive a huge benefit from it. Some are so good that I wouldn’t even consider competing with them in their niche. My argument is that good code can also have returns like that.

As a personal example, my first paper at McGill took about three years to finish. The next took about a year and a half (and just came out). We’re on track to submit at least one—-and maybe as many as three—-papers this year. Some of this is due to practice, but a lot of it is due to the fact that we built reusable components instead of “the script that gives the numbers”

> Too many people think of grad school as sort of a vague "next step" that will "open doors" or else a way of "leveling up" as though life is an RPG and a grad degree is a special badge or skin you can get.

I have a Masters, and all the interesting jobs I want to do are held by PhDs (sometimes with a couple years of postdocs). And everyone who's on that team has a PhD and they're definitely not going to let anyone lesser than that onto their team.

Can I ask what field you are in? I work in software, and many of my colleagues have PhDs... and many of my colleagues never went to college.

They all seem to get along fine, and the ones who have PhDs are usually playing down their credentials.

I can't speak for the person to whom your replying, but at any big tech company doing anything with recommendations, machine learning, etc. will have teams where having a PhD is huge especially when being considered for promotions

In software, not at a FAANG, but in ecommerce.

There is an absurd oversupply of graduate students. Where there is an oversupply of labour, there are always abusive conditions. Academia can do all the soul-searching it wants, but the only meaningful solution is to rebalance supply and demand in academia; a very useful first step would be the provision of impartial and informed careers advice to high school and college graduates.

I think this is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle. Graduate students are so common they they can't differentiate themselves from the rest by simply being graduate students. They need to do more to be above the rest and this leads to the bad circumstances.

Why do they need to "differentiate" or "be above the rest"? (Honest question, not rhetorical: I don't understand your point.)

Commodification. The easier you are to replace, the lower your market value and the weaker your negotiating position. Software developers can earn six-figure salaries and work in offices that look like holiday resorts because demand for their skills massively outweighs supply. Grad students get treated like dirt because the supply of grad students vastly exceeds demand.

Most people who choose to be grad students have better options, which we should encourage them to take.

I don't think oversupply is the causal element in this case. Most of us know that to be a graduate student is to be in an extremely privileged position: it's the pressure from having that position that allows for abuse to be tolerated in that environment, and which normalizes the condition of being abused.

Edit: There's one line from the article that summarizes that point.

> Struggling at the very university he had held up as his dream and trapped between feeling that he could not continue with his Ph.D. program but that he also could not stop, Aguisanda’s thoughts began to spiral.

There's nothing talking about feelings of competition, or of being replaced.

How do you dismantle a cycle of abuse without first understanding the incentives and power relations which are the pieces of that abusive system?


I ask this as someone who has been accused of making excuses when I was explaining a problem ans asking for help in solving the problem:

What is it about the above comment that seems like excuses?

Where were you a graduate student? I was a Stanford EE grad student for 8 years in the 90s (first year was for masters). You know why I was there so long? I loved it. Students returned from industry and said same thing: don't be in a hurry to get out. I worked for a hard-ass prof, they did not let anything slip. The hours I worked were insane, on one project it was literally every waking hour for almost a year. It was worth it to me, I would do it again. But I understand it isn't for everyone. After I graduated, I went to work for a chip startup and after a few months my boss made the comment that he was amazed how well trained I was. But that should not have been a surprise. I had a digital signal processing class with Teresa Meng (founder of Atheros), processor design with Hennessy (designed MIPS architecture), VLSI with Horowitz (founder of Rambus), OS programming with Mendel Rosenblum (founder VMWare), etc. I remember when Jerry and David got their funding to start a company with their little web directory. If that kind of environment doesn't excite you, maybe Stanford isn't for you.

As far as debt goes, I paid for my masters myself with loans (~29k) and the PhD was funded by my advisor with a stipend.

My strongest recommendation is two things: make sure you know why you are there and you are doing it for the right reasons, second, be part of a grad student environment. Don't go it alone. You are all in the same boat and can related to each other. We had a great research group, not everyone else did, spend time to build those relationships with other students or it will be more difficult than it needs to be.

But that isn't just advice for grad school, it really applies to most difficult challenges that we take on in life.

EDIT: one thing I see in other posts I want to address, you do have free time in grad school. Not always, but you do have it. I skied at Tahoe, hiked in Yosemite, toured Napa, visited Carmel & Monterey, went to Half Moon Bay many times, travelled to LA and San Diego. Also, get involved in some sport, physical excursion can really help reduce stress. I played a lot of b-ball in grad school.

It's nice to hear that you had a great experience in grad school; sadly, the original article and the comments here indicate that your experience isn't universal today (at Stanford or elsewhere) by any means.

With regard to some of your specifics: good courses (and/or courses with industry luminaries) aren't the same as a supportive environment for completing your Ph.D. research and dissertation. We should probably question whether pressure-cookers really are the best environment for grad students.

Well, my experience in the industry was that I changed five jobs in six years because in order for my work to be valued as highly as it was really worth, I had to sell it to someone new every year.

What is really brutal in academia is the competition to get your research published and appreciated (by being cited and reused by others). This doesn't happen automatically. The pressure to find something useful to contribute cannot be compared to the pressures in the industry where you basically just have to keep your boss happy if you want to stay in the money. It's a bit like an artistic career, really. You're constantly trying to hit the top 10.

And remember that academics are always required to do something genuinely new, not just "Uber for ice cream, but with AI".

> And remember that academics are always required to do something genuinely new, not just "Uber for ice cream, but with AI".

This hasn't been my experience. A lot of papers coming out today are quite iterative.

They sound exactly like:"what if system X had feature Y". Just with more scientific jargon.

Lots of academics do “Uber for ice cream but with AI.” Academia is iterative.

Arguably, it’s even less competitive than the real world. It’s theory vs. practice. Guess what’s hard? Getting enough paying customers to be sustainable.

> Arguably, it’s even less competitive than the real world.

This might be true at an "organizational" level but I have a hard time believing it's true for individuals.

There are a few people in academia who have incredibly lavish funding (HHMI investigators, people with rich 'patrons'). A few tenured professors can opt out of competition, though this either dramatically limits their impact (no money for students/equipment --> much less research).

Everyone else is constantly scrapping for money and attention and the results are mostly assessed individually, or at best across a small group (PI + 2-4 trainees). In industry, this is at least averaged over the whole company or division.

>> Lots of academics do “Uber for ice cream but with AI.” Academia is iterative.

Iterative, yes, but it must be innovative, not a recombination of existing contributions.

Also, if you only ever contribute tiny baby steps, you will simply not stand out. If you want to build a strong reputation you need strong results that advance the state of the art significantly.

This still sounds like a bunch of excuses to continue abusing people. Intense pressure exists everywhere: don't put academic work on a magical pedestal, there's a lot more to working in the industry than just keeping your boss happy (and uh, a lot more happens in the industry than just building the next Uber for X).

Still no excuse to overwork people to near death (yes, there are extreme outliers like Goldman Sachs & whatnot, but this kind of overwork is a pandemic in academia).

I don't follow- where is the excuse?

I left one of my junior dev positions in the industry with a stomach ulcer as a souvenir. I don't know what Goldman Sachs is like, but as a junior developer you're expected to do all the work for half the money it's worth and in half the time it would take your senior colleagues.

Edit: and while youre senior colleagues treat your work like rubbish to justify their senior salaries.

What’s on opinion on prevalence of scientific dishonesty and fraud? Given how the incentives work, and that the publications are not checked thoroughly (peer revievers don’t redo the experiments to see if the results were not made up), it just seems to me that modern academia heavily incentivises people to produce fake science.

From what I’ve heard, industries which should heavily depend on academic publications (such as ours, or pharma) are exteremely vary of them because, in their experience, the „findings” and ideas presented usually don’t replicate, or that the papers are just intellectually dishonest in various ways to present the author’s method as better that state of the art (salesmanship instead of science).

>> Third, the professors themselves are under extreme pressure. Everybody knows this.

I dont' think everyone appreciates this, actually. But, if it's bad for your mental health to go through the pressure of a PhD for three or four years- how much worse can it be to keep this up for the next 40 years or so, as a professor? And now you are under even more pressure because you're responsible for your students' careers also.

This is my biggest doubt about continuing in academia after I finish my PhD (if I do). I realised that my advisor is always on a tight budget - on everything: funding, time, attention, interest... Do I really want to put myself in that position?

It’s hard. During the pre-tenure time it’s hard not to burn out as a professor. I almost did. With that said, I’ve had all three careers: being a software developer (at a research lab, but building products), running a security evaluation company, and being a tenured professor. Being a professor has some downsides, but the redeeming element for me is that I love being my own boss and being able to pick the problems I work on — those that also interest me. I didn’t have that luxury in industry. Aside from the low pay, grad school was even better because I could spend a week thinking about a problem and make no progress, and I didn’t feel bad about it.

I imagine that the experience of being a grad student is much worse when you have a terrible slavedriver advisor. I was fortunate to avoid that. Even so, the key to grad school (and academia) is to know when you’re having a bad experience and when to get out. In CS (in the US at least) you can leave with a terminal MS relatively easy and have no debt. Go into the program with your eyes open and an exit to industry as a fallback and you’ll be much happier.

Totally agree with the second paragraph (I'm a current grad student). My advisor is excellent, and while I've often had to push myself to the limit of what I can get done, I've also had a tremendous amount of freedom on how to get things done. And when things aren't as busy, I have more time to explore things in a self-motivated way. If I didn't have such a great PI and team, I would have strongly considered dropping out with the masters.

What concerns me most about continuing in academia is the extreme uncertainty in living situation and funding. That seems draining both emotionally and professionally.


I’d also add to this that the quality standards in academia are generally piss poor, and my own type A perfectionism was a big reason why I did not follow in my advisor’s footsteps after finishing grad school: I saw that he rose to fame and rank by essentially creating low-quality demoware to be pleasing to the eye at conferences, and had zero ambition to work on results or problems important to the field.

Professors are not self-selected for any notion of quality at all. Some of them happen to focus on quality, some of them on politics, etc., just like anything else.

In many companies, being promoted to senior levels of engineering is a far more meaningful mark of quality effectiveness than post-graduate degrees or research publications.

Regardless of any of this, treating students with respect, working with them to define their work based on their career goals, and respecting a healthy standard work/life balance is a basic requirement of professionalism.

By this notion, a lot of professors are not professionals in their field, rather just compulsive amateurs.

I think this really depends on the field. In mathematics, my field, you can argue that the work of various people is undervalued, but it's a bit harder to argue that certain theorems are overvalued. However, the metrics of evaluation for theorems are quite different than those for... 'demoware'...?

Those points are all understandable and, as a non-academic, it's good to hear the perspective of a prof, while I usually see more written about the perspective of students

Do you have any suggestions on how to improve the problems you pointed out? To an outsider with many friends who are grad students / postdocs, seem pretty difficult to address, like the metrics that inform tenure selection, while others seem like areas where one could make progress (more empathy, training etc)

> but having a professor as a boss is like if a famous open source developer was your boss.

This would be a dream for me :D. Instead we get 'jira assigners' as managers in tech.

What is your conception of what skills make someone:

* A good product manager

* A good team lead

* A good career manager

And why do you think open source development fame would correlate well with those skills?

> the grad student/professor relationship is inherently asymmetrical, much more so than most employer/employee relationships... So many professors treat their students like robots

Power corrupts, apparently.

> Nothing about becoming a professor selects for kindness or empathy...

Quality of advising should be important, but of course that's not what they're selected for or rewarded for.

So few places I’ve worked did an engineer actually get promoted to manager. Mostly product managers with little technical expertise...they used to be in sales. I’ve had a few engineers as managers, they were mostly really good. Just not many.

After 5 years of work, I finally decided to take the jump and live the dream of earning a Masters degree from a prestitious university in The Netherlands. Being a non-EU citizen I had shell euro 15000/year but it still seemed cheaper than US counterparts.

Couple months into the semester I realized the pressure kicking in my program. The planned 40 hour load required atleast 80 hours of work. I could sense stress and depression all around. None of my classmates seemed to have any weekends to travel around or play a sport. Friends needed smoke breaks every couple hours during group assignments. The fact that the program didn't offer the quality that one would expect made matters worse. I spent 6 months doing things that I did not enjoy. At the same time, my 5 years of work experience taught me enough to understand that what I was spending most of time on did not prepare me intellecually with regards to what to expect once I am back in the industry. The only preparation I was getting was the ability to absorb stress; and I was sucking at it. Dark thoughts started haunting me; I pushed through one semester and came back home to evaluate the ROI of this whole ordeal.

I quit after going back in order change my program to something better; but time to switch and forth coming costs weren't motivating enough.

UPDATE: I would honestly attribute most of the ordeal part to the program I selected. I looked forward to a couple professors to work with; both of them ended up either leaving the university or reducing their focus on my program. I saw students in other programs go along really well. At this point in academia I would consider it critical to visit the university personally (even if you are an international) to evaluate the environment you would be studying in and understand from fellow students how the program is being driven.

> The only preparation I was getting was the ability to absorb stress; and I was sucking at it.

That's interesting, in my second semester (Physics) a professor said to us in his introduction lecture that one of the biggest things you learn during studies is stress resilience. There's definitely a lot of truth to that. Although back at the time I didn't realize it but looking back it was the case. During studies and also 1-2 years afterwards I got incredibly resilient to stress.

No matter how much I had to do or how bad an incoming news was, I was just thinking, oh yeah now I need to do this, this and this or okay, that's just how it is, cannot do something about it. But yeah, the bill comes years after when you realize how you couldn't maintain any relationship that is not super close to you.

I wish people designing university programs but also those giving advise, would remove some of the pressure and also make the programs less intense (or at least longer with the same amount of things). As you mentioned, apart from very specific university career tracks there is little usage for many of those hard earned skills and tricks.

I think there is a serious problem of people coming out of academia and transferring the workplace into the only type of environment they know and described above. Obediendce to the credentials and high tollerance to bullshit, supervisors forcing others to make the supervisors’ mistakes. The workplace becomes a circus of absurd dead end ideas, probing the patience of anyone with any clue on how business- or customer- facing production software or service should work.

Isn't that by design?

> That's interesting, in my second semester (Physics) a professor said to us in his introduction lecture that one of the biggest things you learn during studies is stress resilience.

Yet this skill is never taught. So in actual fact what he’s saying is “studies filter out the people who can’t learn stress resilience by themselves”

A lot of the most important skills seem to be 'taught' by osmosis in university.

Tbh I see that sort of academia as tantamount to abuse or exploitation.

A close friend was a nueroscientist. I got to watch her PI push her into 70 hour weeks and then guilt trip her for not doing more. I watched her PI extend her PhD for a year so she could contribute more to other projects, and then I watched them selectively drop data (and IMO make up results) so that they could publish on schedule.

Some parts of academia are so ludicrously bureaucratic that folks literally focus on box ticking for years at a time. That’s bound to happen because beaurocracy forces a path of least resistance that is essentially box ticking.

How exactly do you define stress resilience?

Is this a healthy skill to have, e.g. not stressing about things you can't control, learning not to be perfectionist, and adopting a healthy attitude as to what is or is not realistic?

Or is this emotional repression and chemical coping? Burying feelings of being overloaded, disrespected, having your needs ignored, and turning to alcohol, cannabis, nicotine, etc. to get through it?

Because depending on what it is, I'm not sure it's a "skill" I want to have. I've gone through very stressful periods of my professional life (in all cases caused primarily by mismanagement above me), and while I got through them, they only did harm, not good. There was nothing to "learn" from them. In no way did they make me a better person. They just took unnecessary tolls on my health and happiness, and even relationships.

I was very much considered increasing the duration of my course to 3 years. But that would mean I would spend euro 15k more. It would have been ideal to price the courses based on number of credits you take, but that sadly wasn't the case.

My I ask what you studied and where?

I'm curious because I did a Master's (CS) at a Dutch university (Eindhoven) and my experience was the total opposite. Lots of students were involved in extracurricular activities, there was time for study and time for fun, people generally seemed mostly relaxed.

I'll concur that the program was a bit of an industry mismatch in that they don't teach software engineering but academic theoretical computer science, which has at most 10% overlap with what programmers in industry do. But I suspect that holds for most Master's programs out there (doesn't make it less ridiculous of course).

> the program was a bit of an industry mismatch in that they don't teach software engineering but academic theoretical computer science, which has at most 10% overlap with what programmers in industry do

The important thing to remember is that the goal of an university is not to prepare you for what you do in industry, but to teach you fundamental knowledge about a topic that helps you adapt to new challenges (also in industry) and even more important university should teach you how to approach and understand new complex concepts by yourself.

If you want job preparation the best thing is an apprenticeship program (i.e. learning on the job) or maybe a specialiced practice focused college/trade school.

Granted, I think most day to day programmers don't need a CS degree.

> The important thing to remember is that the goal of an university is not to prepare you for what you do in industry, but to teach you fundamental knowledge about a topic

that's an undergraduate degree. I would imagine a masters or graduate studies to not only teach that, but more (such as actual state of the art stuff).

FWIW, my Master's did exactly that, but it was still fundamental state of the art stuff.

Like how to prove a huge complex distributed / multithreaded system deadlock free, or how to transform no complete problems into parameterized SAT expressions that SAT solvers can solve (which was pretty state of the art at the time). Those were super fun to learn and do, but I can't say I apply much of it at my company.

In other words, I agree both with you and the commenter you're replying to.

There is in fact two complete levels of education dedicated to that in the Netherlands.

University more or less assumes you’ll be going into academia or research.

This was a Data Science program by TU/e and Tilburg hosted in Den Bosch. To be very honest I saw friends at TU/e relating well with their program and even manging trips to Spain while the folks in my program very occupied with mostly procedural assignments and struggled to find time to go out for drinks. This could very well be a one off thing because my program had a huge number of drop-outs through the first and second semester.

Cross functional programs are frequently suffer because they’re treated as cash cows by the university, but no home department owns giving them enough attention. A wise friend once advised “beware interesting grad programs.” (Example: MIT has world class engineering, and a Top 10 business school. The anecdotal reviews I’ve heard from graduates of both are higher than joint engineering-business programs, even if the latter look better on paper)

Woa that's pretty shit. I'm well aware of the fanfare with which they announced that program so it disappoints me that your experience is so bad.

In Europe, a Masters is not 'graduate' level. A masters (in Europe) is just a continuation of a bachelors, and someone graduating with just a bachelors is basically someone who's only half finished their education. Consequently, the work load is nowhere near as bad as it is at the PhD level (although even there, it's not that bad either).

Of course this very closely aligns the bachelors and masters level courses, meaning that if you haven't done the bachelors work, it's generally harder to make it in the masters, especially for hard sciences. Universities will take your money anyway of course, at best they'll give you a vague list of 'prerequisite courses' without detailing what level you're supposed to be at. So yeah, I can imagine you didn't have a great time given the circumstances, but that's at least partially to blame on faulty expectations, and it's also not what the OP is about.

A Master’s is as much graduate level in Europe as in the US. If you go in expecting to do the same level of work you did in your Bachelor’s you might scrape a pass but that’s as well as you’re going to do.

This is not to deny there’s an enormous difference between doing research and doing coursework but an M.Phil. student is doing research much as a Ph.D. student is. They’re getting a Master’s as much as someone doing all coursework for an MBA.

Europe is very diverse. As a university professor in Spain, I can say your parent comment is an accurate description of Spanish Master's degrees.

In fact, the Spanish system used to be based on 5-year and even 6-year degrees. In the last university reform (triggered by the Bologna process), most universities just split their existing degrees into a 4-year Bachelor's and a 1 or 2-year Master's and called it a day. So the Master's is seen just as a natural continuation of the Bachelor's and those who go to the job market with a Bachelor's as impatient people who are working with an incomplete degree.

Now universities are also offering new Master's which aren't based on the traditional degrees, and those sometimes feel more "graduate", but they're not the majority at the moment.

Ok, but the 6 years in Spain were 4 years for a Bachelor and 2 years for a Master right?

So I think that the new Bologna system must be 3 + 1.5 or something like that. At least that's how I've seen it implemented in some countries.

To me the 4 year Bachelor's was always a complete degree. It's the 3 year that's arguably not.

Personal anecdote: I did relatively poorly for my Bachelor's, finishing with a GPA of about 2.7. I attended most lectures anywhere from 70 to 95% of the time. I was treating University like school; I went to the lectures just to listen. The week before the exam, I scrolled through the slides once, making sure I understand the material. However, understanding versus being able to fill in the answers to pre-selected types of assignments within barely more the time than it takes to thoroughly read all the questions are two very different and mostly independent skills.

During my Master's, I can count on one hand the number of times I went to a lecture hall. Instead I spent my time relaxing at home. Every once-in-a-while, I registered for a bunch of exams, which would then force me to go through the lecture slides at home and practice solving some old exams. I graduated the Master's with 4.0 GPA.

I should probably have clarified that by 'European' I meant 'continental European'.

There is in fact two things here.

Most continental EU countries used to have a different system before the Bologna Bachelor/Master system. In the prior case, many countries simply did not have a Bachelor equivalent. In France, Spain, Netherlands and Germany, you'd by default do a Masters-level degree. As such, a Masters is more continued education - it does not imply a big cut from a "practical degree" toward research. Therefore, your assessment is correct.

But it is only half correct, because the other side is that in Europe, research universities and their degrees are meant to be for academic purposes. Most countries, especially German speaking countries, have entirely different systems (Vocational, applied universities) for students studying for a job.

In contrast to English-speaking countries, a vocational career is very much a proper thing to do and need not imply "failure" in any way. In fact, the strength of the German economy (and why firms moved back there from China), is the extremely high qualification of the median "technician".

It is still the case that many jobs (like nursing) are not taught at a university, simply because there is no path to academic research. On the other hand, the vocational education is not in any way inferior to a college degree in English-speaking countries.

A university was meant to prepare for academic research. That is why despite the first point, degrees in continental Europe were often more focused on research than on succeeding in a job.

An indicator of this can be seen by the lower rate of college graduates. This is often understood as a negative indicator internationally, but it is not really true. Yes, less people do college degrees, but college degrees are not the only possibility of qualification.

From my own experience, and I think many would agree, I think that the very high quality vocational education (and the fact that it is officially recognized) is equal if not sometimes better to prepare for a job. Especially the dual system, where you learn while working in a company for half the time, and go to a school the other half.

There is no doubt that this system is one of the reasons why the engineering sector in continential Europe has been doing much better than in the UK.

So in closing yes, the Master is a continuation degree. But, from the start, university is much more research focused. These things, of course, are changing now.

Yes, this is an accurate elaboration on the situation. That doesn't take away from my point - that the stresses people are complaining about, in Anglo-Saxon 'graduate level studies', can be compared to continental masters programs. Some of it is similar in continental PhD programs, but the GP's anecdote of experiencing this in a continental masters program is simply misunderstanding the situation.

The fundamental problem here is that research is inherently uncertain, subjective and requires lots of creativity and independent thought (ideally - whether or not that actually happens is a different discussion). It's very different from undergraduate studies, which are usually 'do as you're told and you'll be fine'. Not everybody is suited for so much independence; in fact, often that do best in the rigid undergraduate system are those that are fundamentally wired to not do all that well in a more free form environment.

None (at least, very little) of that exists in continental masters programs. You just take your courses, do well on your exams, and you're good.

So that's what I meant as the fundamental difference between masters in continental vs Anglo-Saxon systems.

> It is still the case that many jobs (like nursing) are not taught at a university, simply because there is no path to academic research.

You can do research as a nurse. There are nurses with PhDs even.

Yes there are nurses with PhD's. There are janitors and Uber drivers with PhD's, so what? You probably mean that some people, with nursing degrees, have done PhD research on nursing. That still doesn't mean that nursing is something that is inherently meant to lead towards research.

in the US there are practicing nurses without a college degree, right now.. also nursing is not always unionized, especially in the South..

> in the US there are practicing nurses without a college degree, right now..

Ok? So what? I was replying to 'there is no path to academic research', and there is. Saying not everyone follows it is irrelevant to whether or not it exists.

> also nursing is not always unionized, especially in the South..

What on earth does that have to do with whether you can do research or not?

Can confirm for France. Engineering degrees are 5 years. Usually 2 years studying somewhere, then 3 years somewhere else. That's a master degree at the end.

This may be changing, I think due to globalization many universities are now standardizing on the BSc as the default level to get off for most students - and simultaneously making the MSc more research-y.

Well yes, it is, and that would remove a lot of confusion. But for now, the majority of all continental masters are not 'research oriented' in the way an Anglo-Saxon masters always was. And most people hiring (which lags people graduating by, say, 10 years) will see a person who left university after a continental bachelors as someone who if not dropped out then at least didn't do the whole curriculum.

No one forcing them to work hard tho.

I think some people have insecurities and other mental health concern which make them work more than other Ordinary people.

And just because some people are working lot more than others, they'll discover something new or have success purely due to brute force and not actually due to some latent talent

I can somehow relate to that. I'm suffering from an anxiety disorder since I was 15, was diagnosed with 18 and started some (unhelpful) therapies in that year. Later, during my masters, at some point I finally had a mental breakdown and ended up 3 months in psychiatry. I was simply overwhelmed by a) coping with panic attacks before, during and after lectures, and b) coping with the increasing pressure to perform. But the major issue behind that breakdown was actually the decision between coming of age, or letting my anxiety take responsibility for my life.

I decided for the first. After psychiatry I was basically able to leave my room and go to lectures again. I took another 2 years ambulatory therapy to take full responsibility for myself, and 5 years to finish my masters. After that, I started a Ph.D., and during that time my mental condition went from like "cannot imagine how the fuck I ended in psychiatry" to "one final straw, and I'm back in psychiatry". Although it went well, I certainly would not do it again.

That said, I obtained my masters/Ph.D. at some no-name university in Germany. I was able to pay back my student loan during the Ph.D. studies and left university with savings. Also, I'm not in ruin because of a 3 month hospitalization. Thus, reading about insane performance/financial pressure at (elite) universities combined with the questionable health care system in the US for me is terrifying.

Another point that contributes to academia as "perfect storm", in addition to the points mentioned before, is that in many countries the chances of having a career are slim for the median student.

Not everyone can gain a top position in any field. But in most industries, there are plenty of positions where you can make meaningful contributions. We know that most humans need to feel useful for mental health.

In academia, there are increasingly few viable career paths where you are not required to beat out everyone. The further you progress, the harder it becomes to switch to industry. Implied in this is that the further you go, the more risk you must be willing to take, and the more stress you are under.

In my country, the system for selecting professors is not very meritocratic. Older professors frequently would not have an ounce of success if they were required to prove themselves in the current situation.

In addition, there are very few positions to do research below a professor level, and these positions are precarious and do not offer a lot of options for meaningful contribution.

This places extreme stress on graduate students - in addition to everything being said here. As you progress in your PhD, you are either at the very top, or you have to fear that your career will go nowhere. Remember, this is a group of people that already selected on wanting to do research, seeing research as their goal in life.

This is a systemic pressure of extreme magnitude. If you fail, which is statistically likely, then you will be in a (comparatively) bad position to go after other careers. In addition, you are most likely a person who does not care primarily about money and wealth. Thus, options for a meaningful life decline as risk increases.

The success or failure is determined by many factors our of your control. Like your advisor's behavior, how the network is utilized, if you are lucky to work on a hot subject, if your contribution is recognized and so forth. The locus of control is far out of your reach, more so than in other industries. And if you fail, all the options you set for yourself in your life vanish.

It doesn't take a lot of thought to realize this has an extreme effect on the psyche of graduate students. It's more than publish or perish. It's publish or face the void.

This seems strange. In industry, it seems that great cachet is attached to academic experience. In AI, there are a lot of positions paying a half million per year and up that are only available to PHD's. In blockchain, there have been many projects that have had little to show besides a powerpoint and the letters after the founder's name but still raised tens of millions of dollars in funding from big name VCs. For a time, this was so prevalent that projects like this were given the joking name "professorcoins".

Are you talking about the experience of students whose subjects are not used in industry? In that case, it seems that they would have a difficult time regardless of whether or not they were in academia, since they would simply not be working on their subject at all in the private sector.

Certain fields have an easy path to the private sector, like computer science, but a lot of academic research is done by academics because the private sector would never pay for it. Certainly when I left academics, I didn't see many employers looking to study initial data for the binary black hole problem. ;)

No, in fact I would classify AI as a special case, because there is a high premium on experience, and even more on theoretical knowledge - rare as it is. It is a new field.

In many other fields, PhDs are too expensive and specialized relative to other candidates.

This is also relatively speaking. PhDs will certainly find some sort of job, but given how much income they forgo during their studies, the starting position is often relatively underpaid.

Y'know, occasionally I see off hand remarks from tech or start-up people dissing academia, not understanding that academia is probably one of the hardest career paths in the world (and thus surprisingly similar to start-ups). You can't take a break (publish or perish), you need a lot of qualifications to even dream about getting tenure (top 5 grad schools or bust), and you're competing against ridiculously smart and pathologically obsessive people.

No, well, I guess that’s exactly why we are dissing academia. It’s ridiculously hard, the environment seems shitty, and the payoff is pretty much nonexistent.

Why would anyone choose to do that instead of making boatloads of money in industry?

The 'purpose' of academia is pretty awesome: you get to figure out how the brain works--and how to fix it when it doesn't work well--why the sun shines, etc...

Some people find a lot more meaning in that than, say, using cutting-edge ML algorithms to optimally place Facebook ads for awful pizza.

For the privilege to do what they really want to do, i.e. study something they are really interested in.

For myself, I am interested in logic programming and machine learning. I started a PhD in Inductive Logic Programming, which is machine learning of logic programs from examples. There's no way I could follow this interest in any other structure but a PhD on ILP.

In the industry? I can forget right about it. Even ordinary logic programming is out of the question. Machine learning? That would have to be statistical machine learning that just bores me to death.

In academia I have -so far- the freedom to pursue my actual research interest and all I have to show for it is success in understanding my subject and discovering new knowledge, which is exactly what I want to do anyway.

> machine learning of logic programs from examples.

This sounds like it would have use in industry. You are really saying that it does not?

It's out of fashion, so there's not much investment in it.

That's it, in a nutshell.

Because you love it :)

To be sure the exact same argument can be made for some startups too. Toxic work-culture for the sheer possibility of (often limited) rewards is not unique to academia -- its just more prevalent.

Of course, startups share most of the same traits.

But happily I’m working for a big multinational as a corporate drone, so I’m still in a position to say this ;)

I suspect its the content of the game rather than its difficulty.

That is, academia is at-best dimly related to practical results that have a direct effect on people's lives.

Academia called, they want their quantum theory back. Particularly the parts that enabled transistor-based electronics.

Considering almost all the world changing knowledge our society has has come from academia, I really can't agree with you.

Even in CS, almost all of what I learned in grad school was directly applicable to real problems. The issue is that the bar in industry is so low that we're more worried about getting people to do even basic things than getting them to use state of the art technology.

Yes, but the results of "academia" are an exercise in the net effects of collective intelligence. Many a bee sacrifices its life without making a difference.

Rarer in business is one individuals efforts 100% wasted with such regularity.

Academia is a path finding strategy through a forest where most paths are dead-ends.

On a case-by-case, individual basis, it doesn't look so good.

In startups, a set of individuals efforts is 100% wasted with extreme regularity. They are also a path finding strategy through a forest where most paths are dead-ends, but you get paid very well until you hit that dead-end and move to the next path.

>Academia is a path finding strategy through a forest where most paths are dead-ends.

That's just describing hard problem solving in general, it's not specific to academia at all.

A lot of that world changing knowledge is a result of academia’s partnerships with industry. Consider the early radio lab at Stanford.

Academia as we know it is fairly recent. Many of the fundamental results in the sciences were discovered by people who weren’t academics but had a chill day job. For example, Newton.

Newton's biggest discoveries were back at his home while his University was closed due to the plague. I wouldn't say that thinking at the family estate to wait out the plague is a chill day job. In that era, many scientists were wealthy aristocrats, e.g. Antoine Lavoisier.

Newton was also almost turfed out because he wouldn’t take a Trinitarian Oath

> dimly related to practical results that have a direct effect on people's lives.

Look at how monkeys live, look at us. Think who can do science.

And likewise, think who can do business.

You might find the latter has a lot more to do with our success as a species than "science" as such.

Monkeys can do business.


The difference is that they do business with bananas, primitive tools, sex, etc. While we do business with phones, planes, houses... i.e. things that exist thanks to science.

My feelings on this couldn't be more mixed. I enjoyed many years working as a coder in the academic research setting, but I lost my best friend to suicide in the second semester of his PhD program.

It's just sort of a test to see if you're stronger than the system. If you want the strength to survive grad school, spend a few years scraping by in a third-world nation, or climb mountains, or get serious about wilderness survival. Do something aside from following the rules and getting inevitably raped by a system you have done nothing to learn to dominate.

This is probably a stupid question but with the internet as a distribution method is there anything stopping someone from doing their research independently and publishing on their own? I am sure if you are doing quality work you would still be able to get a hold of a professor somewhere who would be interested in working with you. Of course this would not apply to situations where there is lab equipment involved but I am thinking of the perspective of math, computer science, etc. where the work can be done on any commodity computer.

It would be rough to go it alone. Research is probably a bit more social than most people imagine.

Nothing pokes a hole in a 'brilliant' idea like bouncing it off a colleague, and at the same time, you often need an outside perspective to decide if something is a breakthrough or dead-end.

Research groups often have a bunch of informal knowledge: a technique that sounds simple may have some subtle pitfalls; one that looks complicated might be really easy to apply in specific situations. Some published results, while maybe not wrong per se, are less generalizable or harder to replicate than the papers claim. A lot of this knowledge hasn't made it into the formal literature, but is very easy to pick up over coffee.

If you want people to read your papers (or fund your proposals), they need to be written in a way that the conventions of your field: how much detail is needed for various steps, what can you claim based on your results (and what shouldn't you claim), etc. Grad students usually learn these conventions by writing with senior people.

If your end goal is to learn this stuff from a professor, there's already a pathway for that: go to grad school! If your ideas were amazing, you could collaborate with one, but you're going to be competing with the prof's actual trainees for his time/attention, which will make it hard for you to get on the prof's radar to begin with.

Not a stupid question at all.

History is littered with examples of major scientific discoveries that went completely ignored because the discoverer was not associated with a prestigious institution, or some other reputable platform.

> quality work

So what? There is no shortage of quality work.

If someone really wants to make it as an outsider (or even an insider) I would suggest spending some time on youtube watching videos about how to make it in hollywood. It is much the same: fashion-driven, full of bean-counters, whats the next hot thing, who do you know, are you fun to work with, etc. etc.

People have this idea that science is the objective search for truth. But this is just a small part of what is going on.

> History is littered with examples of major scientific discoveries that went completely ignored

Citations please

A friend of mine just told me she's going back to school for a doctorate despite being a successful researcher at an Ivy league school. Basically if she wants to run a lab or lead projects with good funding, she needs the title, even if she doesn't learn much along the way.

>> “It felt as if I was telling him he didn’t respect me, and he essentially said, you’re right,” he recalled.

I'm a PhD research student on my second year.

It's unfortunate to frame this in terms of respect for the student's person, rather than his work, which is most likely what has lost the advisor's respect.

I've come to my PhD after six years in the industry. Because of this I see my research as a work assignment: my advisor has handed me a project that I need to see through. The success of the project is not guaranteed and it's up to me to achieve it. As in the industry, where I earned the respect of my colleagues by getting things done, so in academia, I can only earn the respect of my advisor and other academics by delivering strong results and publishing in a reputable venue. If I can do that, then noone will have any reason to not respect "me" (actually, my work).

The important thing to understand is that your advisor's enthusiasm and interst in your work cannot be taken for granted. And so is the enthusiasm and interest of other researchers in your field. Unless you are delivering genuinely interesting and exciting work, you cannot expect sustained enthusiasm and support to continue that work.

Another thing to keep in mind about academics is that they are always on a tight budget: of funding, attention, time, energy. If you take a piece out of that budget you have to put something back in, or you will inevitably cause doubt and disapointment.

It's a professional relation, studying for a PhD: you give something to be given something, do something so that others might do something for you.

I’ve seen your posts before so I am pretty sure you’re a CS PhD student. It is important to remember that getting a PhD in CS is unusually good. There’s a lot of money, limited need for expensive equipment, good job prospects in academia, and little stigma about going into industry.

Also, it seems to me that a culture of abusive behavior and hazing has not yet set in.

None of this is true in the natural sciences, and advisors often do not treat students with even the basic dignity due to any human. This kind of thing is rare in computer science.

Also, there's enough demand in CS and engineering, that being a professor isn't necessarily seen as the top of the heap, and profs tend to be a bit more humble. A prof knows that they could walk out the door tomorrow and have a good career, and knows that the students could too.

There's also something to be said for working in a field where you can take the weekend off, and your project doesn't start to decompose.

Machine learning actually- in particular, Inductive Logic Programming. But, yes, it's basically CS.

I appreciate that there's a difference between different fields. I'm also aware that the article above is about research students in the US- I'm in a UK university.

So the natural sciences aren't universally bad. My PhD advisor in relativity was a terrific guy to work with and I saw him as a friend and mentor. The problem is that the supply of people seeking PhDs, post-docs, and tenure track jobs in the natural sciences so far outstrips the available jobs (often a hundred to one) that there is little natural pressure to suppress bad behavior. In fact, the assholes tend to thrive because it turns out that taking advantage of others can get you ahead.

> by delivering strong results

The thing is...you shouldn't be able to guarantee that, and the idea that you can is the root of a lot of academia's problems.

The results of your experiment should be determined by the nature of whatever you're studying, nothing more. Sometimes, they'll be very clean with obvious, high-impact applications. Sometimes they'll be muddled with unforeseeable complications. Obviously, skill can help you turn the latter into the former, but there's a huge amount of luck involved there too.

It would be far, far better if people were judged on their ability to find and rigorously test interesting questions, rather than whatever crapshoot nature spits out.

>> It would be far, far better if people were judged on their ability to find and rigorously test interesting questions, rather than whatever crapshoot nature spits out.

"Strong results" does not mean "positive results".

For example, two seminal works in ILP are the doctoral theses of Ehud Shapiro and Gordon Plotkin, both of which found strong negative results regarding the learning of first-order logic theories from examples. I would also point out the work of Mark. E. Gold and others on inductive inference that was mostly negative regarding the ability to learn anything above finite automata from examples.

It is true that in machine learning it is considered mandatory to show, experimentally, significant improvements in performance- personally I think that's a big mistake and a severe impediment to actual progress. In any case, in my field, you need theoretical results (theorems and proofs) for your work to pass muster.

This. What kind of prospectus defense or oral exam did he have if he didn’t come up with the question? Why even have a different committee or a prospectus at all if the advisor just hands you the question?

I’m in my 30’s now and found out that I suffer from depression. It was a lightbulb moment realising that the feeling I’d become accustomed to for the previous 15 years was actually something.

For me, I never fitted in with anyone at University and felt alone. Going into work I started with small companies, providing tech for sales roles. The sales way of ‘high pressure’ was transferred to how projects should be managed.

Today I try and help out by building a community via running a meet-up. The people I have around me today and the confidence I have to be able to be depressed and get out of it with the help of others around me keeps me going.

I'm working on a masters degree at the moment for context. The fact that a professor has the ability to deny me the piece of paper I've been told all my life is my ticket to a better life based on arbitrary grading rules is horrifying. In my program there is a different professor for every class and how they grade and what they want has always been different, some demand title pages for every paper, some demand some specific source count, and others grade you down for submitting too close to the official due date. The professors who I have liked the most are the ones that act like the students, just scraping by barely managing to do their work, and not having the time or energy to be too critical of the students work. I'm sure professors are nice people and I'm even good friends with some at other universities, but there is a massive power imbalance and it is horrifying to students.


Professors have no, I repeat, NO accountability. Inside their classroom, they are the petty dictators they are empowered by the university to be. Some do a good and just job at education... But that's not their real goal. Their goal is to get the university more money and more students - teaching is the secondary objective. If it happens, it's good.

I've seen a large handful of people whom should have never been offered a teaching position. When English is obviously a 2nd or 3rd language, and you're teaching a complicated topic, and we can't understand you - you shouldn't be teaching it. I'm not making insults on intelligence, because they were intelligent... But when every student struggles to understand every word (example word: theta , pronounced:fee-ter ) they shouldn't be teaching.

I've also had "professors" who taught light and sound physics, discussing electricity, who didn't know what a capacitor was. And it was in the middle of the partial differential plate field equations for... capacitors. He was also known at putting questions on the test that did not pertain to the class proper. He would also create his own (wrong) answer key, and then refuse to accept corrections. Good scores for the class were around 18-22 out of 100.

I have no clue how one would accomplish this, but the university ALSO needs to be accountable to the students who throw it money.

I assume that you are mainly discussing undergrad education. In that case, the way to pressure universities to be accountable is by not going to such universities, as you imply in your first paragraph: "Their goal is to get the university more money and more students". So don't go to such universities. They will lose students. Losing undergrad students won't directly impact research funding, but it will have an impact at any public university.

I take it you haven't read "Meditations on Moloch". https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/07/30/meditations-on-moloch/

All universities do this to a varying extent, for undergraduate -and- graduate. And it doesn't make sense for a university to take such a significant risk on non-payment for failing a student. And there would be questionable ethics for a university to pass a student to get paid.

From a "God's Eye View", we can do better to properly fund schools while preserving that students learn without getting cheated. But from individual students' point of view, and the universities' point of view, there are no good answers.

Disclaimer: Our field is extremely competitive (deep learning) and other labs may have better working styles depending on their lab size and member composition.

My lab's workload on average is 8 - 12 hours a day for 6-7 days a week, ramping up even more closer to deadlines. That being said, a lot of this time (50% or more) is for thinking and discussing. This schedule, while hard, seems to be effective for publishing in good conferences.

If half of the time is thinking, why do you need to be on the spot? Seems really counterproductive to me.

Being in the lab helps me focus on my thinking. I also discuss my current thinking and problems with my peers for critique, and I can do the same for them. I'm more conditioned to do research, and my mind wanders less in the lab.

However, I do agree that having free time and being away from the lab is important to get a fresh view of things.

He probably means planning meetings.

Never understood what the purpose is to fill half the day with meetings. Beside the illusion of productivity.

We don't plan too many meetings. Once a week for a lab wide meeting. Most of these meetings are casual and just discussions between cliques of phd students on specific topics.

But how do you know that 6-8 hours 4-5 days a week wouldn’t be just as effective? I assume you don’t really have anything to compare it to.

This seems pretty excessive even for one of the very competitive benchmark focused areas in deep learning. It is not necessary and probably harmful, and lots of very good groups don’t do this kind of thing.

Something often overlooked because it doesn’t fit the “evil professor overworks students” narrative, is that students themselves elect to put in more hours because they feel reaposible for their projects. During my graduate studies I worked under a professor who literally banned lab access to prevent people from working weekends. I hated that rule, but obeyed it, though I know some others snuck in anyways.

Yeah but those students aren’t putting in those extra hours because it’s “fun”, right? They’re doing it because the culture intrinsically rewards if not requires that sort of overwork. It sounds to me like that professor is treating the symptom (students want to overwork themselves) but the cause (toxic culture) still needs to be addressed.

Excerpt: "In 2015, Sophie — a recent graduate of the School of Earth’s Ph.D. program who wished to remain anonymous in order to preserve her relationship with her advisor — and five others in her Ph.D. cohort took a prospective Ph.D. candidate out to dinner.

Sitting at a restaurant on University Avenue, the prospective candidate mentioned that she was in therapy. One by one, the current students at the table said that they were, too, but none of them had ever discussed it with each other.

“Unless it’s your really good friends, you don’t talk about it,” Sophie said. “It’s still stigmatized, and it’s still seen as a sign of weakness. It took someone to be honest … [and then] everyone else opened up.”

According to statistics provided by CAPS director Bina Patel, CAPS counselors saw 22 percent of the graduate student community over the 2017-2018 academic year, for an average of 4.5 visits per student. Graduate students make up 59 percent of the students CAPS serves, which Patel said is consistent with peer institutions. "

Get ready for it.. I've had a employer make me work 36 hours straight.. I started hallucinating and fell into psychosis. I'm still recovering. But if they think your the only tool they have they'll blunt you until you won't repair.

>> “I know lots of people who come out of undergrad and work 60 hours a week,” said James, referring to his friends in finance and other industries, “but they’re making so much more.”

So that makes it better? I'd have thought that, if academic culture is seen as exhausting and exploitative, a 60-hour work week would not be seen as anything different, regardless of the salary.

If a higher salary makes enough of a difference- well then, is that what this article is about? Giving graduate students more money for their work?

The salary comment does seem out of place compared to all the issues about the advisor/student relationship. But, as an independent axis, money can reduce stress. The easiest example is a shorter commute and more reliable transportation.

I've worked in academia for several years, and it's been somewhat discouraging. I've certainly noticed the pressure put on grad students--not fun. I'm someone who is deeply passionate about science/research and have tried to think of things that could be done outside academia to contribute basic scientific research--the hope is more team science and not labs organized around PI feudalships. Anyway, I've been working on https://www.eonias.org/ on the side (still fleshing it out), if anyone is interested in collaborating on writing a grant, please reach out.

I wonder how much of this is attributable to advisor and university "entrance/belonging rituals" (meaning "only the tough survive" mentality)

There seems to be a lot of psychological abuse in graduate circles, even if it is not explicit.

I am glad I dropped out early

The fact that there was a lot of work and pressure to do well makes me look back fondly at my university years. Going through something hard and coming out the other end is rewarding and much more fulfilling than if it had been a breeze.

It’s not either-or, though.

Something I have noticed throughout my studies is that some countries seem better equipped to let university students shine and not suffer from high stress, or at least help them decompress.

This might be anecdotal experience, and I am not currently in a PhD programme so I am not sure it would aplly there as well, however this is what I have noticed:

In my country universities are usually an environment quite similar to High School wrt how students usually fit into the greater social circle of the institution, meaning that you usually go in for your lectures and leave as soon as you're done, have only a few ties with other students and there are almost no extra curricular activites to partake in through which you could bond with other people. During my undergraduate studies I spent a year in a university in the UK and this experience opened my eyes to how detrimental this environment is to students' performance; The university I attended explicitely encouraged students to set up "Student Associations" centered around whatever topic the person setting up particularly cared about, and in my experience I attendend events from many different ones, ranging from my department's one to anime/manga, to gaming, to my native country's culture. This has helped me so much in connecting with other people I would've otherwise never met who shared some of my interests, and in turn I was always able to have someone to speak to about common problems that students face, or to attend social events in order to decompress from a particularly hard day; at the end of the year I gave some of the best exams of my career, I made friends I am still in contact with years after, I was able to land an internship through one of these societies' events, and generally enjoyed life and university MUCH more than I ever did in my country. After coming back home and moving on with my life I am currently pursuing a Masters in my own country, and after a bit more than a semester I already feel the same feeling of dread I felt during my undergrad experience kick in since there are no avenues or ways to actually enjoy life as a university student.

I firmly believe that if more countries / universities adopted the same stance I experience in that UK university students would generally be way better off, both with respect to their mental health and their track record.

Unfortunately I have never met someone who has shared the same experience as me and hence has the same outlook on the problem, and even when speaking up about these issues with my department or colleagues many seem to not particularly care or understand what that particular system would entail for everyone involved. It is really a shame.

I am wondering if there are any scientific studies that have been done on this particular issue that I could bring up to shift perception around this?

Anyway, just my two cents.

tl;dr: make students more involved in their university's community and provide the means to self-organise around common interests so as to create comraderie and avenues to decompress, everyone will benefit from it.

Meanwhile in China we have 9-9-6. The US needs to wake up to whether it wants to stay in the game.

Not a single thing about China is attractive to me. Not how you work, not your politics, not your view of what's important in life. We have nothing to learn from you and I hope we don't become more similar than we are now.

I agree with the things you list but wow there's a lot to learn from the Chinese.

There's a NYT bestseller called "the subtle art of not giving a fuck". The Chinese, by and large, don't need this book because they already carefully allocate their fucks, and it's a natural thing for them to do (especially in the south, by my impression)

More anecdotally, I find Chinese engineers among the most joyful and laid back people to work together with. 10-10 Would Work With Again.

Also Chinese humor is splendid. Any joke that can get better by loudly appending "HAHAHAHAHA! ^_^" must be an excellent joke.

How can you be laid back while also doing 996 ?

Long lunches and 2-hour afternoon naps help.

> We have nothing to learn from you

I don't think you can use the word "we" to make your claim.

Regardless if you meant to speak for the Americans or people from some other country, you don't represent their opinion.

No, no. Don’t worry. This is a royal ‘we’.

The food is amazing. And I also admire how they are getting things done with e.g. the transition to electric cars while in most of the Western world we drag our feet. I suspect it might be the same with self-driving cars when they are a reality.

In the "view of what's important in life" I don't think there is a lot of difference between Chinese and Western culture.

Regarding 9-9-6, yeah, I also hope we don't copy that from them.

If there's one thing living and working in Europe (Germany) has taught me is that all countries are more or less the same. It's just how well the culture manages to mask the "unattractive" traits we love to criticize in places like China (or America, as of late), and the PR/propaganda campaign they run to convince everyone they're the best place on the planet.

China is a prime example of subpar image/PR management. They really gotta take a hint and learn from the Germans, who are well respected and have lots of positive stereotypes parroted around the internet "work-life balance, efficiency, timeliness, high standards of living, LE FREE HEALTHCARE!!!"

IMO Germany is worse than America (the country they love to poo-poo on) and even China in so many respects. Yet America and China are the places people call "third world" nowadays.

- Trains are constantly late.

- Majority of offices don't have airconditioning or any air ventilation system (in fact, my previous workplace of 300 employees was in a building with NO insulation or fire alarm/suppression system!)

- Card payments are not accepted in at least 50% of places, particularly restaurants. Cash only in 2019 (can anyone say TAX EVASION?).

- People boast about contactless payments which just became mainstream last year like it's the second coming of sliced bread.

- Boasting about the public transportation system which is only the best if you're a student with a massive surplus of time/shortage of cash, otherwise it takes you anywhere from 10 mins to 1 hour (depending on time of day and route) more to get between two places compared to a car. Heaven forbid you have a family, then public transportation even costs more than having a car.

- Employers are extremely exploitative, especially in tech and especially startups - I'd say some places in America/Asia have better work-life and are less toxic than German companies. The only difference between America/China and Germany is the latter has employment laws that are actually enforced, but only if you go to court (but contrary to popular belief, don't make you "unfireable", just allow the employee to get a few thousand EUR as compensation for when the employer does try their hand at something exploitative - and they will, hoping you're not aware of your rights)

- Virtue signalling on all sorts of things. Not gonna get into politics/immigration, there's plenty on that elsewhere. But German companies love to boast about EQUALITY FOR ALL, DISCRIMINATION IS DISGUSTING. All while lowballing immigrants in terms of salary and imposing an industrial-grade glass ceiling for any non-German who tries to work here. E.g. they will boast how their company of 300 has over 80 nationalities and work exclusively in English (because 90% of clients are American/British) but oddly enough, everyone in mid-upper/upper management is white and German. Maybe throw in the occasional white non-German European or token Indian guy for DIVERSITY!!!111!!!!1

- Diesel, until recently, was the bragging point for efficiency. I remember not 5 years ago, there would be so many Europeans in comments sections of (any discussion remotely car/transportation related) poo-pooing on the "dumb Americans" for still using gasoline and polluting the environment by not getting "the bigger MPGs" using diesel. LOL.

- Free healthcare isn't actually free if you're not like the classic local European who still is a student with 0 work experience at age 30 shitposting on the internet. Look at the "KV" (health insurance) field of your payslip: I pay hundreds of EUR every MONTH as a healthy young person for "free healthcare". Out of sight, out of mind right?

TLDR China is about as attractive as any other country on the planet, they just have subpar image management and PR at the moment

Sounds like Berlin, which is totally different than pretty much every other place in Germany :-)

FREE healthcare means that everyone is covered, even if unemployed or working for low wages. The more you earn, the more you pay (capped at ~400€). Your family is insured for no extra payment. You obviously don‘t fit the system because you believe you should pay less (single, young, healthy) but that‘s exactly not what it is. Poor, old, unhealthy people, those who suffer in life are protected. Cancer won‘t bankrupt your family, you won‘t end on the street. That‘s free healthcare - dignity! Not paying little no nothing if you‘re young and healthy.

> poor, old, unhealthy people, those who suffer in life are protected

> Cancer won‘t bankrupt your family, you won‘t end on the street.

> That‘s free healthcare - dignity!

I guess the middle age male homeless sitting and sleeping all over the cities and transport venues damage your vision slightly. Don't even try the narrative "it's eastern Europeans, it's their own fault".

Given how plenty of other countries with free healthcare also have homelessness problems, I doubt these issues are related all that closely.

Have a look at the large Canadian cities: Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. Or France, whose residents use the three letter acronym SDF to refer to the homeless.

Anecdotally, I've heard that a significant proportion of them have mental health issues for which they refuse treatment, free or not. It's also a problem of housing accessibility (interesting article: https://www.theguardian.com/housing-network/2017/mar/22/finl...) and support for transitioning to gainful employment.

The "eastern Europeans" rant was a cheap shot. Germany's and most other wealthy EU countries' problems are mostly self inflicted, but it's always easier to blame "those Eastern Europeans" because it's politically corect.

First of all, maybe in Berlin. There are a few reasons for people living in the streets. Drugs is a big one, especially in Berlin. You won‘t find that in most of Germany.

Fact is, most people who are legally in Germany for >3 months are legible for Hartz 4: a free apartment, free heating and a few hundred Euro. And free healthcare.

> Fact is, most people who are legally in Germany for >3 months are legible for Hartz 4: a free apartment, free heating and a few hundred Euro. And free healthcare.

Free apartment for a foreigner living in the country only over 3 months?! Dude, people on employment contract with over average income, staying in the country for years are having difficulties to find anything for rent in any major city, buying is out of question. Did you swallow an info brochure of German ministry for social affairs?

That is the exact kind of post I refer to - post any negative thing about Germany and the PR team is out in full force to perform damage control.

> in any major city

Well, there’s your problem.

If you are unemployed, there is hardly any reason to stay in a big city.

Hartz4 while living in the countryside? That’s pretty much synonymous of dead end hopeless downward spiral.

approx. 500.000 Berliners receive Hartz 4

FREE healthcare means that everyone is covered...

Sounds like universal healthcare, not free healthcare.

Yes it is universal healthcare but one of the biggest complaints merely attacks the word "free".

The complain is that how can something be "free" when someone else has to pay for it. The definition of free literally means that someone else has to pay for it (externalities and labor to extract resources from the land count as payment). Real "free" anything where nobody pays anything doesn't exist. It's a strawman.

You seem to be missing that China is more or less a dictatorship. No matter how much I disagree with the German government I'm sure I won't disappear or get sent to a reeducation camp. I value that a lot and so are a lot of people.

> Germany [...] has employment laws that are actually enforced, but only if you go to court (but contrary to popular belief, don't make you "unfireable", just allow the employee to get a few thousand EUR as compensation for when the employer does try their hand at something exploitative - and they will, hoping you're not aware of your rights)

Thousand time yes! In case one is not fluent in German they behave like shark smelling the blood. Overtime, underdog tasks, imposing ridiculous decisions, defaming reprimands (Abmahnung). The labour code is on one's side, but good luck finding a lawyer who'll engage in an individual case.

> All while lowballing immigrants in terms of salary and imposing an industrial-grade glass ceiling for any non-German who tries to work here. E.g. they will boast how their company of 300 has over 80 nationalities and work exclusively in English (because 90% of clients are American/British) but oddly enough, everyone in mid-upper/upper management is white and German.

Forget about English speaking environment in Germany - it's a trap, especially when managers and directors are German. Anytime the shit hits the fan, the communication fallbacks into local language because that's the language of the labour code. They will try to screw one over while wrongfully accusing of various things and breaching rules which previously "didn't matter".

Having lived in Germany for a bit I'm giggling at the truthiness of your post, but it doesn't mean that 'all countries are the same'.

Germany is different.

I think there are just different ups and downs.

FYI the worst part about German startups has to be the lack of big hits, with big exists, thereby making all the pain not really worth it. Startups are only worth it if there's a rational means to payout which I don't think exists frankly anywhere outside if the US.

> I think there are just different ups and downs.

Precisely my point but some countries and their people (or their PR team, depending how much tinfoil you're wearing) try to have you believe that it's nothing but upsides. E.g. The ample "Germany good and better, America bad and dumb" themed comments across the internet we've seen in the past decade.

Stupidly enough, I believed those comments back in the day, moved to Germany, only to find out I'd been fed a crap ton of lies.

I am relieved you didn't speak of totalitarianism, which you have ruined your whole argument.

The macro view of things (e.g. policies) doesn't bother me too much anymore. As mentioned, all countries are more or less shit (in their own unique way). It's what one experiences on the ground level in daily life that matters.

Is Germany that much better when you can get fined if you flip someone off (say an idiotic driver on the road) and there are contracts (where you're usually locked in for 2 years with autorenewal and requiring 3 or 6 months' notice to quit) for literally everything?

You forgot about predatory no opt-out "contracts" running indefinitely, which don't cancel by default on moving out of the country (public health insurance, public media fee).

Tax evasion is a bit of a national sport.

And paying into a national health system might not be free its a lot cheaper than the USA's model.

> TLDR China is about as attractive as any other country on the planet, they just have subpar image management and PR at the moment

Cool, why haven't you moved there?

I moved to Germany in the dark days when I was gullible to believe the propaganda across the internet that "Germany = The 1st world that's better than America" only to arrive and discover 99% of the stuff you see in comments sections about how "Germany is superior to [US/China/UK]" is bullshit.

That said, I made my bed and I'll lie in it for a while. Already looking at options for where to move, but I wasn't about to move my life here and ragequit after 1-2 years like most people do (the type of person that moves here seems to not care very much about the financial and stress cost of moving internationally, how ~1 year of work on their resume + 6 months jobless looks bad on their resume, etc)

Maybe not China, salaries and high-tech life there sound appealing but the firewalled internets is a big turn-off, but definitely not remaining in Germany now that I've done enough time.

I agree with some of your assessments about Germany but not to the point that I would consider "fake" or "propaganda".

Especially the "public transport is slow/expensive" part. It seems it's one of the best (in the western hemisphere at least) and that even compared with NYC/Montreal/Toronto.

(But of course YMMV)

Why would he move there? He said thst its the same as any other country, not that its better

I am from India, I was working as a Principal engineer in SV, after that in Germany and finally I am here in China.

Your analysis is correct, I enjoy working in China the most. Work hours are not bad but after work hours are lot more interesting.

There is lots of hustle and bustle, and the co-workers actually do invite you to their family events.

I am lot more happy in China and play to have a family here.

Would you consider moving back to the tech scene in India? I am sure you can provide a lot of valuable lessons from Chinese tech companies to fellow Indians.

I recognize that this is anecdata but I worked together remotely with a engineers from the Shenzhen area a number of times, and they would have a 2 hour lunch plus a 2 hour afternoon nap (under their desks, on a couch, anywhere really) every day. Working from 9 to 9 sounds less heavy (and more fun!) that way.

Maybe I met some lucky few, but if my impression of Chinese tech working culture is accurate, it's less insane than popularly reported.

Ain't that the inconvenient truth? Countries with long working hours aren't filled with people with superhuman stamina and concentration. They just fill up the additional hours with a bunch of other stuff; in the western hemisphere, it's acting busy and spending hours on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

I'd rather work in a place with "work-life balance" (whatever the hell that is these days, 8-6?) but such places are disappearing all over the planet. Even in Europe, work-life balance can be goddamn horrible in tech, especially if you work in a startup. Unpaid overtime is common, in a recent interview at a startup of 70 employees, I was told "our official working hours are 9am-6pm but... well, we're a startup, so you know... hint hint nudge nudge".

If what places like Blind are saying is true (that pay in the east is rising to SV-like levels), China and Asian countries with "long working hours" may be viable places to work in the future, since long hours are already a norm in America and becoming the new European standard too.

I always some trouble understanding these kinds of comments. They really don't mirror my experience. I have worked in a mix of small to multinational companies in France, small companies/startups in England (Cambridge). I would always do 9:30/6, often less. Sure I received "median" wages for that. Sure there was the occasional release where you work on Saturday, but that's once every 6 months, and I could say no if I wanted.

Some people would work more or much more (they ended up being "nudged" into management, the poor souls, they regretted it dearly), but as a software engineer the market is so much in your favour that you can always go somewhere else.

These places are findable, but you have to take a pay hit usually. I'm working as a software dev for a nonprofit right now in the US -- we have 35-40 hour weeks, 25 days of vacation, 1 telecommute day per week, and the nicest coworkers I've ever met. Everyone is sunny and relaxed because the culture breeds happiness. It's downright intoxicating to work there.

But I'm making a solid $20k less than I could make elsewhere at my current role. To me though, it's worth it for a working environment where I wake up with a smile at the thought of driving in, rather than waking up with a sick pit of dread in my gut every day.

> it's less insane than popularly reported.

So instead of spending time with your loved ones and living life, you sleep under a desk just to clock in your 12 hours at the office. Sorry, it doesn't seem any less insane.

No man! Not to clock hours. To chill out, after eating a super huge excellent lunch. With the kinds of lunches the Chinese eat, trying to get back into working hard right after is futile. Gotta let it sink first.

Sounds to me that you simply disagree whether having a great lunch and a relaxed working atmosphere is a valuable part of "living life". I suspect that my priorities are more like yours than the average Chinese, but I disagree that you can call them insane for a chilled out work ethic and a foodie culture. It's different, and indeed family gets almost no time and IMO that sucks balls, but it's not the nasty Nazi work regime people make it out to be.

There are people everywhere who work very hard. A corporate culture doesn’t tell you much about socially positive outcomes in research.

A faith in corporate culture may, though. Conformity, in any country, is incompatible with effective R&D.

We are talking about Stanford here. I don't know, but to me it feels like someone getting into the NBA or trying out for the Olympics having a problem with hard work.

If you can't do the work why take up a spot in one of the best schools in the land? Isn't that a valid question? Especially in the hypercompetitive world we live in?

From what I understand, successful professional athletes tend to train very hard during dedicated practice hours (something like 30 hours per week), but then have rich lives outside their training, get enough sleep every night, etc.

Trying to do more than 30 hours of intense creative work per week yields diminishing returns, while leading to worse and worse negative health effects as you increase hours. People working 60+ hours per week are wrecking themselves for bad results.

> From what I understand, successful professional athletes tend to train very hard during dedicated practice hours (something like 30 hours per week), but then have rich lives outside their training, get enough sleep every night, etc.

I train hundreds of professional athletes. The majority of them do not have rich lives outside of their training. Most of them have very unbalanced lives that center around their sport, training, and everything to do with it. Most relationships fail inside pro sports for several obvious reasons.

Most have some form of mental health issues.

We watch them on TV and we expect greatness, but as long as it is not us paying the cost to get there, we don't mind.

Thanks for the reply. How much do the athletes you train practice?

Do you think the exclusive focus helps their performance at their sport?

Do you think competition selects for people with mental health problems, or causes mental health problems?

Is there a noticeable difference between athletes who burn out in a few years vs. the ones who have long careers?

> Thanks for the reply. How much do the athletes you train practice?

Some 30 hours a week in the off-season. Additionally, many have off-season jobs to make ends meet. Pro sports isn't all what it's cracked up to be. Not all of them play on TV.

> Do you think the exclusive focus helps their performance at their sport?


> Do you think competition selects for people with mental health problems, or causes mental health problems?


> Is there a noticeable difference between athletes who burn out in a few years vs. the ones who have long careers?

Genetic ability first, preparation second. If you are an extremist, you might get preparation to exceed your genetic lottery ticket. But I've only seen that happen once.

There are anecdotes all over the place, but the nugget of truth is that the human body can only exert so much effort, which means elite athletes have fairly limited training hours. But that still leaves plenty of time for things like film study. And far from getting merely "enough sleep every night", most athletes have to get even more sleep, which takes time away from the rest of life. It's still a very focused existence--but then, you don't receive exceptional results from less-than-exceptional input.

I agree. But when you are talking about Stanford you are really talking about the best of the best. Their performance curves don't match the rest of the population to start with.

For example, I am just watching highlights of the Indian Wells Tennis Tourney thats going on, and a 38 year old Roger Federer has managed to get to the finals. And in every interview with the rest of the competition, they all say he is just working harder than the rest of the field.

Especially for creative work, work time doesn't correlate with output. Being a top physicist/mathematician/whatever is pretty unrelated with "working harder." It's related with having a somehow "better" connected brain. You can't work your way into being very smart.

I completely disagree with this. It's obvious that the top contributors to those realms are incredibly talented - Einstein, Newton, Euler, whatever. At the same time, they all put in an absurd amount of work, and their most well known contributions typically come from periods of almost exclusive focus on their chosen problem - Newton stuck inside working on gravitation because of a plague outbreak, Einstein's obsessive work in the years leading up to his Annus Mirabilis papers.

Innate talent may be a prerequisite for creative work, but it's seldom sufficient without putting the time and effort in.

Getting a better connected brain is often the outcome of just working harder at a problem.

You'd be surprised at how much creative progress is due to steady effort rather than some brilliant epiphany. Just because its intellectual work doesn't mean it can’t be solved by grinding it out.

You need both. From Hamming's You and your research:

``Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest.'' Given two people of approximately the same ability and one person who works ten percent more than the other, the latter will more than twice outproduce the former. The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more the opportunity - it is very much like compound interest. I don't want to give you a rate, but it is a very high rate. Given two people with exactly the same ability, the one person who manages day in and day out to get in one more hour of thinking will be tremendously more productive over a lifetime. I took Bode's remark to heart; I spent a good deal more of my time for some years trying to work a bit harder and I found, in fact, I could get more work done. I don't like to say it in front of my wife, but I did sort of neglect her sometimes; I needed to study. You have to neglect things if you intend to get what you want done. There's no question about this.

This isn’t true and there’s no evidence of it being true. Total productivity doesn’t drop as a function of hours worked until somewhere between 40 and 60 hours a week[1]. We know that creativity is more or less constant in individuals so those who produce more do more good work[2].


The Productivity of Working Hours, John Pencavel


Creative productivity: A predictive and explanatory model of career trajectories and landmarks.

Dean Keith Simonton

For a popular audience


Nah, they are human too, they get overworked like everyone else with same consequences.

And like with everyone else, they are not at their best when overworked and depressed, but it does not matter for institution because there areally many students eager to apply so it does not matter how many if them pay the cost.

That sounds like a recipe for terrible productivity and inability to do creative work...

Hours worked is inversely correlated with GDP per capita. China needs to step down if they want to try to be competitive.

This implies that "GDP per capita" is something to optimize for. My guess is that China doesn't see it that way.

I mean, pick your favorite financial metric, they are behind.

This is trivially false. Here's a relevant one: Rate of positive change of GDP (absolute or per capita) over the last 20 years, by country.

They're behind Ireland in that aspect.

And frankly, countries like Switzerland and Norway can't even really grow their GDP. They're essentially maxed out since most people have a standard of life beyond even upper class people in most countries. China is at a point where $2000 of growth is more significant than $12000 would be for Switzerland or Norway.

Sleep science says this is a terrible idea

They dont expect you to be working the whole time though. If you spend time learning, or working on personal projects whos the wiser?

Then your employer owns your personal projects.

uh, how would that even get enforced? Some of my coworkers do schoolwork, and online lectures during work, you think the boss will take thier degree? Knowleged gained from spending time learning new stuff, and experienced gained from related projects to prepare for your next job is gonna be hard/pointless to confiscate as well.

Oh no, the boss is going to take my hello world app in node js.

That China needs to put in that much effort to be competitive with the US isn't a particularly good sign.

Work smarter, not harder.

What does "9-9-6" refer to?

My guess is from 9 AM to 9 PM six days a week.

Work from 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week.

09:00 - 21:00 6 days a week.

Meanwhile in China you also have one of the highest suicide rates per capita in the world.

That's... not true by official statistics.


Japan and the United States are both quite a bit higher. Is it likely that China is fudging the numbers and it's higher than what they report? Yes. But neither Japan nor the US come off as looking good here.

I don’t think overwork matters

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