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I’m doing a PhD and currently spending around 3-7 h/week on EA-related stuff (reading forum/blog posts, attending local meetings, moderating in the Virtual Programs…). Since what I learn while doing this may have an impact on my career, it could be regarded as “informal” training time rather than as entertainment/leisure time. However, it does come at the expense of my time spent in “formal” training/work (i.e., PhD) and it’s a dilemma.

Even though my supervisor gives me complete freedom in that regard and doesn’t really check how much I work or how much progress I’ve made, it still feels for me as if I hadn’t worked enough. It may partly come from the fact that I cannot add anything related to that in my CV, as it’s mostly consuming content passively. So, on a career level, it’ll make it hard to justify to future potential employers why I took longer for my PhD (which might be especially tricky if I want to stay in academia), but also personally, because not being able to track more formally this investment of time and the learning progress I make, feels as if I weren’t really doing it.

I don’t see much room for change (besides keeping my PhD hours fixed full-time and engaging in EA in my free time, which may be too many hours of intellectual work and I may feel too tired/not have enough time, or reducing my time spent on EA-related stuff, which, of course, I don’t want), so I’m interested in how you approach a similar situation in your life (practically or mentally) (edit: or to read your advice if you have some) :)




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I was working on a PhD for a while (which I dropped out of before finishing it) - I don't know if this makes me a good or bad authority on stuff like this!

[Having written this comment, I realise I am entirely giving you advice, and you didn't ask for advice, but for people to talk about similar situations in their lives. I'm sorry and I hope it's somewhat useful anyway?]

Relevant questions: can you realistically 'exchange' for EA hours for PhD hours? Or would you be too tired/unmotivated to use that time for PhD work anyway? They are both hard intellectual work; but in my experience, if I'm working on two different things, sometimes I can do more than if I'm working on just one thing. Also, I can do more work in areas where I'm intrinsically motivated, and if you're doing 3-7 hours/week of voluntary EA stuff, I'm guessing you're intrinsically motivated. 

How much do you think employers will care about how long you took to do the PhD? My intuition (based on Humanities academia in the US) is 'they won't care at all', but maybe in your field/region it's different. You could even ask your supervisor about this: like 'if I took X+1 years to finish, rather than X years, how much do you think it would hurt my chance on the job market?'

It might be helpful to write down the concrete consequences (good and bad) or doing the amount of EA stuff you're currently doing, vs doing less/none. It sounds like the main bad consequence is a feeling that you're not doing enough work (even though your supervisor seems happy with you). I think this is pretty common among PhD students. It might be worse gently asking where that thought is coming from. What would be so bad about being a complete slacker on your PhD?


Thanks for your thoughts and your questions to trigger reflection, I'll have to think about it... I always took for granted that it might be a disadvantage to take longer to finish my PhD but tbh I'm not sure, I will ask my supervisor and colleagues! (PS. Advice is also much appreciated and I edited my question accordingly)

I'm doing a PhD (economics) and feel totally comfortable with my relationship with EA. EA grounds my research and gives me ideas, and on a few occasions I have written things for the EA forum that were just totally helpful things for me to do.

You can judge your output on its own without imagining your counterfactual output if you spent no time on EA. I am deeply skeptical that there's a lot of fungibility between them. EA engagement feels closer to leisure than to work.

How are you feeling about your research and life more generally? Important to consider this because it's easy for us to find all sorts of clever ways to procrastinate ;)

An idea: track your time. My system is just to make a note on a piece of paper whenever I change to do/think about something different.

I found this both confronting + comforting:

(1) we have more time than we think

(2) time perception is shaped by novelty of our experiences

(3) inefficiency can go on for a long time when we are on autopilot

(4) often time is not going where we think it is going*

(5) often it's possible to batch stuff and spend time in refreshing ways

(6) it makes us mindful of time

(7) it creates micro-friction for distractions.

*For example I thought I was spending > 30 min a day on particular tasks around the house. Turned out I was spending about 5-10 min on those tasks.

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