The title is something my advisor Ron Allen said to me during my time at STSCI. Now a comment like this needs some unpacking. For starters it is to instill in a grad student the clear understanding that a phd is really just a whole bunch of work. Not massive creative insight or A Brilliant Idea. But work.
Secondly, it serves as a guide for both student and supervisor to keep an eye on the time and effort spent and where to spend it. The occasional week where there needs to be a push (deadline...) or things are going Really Well may top out well over but 40hours per week on average that is realistically where the research part of a phd should be.
There are many reasons why that will not happen and it is the job of the supervisor to keep an eye out for them.
1. Side projects and distractions. It is research! The student is a creative person. There are ideas to follow up and consider outside the main drive of the thesis. Oh boy did I do that! Identify and store for later (Evernote!). Too easy to get sidetracked. For anyone.
2. Institutional overload. This is trickier. As it turns out, the supervisor is not the only boss here. TA duties, departmental citizenship and all those tasks that “the phd students can do”. Sure. Some. Not all.
3. Real life. Ah yes pesky real life getting in the way. An occasional low productivkty week is normal. When either supervisor or student loses sight however because IRL there are many more demands than can be reasonably met...its time to reevaluate.
4 Lack of logistical ortechnical support. This is pretty squarely on the supervisor. It is the supetvisor’s job to get the student set up. Choice of system is often up to the student. But guiding the student to a system is the supervisor’s job. Overleaf document for the papers and thesis. Dropbox place for data and figures. Clear version control. Bibdesk for papers and bibliography (or a completely different system but be consisten!). All that can be set up together. A student should not keep compiling python distributions. None of that will make it in the thesis.
So with the project set up, regular contact and guidance from the supervisor and reasonable focus on the thesis, it should be an “honest 9-5”.
Does not hold for professors obviously, as the annual work plan clearly abandons the idea of a 40hr workweek as the norm. But this is for phd students. Not the professors. If anyone knows how to make a professor job work in 40hr/week I am all ears.