I could not disagree more with that statement.
Curiously, I hear it regularly here, in the Netherlands. In France, it would not come to any PhD student’s mind. Let me explain. The dutch system considers the PhD students like “researchers in training”, and treats them with a decent salary, and employment conditions anybody could ever dream of. In France, you’re paid more ore less minimum wage, you’re neither an employee, nor a student, and don’t get advantages from the one or the other.
Should I mention that dutch PhD’s are generally healthy and happy until the end of their thesis, sometimes built families, have kids, hobbies, and lives outside the lab while during their thesis. Situation in France (but I can talk only about my experience) is faaaaar away from that.
But … (there is always a but …) PhD student in the Netherlands are often older then their french counterpart. They have never-ending deadlines, and a very very relaxed study plan. Therefore, some master’s students from the lab are older then me, a second year PhD.
Also, the fact that they are considered like employees makes them think that they are just employes. 9 to 5 job. A pay at the end of the month. Results to deliver. Working late in the evening or during week-end is more exceptional then normal. Métro-boulot-dodo like we would say in French. (Literally translated as subway-work-sleep)
And this is exactly what a PhD is not (at least in my opinion). I would never count my hours of work and stop when reaching what stipulates my contract. I work at night, and sometimes on week-end. And I don’t spend a day without thinking about my research. Even after a 3 week vacation break, I have to admit. And sometimes I dream about perfect experiments and ideas that I forget in the morning. And I like it that way. I feel “tied” to my project forever. I love that feeling. Being “tied”, and paradoxically also free. Being paid to think, to be creative, to try things, to speculate indefinitely, to organize things just like you want. Of course sometimes you get angry, or doubtful, and hope you would not care about it that much and forget things for a few days. But this feeling never last very long, honestly.
I just hope it’s not some kind long-lasting “honeymoon phase” that will break like a bubble. I started my PhD 1 year and a half ago, (although it feels like yesterday), and hope this state will remain permanent. I cannot imagine myself doing anything else right now. And these are all the reasons why I would never call my PhD a job. A regular job does not obsess you that much, does not bring that much excitement, eagerness, motivation, and satisfaction. Waking up every day for something that you love and care so much about is such a gift. I hope I never loose this feeling. Otherwise, I’ll aways have this blog post to remember what it felt like. Some days, life feels just so sweet.