Balancing Graduate School and Personal Life Andrea Danyluk, Williams College Tiffani L. Williams, Texas A&M University
Question #1: What does Graduate School and Personal Life Balance Mean to You?
Question #2: Based On Your Personal Definition, How Many Of You Are Currently Living a Balanced Life?
Question #3: Why is Work-Life Balance Important Enough to Get Us Out Of Bed For An 8:30 A.M. Session!
Tiffani’s Definition • I am physically, mentally, and spiritually sound. • Physical: I exercise at least 3 times a week. • Mental: I get a lot of mental exercise being a professor. • Spiritual: I read a lot of cool stuff from all over the world (e.g.,BhagavadGita, I Ching, Bible, poetry) • I am able to happily teach others. • Not always easy—especially when dogs are still eating students’ homework. • I am grateful for life’s experiences. • Not always easy—especially when stressful situations occur.
Andrea’s Definition • Knowing I’m giving time to the people in my life (especially my kids) and to my work. • Not necessarily equal amounts of time. • Not necessarily the “perfect” split every day, but over time. • Making a difference in my students’ lives • Making Computer Science a happier place for everyone • Feeling healthy and energetic. • Being able to focus. I hate feeling like I’m thrashing! • Being able to laugh. • Appreciating every day, whether good or bad.
Everyone’s Definition of Work-life Balance is Different • Your definition must be unique to you and your situation. • Without a definition or some type of guidance, how will you know you are out-of-balance? • Being out of balance causes even more stress, etc.
How do we get out-of balance? • Academic stresses • Personal stresses
Andrea’s Grad School Experience (Out-Of-Balance) • Three advisors in as many years, with the third really not working out. • Fell behind on completing my “area requirement.” • Would the faculty respect me if I changed again? • Would anyone take me on as an advisee? • Dieting “successfully” and happily, but not so smartly. • Grapefruit and coffee aren’t the basis of a good diet. • Feeling crummy. • Eating right helps one think straight!
Andrea’s Grad School Experience (In-Balance) • Confided in a grad school friend about my advisor dilemma. • She talked to her advisor, who talked to another faculty member, who was happy to take me on as an advisee. • Kept up with exercise; returned to a healthier diet. • Completed area requirement and proposal in record time. • Spent remaining time at Columbia very happy in my new research group.
Tiffani’s Grad School Experience (Out-Of-Balance) • My graduate advisor did not receive tenure. So, the last year or so of my Ph.D. journey was difficult. • Although a difficult situation, it made no sense to change advisors—even though she was no longer at the university. • Had no faculty member to discuss my research or essentially review my thesis. • As a result of health issues, my mom was struggling to live on her own. How could I take care of her as a grad student?
Tiffani’s Grad School Experience (In-Balance) • I had a strong support system to help me realize that even without my advisor there full-time, I was more than capable of completing the Ph.D. • I worked on my Ph.D thesis everyday. • It actually got to the point where I was having fun thinking about my research topic and its possibilities. • It also helped that I got a new laptop. In 2000, having a new laptop was a big deal—well at least to me. • My mom was able to stay with me for a week during graduation. • Her health didn’t seem to both her as much at that time. • After graduating, I was in a much better position to get her the care that she needed.
How we get out-of balance:General Academic Stresses • The nature of grad school itself • Open-ended • What it means to complete a milestone more vague once course requirements complete • No obvious finishing date • We’re “high achievers” • We tend to be goal-oriented perfectionists • There’s always more to do • Can feel as if it’s a competition for “who works the hardest” • We all have insecurities • We can’t manage an insane pace forever • Burnout, poor productivity • Demands come from many directions
How we get out-of balance:Some Specific Academic Stresses • Courses • Want to learn the material and to do well • Need to learn that sometimes doing “well enough” is ok • Research • Might be a new experience • Requires a new level of independence and confidence (paper submissions, rejections….) • Need to push through the times when you’re just stuck • Requires dealing with group dynamics • Requires learning from but also “managing” your advisor • Service • It’s fun (and easy!) to get involved in departmental and other service • Extra demands placed on women • Work as a TA, RA, etc.
How we get out-of balance:Personal Stresses • Many people in our lives (partners, parents, friends, children) • A source of happiness, but • Their stresses can be our stresses • For many, a time for finding a partner, starting a family • Managing finances on a grad student stipend • Logistics of caring for a home (even a small shared apartment), a car, etc. • Health issues
Achieving balance:Goals and Expectations • Know your own goals • Prioritize them • Post them where you can see them, if needed • Understand others’ expectations • Know which expectations are self-inflicted! • Understand what’s required to achieve a goal • Know why you want to achieve it • Be sure (to the extent possible) that it’s achievable • Know how to evaluate your progress • Talk to your mentors and others • Learn to enjoy the process • Focus on the present • Appreciate your achievements before moving on
Achieving balance: Time Management • Get organized • To-do lists: short, medium, and long term • Keep a calendar • Set aside time each day to review your schedule • Break your day into manageable segments • Be realistic about the timing of tasks • Allow time for interruptions and distractions • Reward yourself for sticking to it! • Know when it’s time to stop • For many tasks, 1-hr increments work well • Keep the perfectionist in you under control • Avoid distractions • Make a list of your bad habits • Set aside quiet time; pick a time to work when others aren’t there • Set aside time for email – or, if you’re like me, find a space where it’s hard to get to your email • If a stray thought pops into your head, write it down. Save it for later. • Set up a comfortable work space • A cluttered desk can mean a cluttered head • Don’t underestimate the beauty of a good chair, a great pen, a cup of coffee….
Achieving balance:Insecurities • Seek out a support system • Mentors • Family and friends • Realize that we all have insecurities • Do your homework to minimize your chances of failing • But everyone will fail once in a while. It’s a natural consequence of doing something hard. • Learn to enjoy your successes • Don’t belittle your own accomplishments • Keep a “good file” of positive feedback
Achieving balance:choosing activities • Saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to something else • Or at least it means having less time for what you’re already doing • Take some time before you decide • Does it fit your goals and priorities? • Don’t do anything out of guilt • Say “yes” or “no” to the task, not the person
Achieving balance:Managing Others • If you plan to say “no” to a request to take on a new responsibility • Do it as soon as possible • Suggest someone else who might be available and want to do it • If you really wish you could do it, say so; ask to be invited again • Set boundaries, parameters • Explain why you believe it will take longer • Communicate about the resources you need • What to do about the advisor, student (if you’re a TA), fellow grad student who needs you now • “I’d be happy to talk/help you/etc. Can we schedule a time (in 5 min, an hour, next week….) do do that?”
Achieving balance:Making time for yourself • Schedule time for yourself • “Free time” won’t magically appear; you have to make it • Share responsibilities with friends • Throw money at responsibilities (when you can afford it; can be tough as a grad student!) • Streamline • Don’t apologize for the fact that you have a life outside of grad school!
Example Rewards • Andrea • Running • Hiking/Cycling • Traveling • Tiffani • Working out with a personal trainer • Reading • Buying the latest gadget—if it’s in the budget • Doing nothing!