Tips for the new year: work-life balance for grad students

Written by: Lisa Stelzner

Primary Source: Daily Dose of Science Blog

Pretty much all graduate students struggle with work-life balance, and how to best be productive with their research and other obligations while staying healthy and having time to de-stress and spend with friends, significant others and family.  It seems like there are not enough hours in the week to get everything done, and it is very easy to let certain things fall by the wayside.  This article discusses ways to achieve balance and set priorities.  The authors say, “Stress is not a “bad” thing or a “good” thing. It is value neutral. Having no stress in our lives – no change, no challenge, no novelty, no responsibility – is literally fatal. Having only minimal stress is boring while experiencing extreme stress can lead to illness and disability. What we are looking for is the right amount, the perfect balance.”

I think most grad students would say they experience an unhealthy amount of stress at times (or pretty much all the time).  Sometimes we need some serious prodding (or, unfortunately, experiencing a crisis ourselves or witnessing a friend in crisis) to achieve a more healthy lifestyle.  The authors make the point that, “A healthy human, in both body and mind, requires sufficient exercise, adequate sleep, appropriate nutrition, meaningful work, nourished relationships, and spiritual connectedness. It is not a sign of weakness or immaturity to admit these needs. In fact, it is part of growing in wisdom.”

This article lists ten steps to help grad students achieve balance.  They include some points such as limiting distractions from technology, not relying on memory to remember important things but writing them down instead, and ways to get organized and have a comfortable work environment so it is easier to focus.

http://gradresources.org/balancing-life-through-purpose/

Here is another article from the same website (which seems to have a ton of useful information! – I’d recommend all grad students check it out) on time management.  This includes such things as spending 80% of your time on your highest-priority tasks and goals, scheduling some flexible time (since some unexpected tasks/responsibilities will always come up), and leaving work areas where you are too easily distracted.

http://gradresources.org/471-2/

I hope these resources can help graduate students, especially at the start of this new year when people may be making resolutions or trying to change some things in their lives.  Gradresources.org also has a toll-free, confidential National Grad Crisis Helpline for grad students in crisis (1-800-GRAD-HLP (800-472-3457)) – something I was not aware of until I found one of the articles on the website.

May you have a balanced, productive new year!

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Lisa Stelzner
I'm a plant biology PhD student studying monarch butterflies in Michigan, but I'm interested in lots of other types of science, too. I am interested in how breeding monarch butterflies choose their habitat based on floral species richness and abundance. Few studies have been conducted on optimal foraging theory when it involves an organism searching for two different kinds of resources, and butterflies are an ideal study system to investigate this, since many species are ovipositing specialists and only lay eggs on one species of hostplant, but are feeding generalists and nectar from a broad variety of flowering forbs.