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Work-Life Balance in Grad School

 

April 2021

We all have heard about the importance of work-life balance to reduce stress, avoid burnout, and maintain positive mental health. At PhD Balance, we think balance is so essential for graduate student well-being that we incorporated it into our name!

The big question is -- how do we find that balance? Check out the content below for some ideas!

In this month’s module, we will talk about maintaining work-life balance through professional relationships, personal relationships, strategies for balance, and financial literacy.

 

We hope that you continue engaging with this content beyond the end of the module.

Business Meeting

Business Meeting

Modern Family

Modern Family

Open Laptop

Open Laptop

Stand Up Meeting

Stand Up Meeting

Happy Family

Happy Family

Office Work

Office Work

Meeting Between Colleagues

Meeting Between Colleagues

Happy Friends Laughing

Happy Friends Laughing

Herbs

MODULE 1

Nutrition

March 7 – 13, 2021

Diet culture is all around us, and they can lead to unhealthy thoughts and behaviors surrounding food. As graduate students, it is important to remember food is just that - food. While intuitive eating is a paradigm used in eating disorder recovery, it can be beneficial for anyone. It is not a diet, instead, it is a mindset around food. While this is something that may not work for everyone, understanding these principles can lead to a more balanced relationship around food.

Reject diet mentality

Honor your hunger

Make peace with food

Challenge the food police

Feel your fullness

Blue Gradient

MODULE 1

Maintaining a Healthy Professional Life

April 4 – 10, 2021

We all know that work-life balance is important -- but how do we optimize the ‘work’ side of the equation? Let's talk about the professional aspects of being a grad student. Assessing your values and goals, obtaining effective mentorship and sponsorship, and figuring out your work flow will help you to be a happy, productive, and successful student, in whatever way you decide to define success.

Goal-setting

There is no one way to be ‘successful’ in grad school and it is important that we all define success based on our own unique values and goals. While one person’s primary goal may be publishing papers, another may instead focus their time on learning a new technical skill, engaging in community outreach, networking, teaching and mentoring, or taking time off for personal reasons.

 

Identifying our individual values and setting SMART (specific, manageable, attainable, realistic, time-bound) goals that align with those values will provide us with a sense of purpose and achievement. Importantly, while we may initially may prioritize one facet of our graduate experience, our values and goals are flexible and our priorities may change over time based on our career goals, training level, interests, and personal circumstances. Consider conducting a values assessment at the start of each academic year to check in with yourself about where you have been focusing your time and energy and whether that aligns with you current values.

S

Specific

M

Measureable

A

Attainable

R

Realistic

T

Time-bound

Mentorship and Sponsorship

We’ve all heard of mentorship, but have you heard of sponsorship? Our research mentors are an important part of our academic life, as they may provide us with funding, offer guidance our research projects, teach us new skills, and help us navigate professional life. On the other hand, we don’t always get everything we need from our mentors to be successful grad students, however we may define success for ourselves. Sponsors, on the other hand, are committed to elevating us by highlighting our achievements, introducing us to their networks, recommending us for leadership roles, and helping us break down barriers that may hinder our progress. Leveraging the unique support that both mentors and sponsors have to offer can help us reach our goals and thrive in grad school and beyond. For more information, see this article on mentorship vs. sponsorship.

Avoiding Burnout

We often operate under the false narrative that graduate students should have the capacity to work 60+ hour work weeks without blinking an eye. While this may be realistic for some people, it is not sustainable for many others. Working these long hours may seem productive, but what if we’re only operating at 50% capacity due to fatigue and burnout? What if, instead, we worked worked fewer hours, took that time to relax and restore, and came back to work at 90% capacity? Finding a system that works for you is essential not only to our productivity but also to our mental and physical health, and breaks/vacations can be a great way to reset. For more information on taking time for yourself, see our Stronger Together September module.

Lilach Gradient

MODULE 2

Maintaining Healthy Relationships

April 11 – 17, 2021

There are different types of relationships that keep us grounded. They could be romantic, friendship, familial, professional, and community. Given how social humans are, maintaining a good and healthy relationship is important for our wellbeing. Here, we present some tips and tricks on how to keep the people important in your life closer to you despite the hurdles life throws your way!

Communication and boundaries

Practice the DEAR MAN skills from dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) to better communicate your needs, whether asking for help or saying no to requests. D - describe the current situation to make sure everyone is on the same page. E - express how you feel about the situation. A - ask for what you need or assert your denial of a request if you are unable to fulfill it. R - reinforce the other person with gratitude when they agree to your request or accept your 'no.' M - be mindful of your goals and the other person's reaction. A - act confident. N - negotiate if necessary to find a middle ground.

Making time for relationships

Planning & scheduling time for romantic/platonic dates. Take turn planning the dates. If you have children or pets, ask a family member or friend to take care of them.

Love Languages

Words of Affirmation

Acts of Service

Receiving Gifts

Quality Time

Physical Touch

Navigating toxic relationships

A dysfunctional family dynamic can be difficult to recognize. Toxic relationships can vary in degree and be both physical, verbal and emotionally. Some of the red flags can include lack of support or love and support, mocking and undermining, controlling behavior, overly criticizing, unrealistic expectations and standards - these behaviors are often persistent. To manage the toxic dynamics the actions to take include: 

  • Seeking therapy to help you navigate the situation and cope with difficult situations 

  • Reflecting on what you want from the specific relationship, and decide on different topics or situations you want limit 

  • Setting limits and boundaries around interactions – be clear when and where you want to meet, and for how long. This strategy can give yourself power and make you feel safer.

  • Know when and how to effectively say no

  • Detach yourself from complex family issues

  • Access domestic violence support if needed

If you are interested in knowing more about toxic relationship and family dynamics, Dr. Robert Duff discusses the topic in the The hardcore self help podcast

Blue Gradient

MODULE 3

Strategies to Maintain a Better Balance

April 18 – 24, 2021

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be a challenge, especially given how unpredictable our world has become. 

Find your balance

To start, determine what “balance” looks like to you. This requires you to be mindful of your daily dealings to figure out what kind of worker you are. Are you an early bird or night owl? Do you prefer to work in solitude or with a group? Do you prefer to keep work completely separate from your private life?

Maintain your balance

Once you’ve explored your own habits and preferences, you can follow these steps to help maintain your ideal work-life balance.

 

Determine your priorities.

Evaluate your weekly schedule to determine what activities are most important to you, from work to self-care, and strive to create time for those within your schedule.

 

Set firm boundaries.

This could range from not answering emails over the weekend or working past a specific time. Whatever these boundaries may look for you, make sure you stick to them! 

 

Set goals.

Communicate them with someone who can help keep you on track and accountable such as lab mates or advisors 

 

Work smarter, not harder.

Just because you are putting in long hours doesn’t mean you are necessarily working smarter. Get better at time management with techniques such as the Pomodoro method for better time management. Try not to compare yourself to others - just because your coworker is putting in 10+ hour days, even on the weekends, doesn’t mean it’s right or even necessary for you.

 

Make time to unplug each day.

Prioritize time for yourself and loved ones - you can’t put your all into your work if you don’t take care of you!

 

Rely on your personal network for support.

For instance, if you find working from home to be challenging, join our Discord “co-working from home” channel! 

Yellow Orange Gradient

MODULE 4

Financial Literacy

April 25 – May 1, 2021

Whether you are a fully funded graduate student or partially funded, funded on assistantship or on a fellowship, we can all agree that graduate students are not compensated as much as they’d like to. This financial restrain can add on to the stress students are already experiencing. The little bit of good news is that, regardless on how much you making as a graduate students, there are several tips and tricks out there on how to either (1) increase your income or (2) better manage the amount you currently make. 

Increasing your income

  • One of the easiest ways to increase your income as a graduate student is to side hustle. A side hustle is an additional job to your day job that typically takes place on your own time during your spare hours. Side hustling can serve as an extra flow of money that can be used for anything including sponsoring your professional development, paying for hobbies, and or funding a fun travel. What are the best side hustles for graduate students? As a graduate student you have acquired several transferable skills that can earn you extra cash during your studies. For instance, you can serve as a teaching assistant, project assistant, GRE tutor, virtual assistant, and blogging. You could even serve as a food delivery driver!

  • Did you know you could even negotiate your graduate student stipend? Listen to this podcast on ways to negotiate for a higher stipend. 

Managing your current stipend

  • Budgeting has been shown to help you maintain a good financial health. Check out budget trackers such as Mint  or PocketGuard  to better maintain your income.

  • Invest! invest! invest! Investing as early as possible in your career is an amazing way to set yourself up for financial independence. However, starting out can be a bit intimidating. Learn from experts such as Dr. Emily Roberts of Personal Finance for PhDs and Rowan of The Seedling Budget on how to start investing as an early career researcher. 

  • Make an effective plan to repay outstanding student loans.

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