THE DOCTORAL EXPERIENCE: WORK-LIFE BALANCE

We’ve tackled study/life balance, but what about the great many of us who want to take an internship? Are expected or desire to tutor? Want to continue to build skills outside of academe proper? What about those among us who take a paying job of any sort, for whatever reason, that is unrelated (or tangentially related) but in any case lies beyond the scope of writing a dissertation or thesis?

In other words: what of the work/study-life balance?

Declare a No-Judgment Zone

 

Credit: New Line Cinema's 'The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring'

Before anything else: do not, at any point, feel as if you are required to justify, explain, or apologise for the reasons you choose to work. Likewise, don’t fall into the trap of considering yourself wiser, or more competent/capable than those of your peers who do not hold a position of some sort beyond their programme. Whether it’s because you want professional experience, would very much like to pay for groceries, or because it’s actually quite nice to do a certain amount of work and know you’ll get a certain amount of compensation in a certain amount of time for said work—particularly when you’re in the throes of doctoral research, where the rewards are largely long-term and monetary compensation tends to be fairly scarce: no matter the reason, you’re choosing to work where some of your colleagues may choose not to, and that’s neither good nor bad—simply a difference.

Know Thyself

Sometimes, as we subject ourselves to the guidance (and mercy) of our doctoral advisors and committees, we forget that, in the end, we do know ourselves best—at least when it comes to our absolute limits, and what does and doesn’t work for us as individuals. With that in mind: trust that knowledge and don’t take on what you can’t handle. Sometimes there’s no choice about working while completing your doctoral research, but do what you can to play to your strengths: do you perform better, and enjoy your time more with lots of down-time, or are you more inclined to fill every waking hour with things to do? Structure your day as best you can to feed wherever you fall between these extremes—if you like more down time, try to find work that suits your monetary/experiential needs but that also has transferrable benefits for you research, serving both purposes at once as best you can. If it’s diversity of experience, or more, that you’re after, mix things up with perhaps a bit of contract work online/distance based, and some in person, or a few small jobs that only require a few hours a week but add up to the commitment and payoff that you need. Above all, though: know what you can and cannot juggle, and do your best to find work that suits your needs. Don’t be afraid to take odd jobs or interim positions in the search for a match that’s sustainable in the long term, either—it takes time, and often a bit of trial-and-error, to get the balance just right. Be prepared, and open, to weighing different options before you find the best match.

Don’t Burn Yourself Out

Building on the previous point: knowing your limits can make it very tempting to push them. Sometimes, this approach can be a boon—you learn that you are capable of exceeding your limits and can achieve more than you initially expected. Moreover, if you enjoy operating at high levels of activity and commitment much of the time, use that predilection to your advantage! Stagger work (as best you can) with coursework, be it lectures or chapter deadlines, and let the change of scenery and perspective provide a well-earned break, and at its best, the place where new ideas and interactions can come from unexpected places to jumpstart your motivation and reinvigorate your direction for your research.

However, in pushing one’s limits, the risk of pushing too far to one’s own detriment looms as just as much of a possibility. Make sure to take careful, reflective stock of your physical, emotional, and psychological resources regularly, and as difficult as it can be, reassess as necessary in order to maintain your personal well being. It’s hard to give up opportunities that may be appealing, but keeping yourself far enough from the edge of “too much” is the most important thing to keep in mind. If what you need to get by is proving too close to “too much”, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. There may be funding or different forms of assistance available to you, and it never hurts to ask around to see if someone among your contacts knows of a helping hand you might not be aware of.

And remember: if you’re earning money, and if you’re able to do so, budget enough to indulge, just a little. Even if it’s buying a coffee once a week instead of making it at home, reward yourself for your progress in doing all of the things.

Credit: Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

It’s definitely a thing that’s worth celebrating.

Prioritise Accordingly

Finally, difficult as it may be to remember sometimes: you’re a doctoral researcher first. The research is your priority, and if push comes to shove, everything else should ideally come in second place to your thesis. That said, sometimes the work you need to maintain in order to pay your bills and sustain your livelihood might pair with your course to inch just a little too close to “too much” for comfort. If that happens, try to be flexible with your options. See what your programme can offer you in terms of adjusting your deadlines and/or the length of the programme itself. Keep in mind that, if your programme does offer flexibility, sometimes taking a professional opportunity and spreading out your course over more time might be the path upon which you gain the most from all areas of engagement. Look for transferrable skills and overlap between your work and your research whenever possible, ticking multiple boxes on your to-do list as often as you can and maximising the time you spend on one endeavour as it likewise benefits another. Is there an internship that will allow you to apply your research in a way that helps you deepen your thesis work while earning compensation, for instance, or a project you might propose in conjunction with

By being savvy with your time—which is valuable and limited!—you can creatively strike the right balance between work, study, and life that yields (more often than not) the best of all three.

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