By Audrey Balaska, Ph.D. student in
Mechanical Engineering: Human-Robot Interaction
Graduate students are known for their passion, enthusiasm, and dedication to working hard. When I decided to apply for Ph.D. programs, I started hearing jokes and comments about how I was going to have no life because I was going to spend all of my time working.
Now, I love my research, and I really have no issues with occasionally doing research on the weekend, or working late into the night on my homework. At the same time, I also enjoy having friends outside of my classes and lab. When I first came to Tufts, I found myself wondering:
How am I going to prevent my program from taking over my entire life?
Some people in graduate school have families nearby or other commitments that automatically force them to have some semblance of a work-life balance. But as a single woman who is the only member of her family living in Massachusetts and who knows very few people who live in the area, I had no commitments except to my program when I first moved to Medford.
Graduate students often do not work from 9:00am-5:00pm, or even have a set schedule at all. Some days I have classes in the morning, while other days my classes start as late as 6:00pm. With such an irregular schedule, how do I recognize if I am working too much, or not enough?
I have two strategies:
One thing that I do is document my hours that I work on my research in a spreadsheet. This helps me keep track of how much I am actually working. I hold myself accountable both so that I’m working enough, and also not overworking myself.
The other thing that I did is I took up social dancing lessons (for those of you who are unfamiliar with social dancing, think Dancing with the Stars but without the routines). A few days a week I practice ballroom and Latin dancing for 45 minutes at a time.
Social dancing has led to so many benefits in my life: I get more exercise, I’ve made friends outside of the Tufts community, and I force myself to take a break from being a graduate student. I’ve also found that I’ve become more productive at work since I’ve started taking the mental breaks that I needed.
I’m not saying that all graduate students should take up social dancing, but I think that graduate students benefit from making “fun” commitments that are difficult to get out of. Maybe you make a pact with some friends from your classes that you will all go out together once a month. Or maybe you buy a ski pass for the winter. Or maybe you make a deal with a friend that the two of you will go for one hike a week.
Whatever it is you decide to do, it is important to commit to fun, rather than just treating it as an afterthought. I promise it will make your entire graduate experience more productive and more balanced!