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Academic guilt: There's always something I "should" be doing

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Academic guilt: There's always something I "should" be doing

Happy Mid-Autumn day everyone! Fall is officially here, and it has inspired this discussion about creating balance during graduate school. Living in New England (and being from Michigan), I’m used to nature being balanced: 4 seasons, sunshine and rain, wind and humidity. This past week was very unproductive in the lab and left me feeling down and cranky with myself for “slacking off.” The change of the season, along with another birthday passing by, helped me realize that graduate school is a time when we should begin to establish balance in our lives. And yes, I am talking about work–life balance.

As a PhD student, I feel like there is always something I should be doing. I should be checking recent literature in my area, writing (there’s always something that needs to be written), analyzing data, or thinking about what I should do next. However, working all the time is a recipe for burnout and fatigue. Graduate school years typically coincide with the young adult years when people are busy beginning to live their lives. I feel that during graduate school, as we naturally age, we no longer see our PhDs as “school,” but as the beginning of our careers. If grad school is the beginning of our careers, then it is very normal to begin focusing on other areas of our life and create a healthy work–life balance.

Unfortunately, from my perspective it seems that academia (and perhaps our American culture sometimes), emphasizes a work/career-centric lifestyle, often making it difficult to establish a healthy work–life balance without extraneous feelings of guilt. My journey in mindfulness has helped me seek balance in my lifestyle. Does that mean every day is a 9–5 kinda day? Unfortunately, no… However, for me, it means that I find acceptance in some days being work-focused and some days being “life” focused. Also, it means that I have become appreciative of achieving smaller goals that can be accomplished in a normal workday. Employing a mindful perspective throughout my day enables me to focus my energy when I’m being productive, while also allowing me to be friendly to myself when things are taking longer than expected to be finished. Please remember, living life is not only about reaching your desired destination, but is also about being present on the journey to get there.

Amanda Renee Clark (@ARClark16) is a PhD student in chemical biology in the Greater Boston area. This story was published on September 23, 2018, on Amanda’s blog, Mindful Path to PhD (available here), and has been republished here with her permission.

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Published on: May 22, 2019


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