It has been a while since my last post, but not because I left academia. It has been a busy few months, and I was having trouble balancing everything and a few things had to go. While off school for the holidays, I had some down time and have decided that sharing my strategies for balance and academia is important. Between deadlines, word counts and submissions, the cycle never seems to end. It’s like that scene in ELF when Santa gets back from delivering presents and announces “After all that hard work, its time to start preparations for NEXT Christmas!” and everybody cheers. Personally, I like to celebrate a deadline by doing something non-academic that I enjoy, as I have probably neglected some other activity while rushing to meet said deadline. But it is possible to have hobbies and interests that extend beyond grants, manuscripts and dissertations. For me it helps with the emotional exhaustion which can lead to some students dropping out, while others may finish wanting nothing to do with the subject they just spent 7 years studying. Don’t get me wrong, I still get tired. Tired of writing. Tired of abstracts, revisions, and posters. There are
moments, hours, days that I wonder if I’m doing the right thing. Usually this only happens when I have neglected those other things in life I like to do with my time. While I may not be able to include knitting or bread making on my CV, I think it does give a competitive edge to the things I can include. Stimulating the creative parts of my brain helps me to think clearer when it comes down to learning complicated metabolic pathways or writing an original abstract. Renovating my apartment (painting, refinishing furniture found in allies, making wall art from toilet paper tubes) also helped me to focus while studying for my comprehensive, writing and submitting a manuscript, and a CIHR doctoral award application all in the same month.
I can’t take all of the credit for the renos (big squeeze) or for not going over the deep-end (endless love and homemade goodies for all that put up with me!), but I passed my exam, published the manuscript, am awaiting results on the grant, and now have an apartment that I’m happy to call home. I’m definitely not superwoman but by spending time doing those other things I enjoy, I find that focusing on my academic tasks becomes much more productive. If I find myself staring at a blinking cursor I do something else.
Waste time on youtube. Knit a few rows, bake some bread, weed the garden. Even 20 minutes is enough to calm the tornado of stuff going on in my head leaving me unable to write a single word.
These other pastimes also help me keep a firm grasp of reality. Considering that anything academic seems to take forever, the hobbies also give me a tangible finished product which does wonders for self-confidence. For example, while the latest draft of my discussion is covered in red ink, my nephew loves his hand-knit football hat, and homemade treats solidifies an invite to dinner parties! At the very least at least I’m well on my way learning to be self-sufficient which will be handy if this whole doctor thing doesn’t work out.
Not all of my friends or colleagues understand my June Cleaver side, and sometimes I get responses like “you know that you can buy ketchup right?” or “I just don’t have the time.” For me it’s about priorities and sticking up for the ‘deal breakers‘ in my relationship with academia. Making time for those things I enjoy ensures that I don’t begin to resent my dissertation resulting in a break up after the defence
four six years later, wanting never to see it again. By paying my price of admission, accepting that I have outside interests, my dissertation (and my supervisor) receive the quality and enthusiasm required for a long-lasting and loving relationship. So in honour of the new year, I am going to spend more time learning to balance, and writing about how I incorporate cupcakes into my life of science and multivitamins.