Take a break: becoming a balanced researcher

I know it’s a good idea: I’m off on holidays on Thursday morning for ten days. It’s going to be amazing to take time off (I am forbidden to bring my laptop with me), but I’m also slightly panicked at the idea of it. Today, I took a good hard look at my to do list, and translated that into the amount of working days I have in August. This brought on a bit of an anxiety attack – how am I supposed to finish two chapters by the first week of September if I’ve only got 17 working days in August?!

Disaster.

But, actually, it’s not really. Sometimes when it’s all a bit overwhelming, the best thing to do is to take a break and a breather. I’m taking my notebook with me on holidays (shh, don’t tell anyone), just in case I get some amazing ideas on how to move forward, on how to resolve that niggling conceptual issue I’ve been stuck on for a while, or any other moment of inspiration that I’ll want to record. But I won’t feel guilty if the notebook is untouched for the entire 10 days. That’s the whole point of a break, anyway. Relax, let the body destress, catch up on sleep, enjoy the company of family and friends, hang out in some beautiful countryside, and get a bit of perspective.

It doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things if I submit my thesis one or two months late, but neglecting my health or the important relationships in my life is a no-no. Sometimes I forget this. Getting caught up in deadlines, huge workloads, setbacks that stretch the time schedule means I can get stuck among a few trees and forget the great big forest around.

For researchers, there’s a lot of pressure to perform, produce and publish and all in super fast turnaround time – long hours, lots of brainwork, too much coffee, not enough exercise, no social life and not enough sleep are the usual ingredients for academics struggling to prove themselves in a highly competitive (and underpaid) sector. For PhD researchers, generally poorly paid (although that depends on the country, funding availability and many other factors), the pressure is on, not only to produce a thesis, but also to develop skills for their post-PhD career. This includes proof of high-quality publications, ability to attract funding, teaching experience, demonstrating initiative, teamwork, project management experience, and much more! And for those PhD students wishing to continue their career in academia, they face high competition for a low number of positions.

It’s not easy, but it’s not worth sacrificing the more important aspects of life. Take some time to assess your own priorities, and read this helpful advice from vitae.ac.uk on becoming a balanced researcher.

Right, must get back to tidying up the loose ends that absolutely cannot wait until I’m back from holidays.

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1 Comment

Filed under Getting through the PhD, Work/life balance

One response to “Take a break: becoming a balanced researcher

  1. Great advice here and thanks for mentioning our booklet!

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