Goals for balance

Today, we (Fifty50, my baby), held a networking session for students in our mentoring program, discussing common themes that had been raised in our individual mentoring sessions with first year female students. An important task for undergraduate students is striking the balance between university and life outside academia. So, we created a wall – Goals for Balance – where students nominated their goal for maintaining a balance for the rest of semester. Many of these goals resonated with me, despite an age/educational gap of 7 years in some cases. A few of my favourite:

“Don’t check emails more than once every two hours”

Tick. I reached a turning point last year, after a period of constantly feeling harassed outside of work hours by ‘urgent’ requests, I turned off my email notifications on my phone, and it is no longer the first thing I do in the morning (looking back on that, I have no idea how I could read through work emails at 6am every morning). This was important for me, as I adjusted my expectations of myself, realising I don’t have to reply the second I receive an email, and no, I don’t need to be contactable 24/7 (I am not a doctor). I get to them when I get to them. And so far, the world has not burned down – who would have known?!

“Don’t forget about the things I enjoy and don’t get bogged down in all the study. Read a book for fun”

“Maintain perspective – I am more than my grades”

Wise words. And a realisation for me this week – feeling quite despondent to my work, which is inevitable when dealing with very challenging experiments, I had to find the light elsewhere, and not get sucked into the Valley of Shit. I had to remember that I am fascinated by the cells my work focusses on (astrocytes), and that solving problems is what I live to do. These are the things I enjoy, and I have to let everything else go, like water off a duck’s back. I am more than my failed experiments. And, I really do want to read a book I started a few weeks ago, so that will be this weekend’s treat.

“Know my limits – learn when to say no!”

Oh gosh. This one is hard. Subconsciously, I must think that my all my commitments are like regeneration in the adult brain – possible, given the right environment! I did realise this week, when I went to apply for an extracurricular judging panel at a student research conference, that I probably shouldn’t, given how many ‘things’ I have going on at the moment. After reading this article, I decided that at the moment I didn’t want to sacrifice anything I currently do (key to balance apparently), but I would sacrifice taking on new things! (It totally counts, shush). This is me slowly learning to say no – to myself, the hardest person to which I have to say no.

And finally, two that made me giggle:

“Finish all work and assignments without dying”

“(Get) all High Distinctions and still smile at lecturers”

I translate this to: “finish all lab work and manuscripts without dying”, and, “write a thesis and still smile at my supervisor”. Lofty goals perhaps? But we must aim for the stars, so if we fall, we land on the clouds!

I think I have balance in terms of the topics with which I engage (research, teaching, gender equity), and activities (uni, exercise, home life, relationship), but I am as sure as anything that my time balance is not there. I have spent the previous weekends PhD-free (visiting nephews and being a bridesmaid in my best friend’s wedding!), but I am still left with the overwhelming feeling that I haven’t struck the right balance. My body wants to lie on the couch and watch Netflix, and my habitual early morning starts are getting slower and slower. My mind would like my data to magically be statistical and for my manuscript to write itself. It’s like I need a research fairy godmother!

So, this long weekend I will set some firm goals for myself to ensure that I ‘feel’ like I have more of a balance. Lucky I have a colour coded calendar, so it will be fun for me!

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