A week of hard knocks

I should have realized my post on ‘goals for balance’ a few weeks ago was tempting fate. Last week was what I would call a bit hectic, followed by a full day of marking on Saturday, and a day in the lab on Sunday. Flow into this week, where I have been out of the house from 7.15am-8.30pm (or later) for more days than I would like.

Cue the failed experiments, difficult students, and a grumpy partner at home.

I love my work. And I actually love working – I am one of those people who resents being made to feel guilty that I might ‘live to work’, and not ‘work to live’. I like doing things outside of my PhD, but I enjoy a lot of what I do, and feel in my element when I am solving a hard problem, teaching students, or championing gender equity. But this past fortnight, I think, may have been a bit too much. Going through my calendar, it equated to two 60 hour weeks (side note: I am loathe to equate hours and work) which is more than what I am used to.

Throughout this period I felt as though there was a power beyond mind that was responsible, and that I just had to deal with it. Now, in actual fact this power was what we call ‘cell work’ (unfortunately cells don’t respect the concept of the weekend, and my experiments require a high level of planning and preparation). But at the end of the day, I scheduled everything. I was the one planning my experiments, I was the one who had accepted this teaching load, and I was the one who had scheduled the meetings. So really I had no one to blame but myself.

Normally, this would be fine (does anyone remember what it was like as an undergrad? This schedule was nothing compared to those days!). But my life has changed a lot. I am in a long term relationship, which means a lot to me, and sometimes it is easy to put something that is always consistent and reliable as a lower priority. Being physically absent for all but one or two hours of the day is not conducive to effective communication. And, my cat started getting very clingy (it’s nice that she misses her slave sometimes). I also have only talked to my mum a few times in the past couple of months, and I know she misses me.

Striking this balance is going to be the hardest for me. I am determined to finish in three years, and I love to work hard. However, balancing elements of my life that are external to my PhD is difficult. It gets even harder to manage when my experiments fail, as some did this week (it’s like losing money on the science stock exchange, when the currency is time and hope). Looking back, I think I forgot a cardinal rule of scheduling – include flexibility. In a sense, I was treating myself as a resource, which is not productive. Not letting the final PhD deadline take over will be important for me in the coming months – and this makes me wish I had a mentor, as I have these same conversations with the younger students I mentor, but I get to give all the good advice in those situations!

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