A Day in the Life: Busy as a Beaver

My first academic year of graduate school is complete! However, you may have noticed that there haven’t been any posts about everyone’s favorite oversized rodent recently or stories of my Sisyphean quest to earn a PhD.

Sometimes this is what the PhD process feels like.

No, I didn’t drop out and move to the mountains to live off the grid in a doomsday bunker. There are plenty of excuses I can make for my lack of blogging, but the truth of the matter is that I am still figuring out how to best manage my time. My day to day experiences as a grad student can be loosely clumped into three categories: purely academic work, purely fun activities, and crossovers.

  1. Purely academic work is the category that includes all the stuff I am required to do if I want to leave with a diploma in 4 more years, such as: going to classes, homework, studying, reading papers, developing computational and numerical models, writing papers, searching and applying for grants, meeting with my advisor, and field work.
  2. Purely fun activities are where I can totally distance myself from school/work and just do whatever sounds like a good time in the moment. Lately that has been running, hiking, camping, playing computer games, learning to cook new recipes, going to the farmer’s market, fishing, reading, and happy hours.
  3. Crossovers are those activities that are not required to get my PhD, but are things that I honestly enjoy doing and will ultimately make me a better candidate for real world jobs. These include mentoring undergrads, serving on committees, and of course – writing this blog.

My end goals for the next four years are to finish my degree, put myself in a position to get hired into desirable post-docs/jobs, not burn out, and actually enjoy my life while I’m doing it. The key to that is going to be balancing academics, fun, and crossovers.

During the fall semester I’d guess I was around 75% academic, 20% crossover, and 5% fun. I got a ton of work done and kept up with my blog, but it was hard and pretty tiring. Not sustainable and not going to get me to my end goals on time.

While this is a funny joke and everything, it can be a little too real sometimes. Obviously working hard on your research is important in grad school but this kind of one-track lifestyle is not sustainable (or enjoyable) for 5 years.

Spring semester I mixed things up a bit and was probably closer to 50% academic, 10% crossover, and 40% fun. I took some big vacations, spent more time reading books and learning new recipes, and had a pretty good time. Even though it was nice and refreshing and recharged me after a pretty challenging fall semester, I could tell that if I continued along that trajectory I wouldn’t have much on my CV other than “FINISHED BARE MINIMUM ACADEMIC REQUIREMENTS TO GRADUATE.” So now that summer has rolled around I’m going to try a new balance: 60% academic, 25% crossover, and 25% fun.

“Now wait a minute,” you might be saying, “that doesn’t add up to 100%! Aren’t you supposed to be a science grad student and you can’t even do basic math?” You’re right! It doesn’t add up to 100%! It adds up to 110%! The big realization I’ve made after finishing the my first academic year is that I’m not going to be able to accomplish all my goals if I’m only putting in 100% effort. I want to publish papers and land a post-doc at some big west coast universities. I want to run a marathon and get open water dive certified. I want to mentor undergrads and write a blog that brings science to the public in an accessible and interesting way. That’s not gonna happen unless I give it my all and then some.

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