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The Graduate School Balancing Act

The other day on Instagram someone commented that they wanted to see a week in my life because they didn’t understand how I travel so much and keep up with the work/responsibilities of graduate school. I’ll be honest, most of the time I don’t know how I manage to do it all – work on my dissertation, teach, grade, run my Etsy store, blog, and work as a study abroad coordinator. But, I promised myself when I became a full-time graduate student that I wouldn’t sacrifice my quality of life or my other interests (hence the blogging).

Keeping that promise, however, isn’t always easy. Blog post don’t always happen when they should, and most nights I am up late trying to fill Etsy orders, edit photos, answer emails, and grade papers.
But, I maintain that having a full and rewarding life outside of graduate school is essential to maintaining your sanity, keeping you productive, and preventing burn out. I believe the myth that you need to do nothing but grad school – i.e. lock yourself in the library and obsess over your work – in order to succeed is unhealthy and actually counter-productive. 
A happy and balanced grad student can think clearly and thus more efficiently. A grad student whose life doesn’t revolve around department politics or competing with their peers will be less susceptible to debilitating self-doubt and imposter syndrome. 
Taking the time to exercise, socialize, and maintain my creative hobbies forces me to use other parts of my mind and releases important chemicals that keep my brain in balance. And if your brain is the muscle you depend on most in grad school, it is important that you keep it as healthy and as highly functional as possible.
Now I am not saying I don’t spend a lot of time working on my dissertation and reading, trust me I do. But, it isn’t all I do. Thanks to my other pursuits, when I do set aside time to work, I am more productive and happy to do so. I also believe that you have to give yourself time to think about things. So even if I am traveling, working out, painting, or blogging, I am always thinking about my dissertation. I think we waste a lot of time being unproductive. It is important to remember that number of hours logged is not proportional to output.

Studies have shown that constant stress can actually damage brain structure and connectivity. With that in mind, I encourage those in the overly stressful and competitive environment of grad school to take the time to be happy, healthy, and pursue hobbies and activities outside of school. In moderation these will not take away from your productivity; instead, they will enhance it.