The ever-elusive PhD work-life balance

Gemma Delafield is a third year PhD student at the University of Exeter’s Land, Environment, Economics and Policy Institute. Her research focuses on determining where in the UK to locate future energy infrastructure particularly with regards to the impact on the natural environment.

 

 

 

 

Can I do a PhD and still have a life? This was the question I asked myself three years ago when I was deciding whether to apply for a studentship or not. The very thought of entering back into the all-consuming academic lifestyle that I’d witnessed whilst at university wasn’t very appealing. I did not want to spend the next four years of my life feeling guilty for not having done enough work.

So I made a pact with myself, I would apply for the PhD if I promised to treat it like a job. I would work 37 hours a week, take the annual leave I was entitled to and not work evenings or weekends.

I actively prioritised a work-life balance from day one. For me, this means:

  1. I start early and finish early as I know my brain doesn’t function properly after 4pm.
  2. As strange as it sounds, I record what I’ve worked on and how many hours I’ve worked each day. This helps me remind myself that I’ve done enough. I deserve that beautiful guilt-free evening/weekend/holiday.
  3. I book annual leave into my diary and politely decline if someone tries to sneak something into my calendar.
  4. I do not look or reply to work emails outside of office hours.
  5. If I’m having a day where my brain is so befuddled nothing is happening I either go for a walk to clear my mind or I call it quits and go home.
  6. If I work extra hours one week, I ensure I take time off the week after.
  7. I write a to do list to break down the day/week into manageable tasks to stop myself feeling overwhelmed.
  8. I remind myself that a PhD isn’t just about conducting research. A well-rounded PhD also offers you the opportunity to build academic networks, teach, attend conferences and communicate your research with stakeholders – there is no need to feel guilty for doing these ‘additional’ things.

I know the way I work wouldn’t work for everyone. If you work in a lab or have a family it might not be possible to work standard hours or it might be that your brain doesn’t actually start functioning until 4pm. But whatever your working style, find a schedule that works for you and stick to it.

I believe that research culture plays a big part in whether people feel like they can prioritise a work-life balance. Find the strength to say no when people ask you to work extra hours. Look out for your peers, remind them they do not need to feel guilty for prioritising their wellbeing over their work.

Most importantly be kind to yourself. Take breaks, whether that is a walk or a week’s holiday, so you can come back to your research refreshed.

Written By: Gemma Delafield. You can find out more about Gemma and her research by following her on Twitter @G_Delafield