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Balancing Grad School and Your Personal Life


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23 replies to this topic

#1 bluejay16

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 02:48 AM

Hey,

Just wanted to get some feedback on this. Obviously most grad students or people wanting to go into grad school would have to balance work life, schooling, and their personal lives. I'm at a point in my life right now where I'm trying to solidify my work life, while applying to grad school, and thinking of get married. The whole point in me writing this post is to just simply get perspective from other grad students about how they've balanced their life decisions/commitments. I know grad school is a huge commitment that will take up a lot of time and incur debt, so I just want to make sure that my other commitments won't interfere.

My main question is this: What's the best way to balance these areas in your life when attending graduate school?

I'm considering marriage soon, so would it be best to wait til I get through grad school to officially tie the knot or should I make the commitment before grad school and have us legally incur/share the debt together? lol Oh gosh, the choices 'adults' have to make really have me thinking twice about everything!

Advice or just a shared story on this topic would be nice. Thanks in advance friendly people!

Edited by Janomaly, 26 August 2011 - 02:48 AM.

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#2 ktel

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 06:40 PM

Here are some similar threads:

http://forum.thegrad...raduate-school/
http://forum.thegrad...-find-time-for/
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#3 bluejay16

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Posted 27 August 2011 - 09:18 AM

Thanks ktel for the link to the previous thread. It helps give me somewhat of a glance of the hours required for grad school but I'm still curious as to how others balance their time for personal commitments during graduate study. Guess this is one question I'll have to answer with my own experiences -__-!
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#4 Eigen

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Posted 27 August 2011 - 09:46 AM

The second link ktel gave is almost entirely people talking about how they balance their studies and personal commitments....
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#5 juilletmercredi

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Posted 28 August 2011 - 09:24 PM

I'm not really sure what it is you want besides what's in those older threads, but a lot of this will depend on the individual program and the person.It;s rough, especially at first when you are just getting started. Your first inclination is to spend all of your time on graduate work. But you will quickly get sick of that, and then you will start setting boundaries. The kinds of boundaries you set are going to be based on your relationships (whether you are already in one or not, and what the nature of that is - living together? Long distance?) and your personal preferences, but you will set boundaries.

For example, I give myself a day off each week. That day off is Saturday, and that's my day to kick back, relax, and hang out with my fiance. Sometimes I switch it to Friday depending on his schedule (like he works Saturdays now, so it's Friday). Those are good days because nothing is due on Saturday or Sunday. Some people do it in the middle of the week because they like to work on the weekends. Whatever works for you.

I'm long-distance with my fiance - he comes up almost every weekend (but that "weekend" is now coming up Wednesday morning and leaving Friday night or Saturday morning, since he works nights and he's off Wednesday through Friday) - so I also try to finish the majority of my work before the weekend hits so that I only have a little to do, and then I do it in the evenings while he plays a video game or something.

I don't think you should have to postpone getting married while in graduate school. It's like most other jobs where there's a heavy time commitment - you have to learn how to balance. I'm getting married next year, towards the beginning of my 5th year in graduate school (and hopefully, my last).
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#6 bluejay16

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Posted 29 August 2011 - 09:36 PM

Thanks Eigen for pointing that out. I only looked at posts from the first link because I didn't see the second link.

Also, I really appreciate you sharing a bit of your experiences with me juilletmercredi, I think it's given me a bit more perspective on what to do in my situation. I'm so excited about the transition into grad school but having to juggle all of these other commitments with it scares me a bit so I'm just curious as to what others are doing.
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#7 kelkyann

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Posted 29 August 2011 - 10:54 PM

It;s rough, especially at first when you are just getting started. Your first inclination is to spend all of your time on graduate work.


Haha oh juilletmercredi, I just started school a few weeks ago and I am experiencing JUST that. I think I had a "mini-burnout" over the weekend and I just could NOT look at schoolwork a second longer. Though I have a feeling that I will first have to hit the wall hard before I even seriously consider setting real boundaries and not feeling guilty about it.

I had a question for you, since I am also doing long distance with my boyfriend. How stressful is it trying to get your work done before the weekends? My SO won't be visiting nearly as often, so there will be fewer weeks where I feel the need to cram an entire weekend's worth of work into the week, but I want to know what to expect. Do you have any particular strategies for getting your work done early?
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#8 ktel

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Posted 30 August 2011 - 12:47 AM

My boyfriend and I are living together while I go to grad school. I just moved here away from all of my family and friends, so that puts a little bit of strain on things. But I am going to play rugby (instant friends) and for some random reason a lot of my friends and acquaintances are moving here too. He works a lot, but he is definitely trying hard to make time to help me out with the transition. Right now nothing has really started so I pretty much have nothing to do. I know that I'm also going to have to try to keep weekends for personal time, at least during rugby season where I'm practicing 3 evenings a week.
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#9 noodles.galaznik

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Posted 24 September 2011 - 10:39 PM

I do my best to treat grad school like a job, which means I'm either doing schoolwork or attending class from 9-5 Monday-Thursday, and Fridays are reserved for colloquium and various meetings. I've found that I've been able to keep up nicely with my coursework, while not working myself to death. By taking care of things during the day, I have time in the evenings and weekends to relax, workout, and do other non-school related things.

Also, I agree that you shouldn't postpone marriage because of grad school! I got married a few months before I started, and while school has cut a little bit into the amount of time we spend together, having my husband here has been a tremendous source of strength- he takes care of things when I don't have time, and he really lets me relax and vent when I need it most.
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#10 Behavioral

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Posted 25 September 2011 - 07:00 AM

Depends what type (Masters or PhD) of degree you're pursuing, the department (I'm guessing the STEM sciences have to worry about not only conducting and publishing good research, but also with keeping up with the state of methodology and technical advances in their field, which is something most people in humanities and social sciences don't have to worry about as much), what school/program you're in (I know some business schools are known for being more demanding than others, especially the ones near the top that impose their desire for top placements on their students), and what your goals after grad school are (work in industry, get a job, get a placement at a top university, etc.).

For me, my discipline isn't as demanding as, say, my friends' in engineering or physics are. I enjoy a good amount of free time while still being on top of my work (enough so, at least, that I can have fun and even post on this forum and others without feeling too guilty). I know people who are in the life sciences that spend most of their waking hours on their bench, and the remaining ones reading and writing up manuscripts or grant proposals. The type of life/work balance is most definitely a spectrum and some concessions have to be made to reach the target ratio you desire. I'd love to get a top academic placement, but not at the cost of my ability to still enjoy myself (I love research, but I'm not uni-dimensional) and to eventually have a family. I very much treat my research as a job where I'll typically work around 50-60 hours on campus and in my office (more or less depending on what's on my plate), and then I go home or out and try to spend as little time thinking about work until the next day.

Anyway, I really feel this is something you learn by doing. As an undergrad, I modeled my schedule and responsibilities as the doctoral students in my labs did and it helped a lot in this weird first-year transition into an actual doctorate.

Also, a quick tidbit many of my advisors have told me over the years: if you're going to be an academic, having a family/kids only gets harder the longer you wait. People often discuss how difficult it is to raise a child during grad school, but imagine how hard it is when you're a junior faculty who has to not only do research, but teach classes, mentor students, attend and lead committees, perform other service-oriented duties for the school/field, and worry about getting tenure in a fixed amount of time. Most people, by the time they reach tenure, are already approaching 'middle age' (if you start out of undergrad at age 22, only take 5 years [if lucky] to finish your PhD, take 2 years for a post-doc [some fields, like mine, don't really have them], and 7 years for tenure [assuming you are granted it your first go-around], that's 14 years until you've secured a job at age 35; so falling back on the idea that you'll do it later when you have more time will only backfire.

Edited by Behavioral, 25 September 2011 - 07:01 AM.

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#11 northstar22

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Posted 25 September 2011 - 10:35 PM

Like someone else mentioned, I spend about 50/60 hours a week (on average) working on school-related things, and I try to spend the rest of my time on personal/social things. I'm single, so fortunately I don't have to worry about making time for a wife/girlfriend or family. Unlike everyone else who has posted here, I have zero (ZERO!) desire to ever have kids (and no, I will NOT change my mind)! The family thing is not for me, so I have no problem putting in the extra hours and making the sacrifices to try to make it in academia. I may or may not get married someday, but I'm definitely planning to wait until I'm done with grad school, which probably won't be for another seven years at least.

Edited by northstar22, 25 September 2011 - 10:39 PM.

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Currently pursuing a Master's in Social Science, seeking admission to a PhD program in political science.

#12 ktel

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Posted 26 September 2011 - 02:40 AM

I've noticed a lot of people in my department who are married with kids. That bodes well for a work/life balance. I see myself putting in 40-60 hours a week once things get into full swing. For now I am probably only doing 30 (I can't read papers for 40 hours a week, I am amazed by people who can) and doing 10-4 usually.
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#13 nehs

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Posted 26 September 2011 - 09:23 PM

Hello Janomaly,
May be I can pour in here :-) .. The second link in ktel's post was started by me. I had a lot of fears and apprehensions before my classes started. It took me a month to settle down into my classes and my schedule. I'm married, but no kids yet. I was also hugely concerned about time outside of school work.

What I have noticed is , it is best to leave one day free every week to do things related to personal life or to just relax. This maintains our balance. For me this day is usually friday. In my dept/school, we do not have classes on fri-sat-sun. I'm a full-time student and i'm doing 12 credits a semester. So I attend class tues-thursday for my 4 courses.Mon, there is no class for me. My schedule is such that I attend 2 classes on tues and then one each on wed and thurs. Fri - I do nothing. Sat, usually catch up with homework or assignments and Sunday's schedule is dynamic. Sometimes I get the week's dinner/menu ready and then do nothing the whole day. sometimes, i study a little in the evening, 2-3 hours. so it depends. Monday is a busy day for me since my husband goes to work and i catch up on pending assignemnts or reading.

So yes, life is hectic but not unmanageable. You did not mention if you plan to work while in school? If so, then you might have to reduce ur course load to keep urself and ur grades sane.

also, i don't thnk you need to post pone marriage - or anything for that matter - because life just goes on. and life teaches us how to handle things. so go ahead, make all ur plans ;-) Morepver, in my opinion, marriage ,kids and other such decision should not have to wait because there is never a 'right time'.

About managing things, you will learn what works best for you ,as you get into it.If you have the finances to do the program full-time, then take as many courses as you can manage and finish off . Your profile mentions Human resources? that's usally in the labor relations or business Dept, right? So if you are doing full-time then 4 courses, 12 credits, might be ok. This is just my perspective :)

I do find it overwhelming sometimes and I even feel guilty becuase my husband has to keep himself busy depsite the fact that he wants to talk to me or go out because I have to study!

ok good luck!
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#14 ktel

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Posted 26 September 2011 - 09:48 PM

also, i don't thnk you need to post pone marriage - or anything for that matter - because life just goes on. and life teaches us how to handle things. so go ahead, make all ur plans ;-) Morepver, in my opinion, marriage ,kids and other such decision should not have to wait because there is never a 'right time'.


This just made me think of my grad orientation, where one of the speakers cited a statistic that says that married/partnered grad students are much more likely to complete their degree than single grad students. That extra support is extremely helpful. Besides, what about grad school prevents you from getting married? Maybe finances, if you want a big wedding, but my parents have been together my whole life and they got married in Vegas in matching rugby jerseys.
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#15 Behavioral

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Posted 26 September 2011 - 11:37 PM

I've also noticed that students with families have an explicit incentive to get things done early so they can spend time at home.
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#16 northstar22

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Posted 27 September 2011 - 02:10 AM

I guess the obvious reason to postpone starting a family is finances, which tend to be tight for most grad students.
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#17 bluejay16

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Posted 27 September 2011 - 04:26 AM

Wow, thanks for the insights and feedback. I've been leaning more towards getting married before graduate school. For me, personally, I do not think I would be happy going to grad school in a state that is so far from my significant other. As for the tips on balancing personal life with grad life and work, I've definitely become more confident about it by reading your posts. I don't plan on working when in school since the grad programs I'm applying to are mainly full time and their internships are usually during summer, so treating grad school like a 40-50 hr job a week sounds doable. I'm so excited for these plans, but incurring debt for grad school and a wedding...that's another story! :P
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#18 UnlikelyGrad

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Posted 27 September 2011 - 04:24 PM

Just out of curiosity, why go in debt for a wedding? There are lots of ways to have a fabulous, but still inexpensive wedding:

Buy your wedding dress used, and then resell it afterwards. (Both of my sisters who did this actually came out a little ahead. Wish I'd done that, but oh well...)

When I got married, we paid for a photographer to do posed shots before the ceremony, plus pics of the ceremony itself. But we didn't pay him for the full day--we just asked our relatives to take lots of photos during the reception, and to let us see them afterwards so that we could pick out any we liked. That worked pretty well, and ended up saving us hundreds of dollars.

Food does not have to be from a $40/plate caterer or restaurant giving a sit-down dinner...at least 4 people in my family (including myself) have done some combination of "do-it-yourself" stuff and delivered food--set it out buffet style, with (nice) disposable plates, and you're set!

Also, when funds are tight, it's wise to take a "getaway weekend" afterwards rather than a 2-week honeymoon. Go local, to a quiet B&B or something. Then do a big awesome trip a few years later when you're done with school, and call it a delayed honeymoon. (My parents didn't get their honeymoon until their 10th anniversary!)
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#19 newms

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Posted 27 September 2011 - 05:34 PM

I do my best to treat grad school like a job, which means I'm either doing schoolwork or attending class from 9-5 Monday-Thursday, and Fridays are reserved for colloquium and various meetings. I've found that I've been able to keep up nicely with my coursework, while not working myself to death. By taking care of things during the day, I have time in the evenings and weekends to relax, workout, and do other non-school related things.


Scary thought - I was talking with my advisor about this same thing -i.e. having a structured time for research and school work and he said that he didn't think it would be possible to get a PhD without your research work eventually basically consuming your life :o
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#20 bluejay16

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Posted 27 September 2011 - 10:41 PM

Just out of curiosity, why go in debt for a wedding? There are lots of ways to have a fabulous, but still inexpensive wedding:

Buy your wedding dress used, and then resell it afterwards. (Both of my sisters who did this actually came out a little ahead. Wish I'd done that, but oh well...)

When I got married, we paid for a photographer to do posed shots before the ceremony, plus pics of the ceremony itself. But we didn't pay him for the full day--we just asked our relatives to take lots of photos during the reception, and to let us see them afterwards so that we could pick out any we liked. That worked pretty well, and ended up saving us hundreds of dollars.

Food does not have to be from a $40/plate caterer or restaurant giving a sit-down dinner...at least 4 people in my family (including myself) have done some combination of "do-it-yourself" stuff and delivered food--set it out buffet style, with (nice) disposable plates, and you're set!

Also, when funds are tight, it's wise to take a "getaway weekend" afterwards rather than a 2-week honeymoon. Go local, to a quiet B&B or something. Then do a big awesome trip a few years later when you're done with school, and call it a delayed honeymoon. (My parents didn't get their honeymoon until their 10th anniversary!)


I've considered cheaper ways to plan a wedding, but after looking at our guest list, we might end up having to host 250-300 people because of his large family and my church family alone being 100+ people. For us, I think the biggest cost will be the location and food. Everything else I can bargain shop for, but the bill may still end up being pretty hefty.
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