What should we call grad school?

I have been taking more weekend trips during the semester- and feeling less guilty about it- than I did during my first year here. This is likely a combination of needing a break for my mental health and realizing that my 2-2.5 years at CSUN is going by really quickly. In part by good fortune and in part by choice, I am in graduate school in Southern California. An avid hiker, traveler, and sunshine-lover, I want to make sure I make the most of my time here (especially because 100% of Eco Evo Lab alumni are in snowy places! :p)

However, the only way I’m able to take these trips is to maximize my productivity during pretty much every hour during the week, which adds stress in itself. This has meant saying no to more things than I typically do, sleeping a little less, spending less time with friends, and performing seemingly extraordinary feats like reading on bus rides to field trips (if I couldn’t read in cars, there’s no way I’d be where I am today!)

Isn’t the existence of the whatshouldwecallgradschool tumblr itself cathartic (and a giant red flag to anyone thinking about grad school?!)

Aside from the personal mental health benefits I gain from taking time for myself (particularly camping or otherwise spending large amounts of time outdoors), I believe my efficiency and the quality of my work improve during the week. I’ve had a similar conversation with many different friends in my cohort- we all feel much more rejuvenated and motivated to work on our research projects after completely abandoning it for a little while. A few of us believe we have come closer to achieving the ultimate (unattainable) goal: work/life balance in academia. The topic of this post is not novel by any means; I realized after writing this that both Zoë and Shannon had written about similar topics about a year ago: the importance of feeling connected to nature and Wanderlust, respectively. However, I’ve found from my own experience that repeated exposure to this topic within academia encourages me to have a healthier lifestyle. It’s so easy to get sucked into whatever people around you are doing, which is why I think it’s so important to talk about taking breaks.

On a recent trip to Sequoia National Park, I worked and worried about work during the car rides, but while backpacking my mind was completely blank- both a function of pain from strenuous activity and awe of the beauty surrounding me. When I returned, I was actually excited to get back to work- and, this is an important distinction- I wasn’t excited because getting my work done would make me feel less stressed out.

We forget how fortunate we are to be able to go to Sequoia National Park for a weekend. Impossible to think about work in a moment like this.

Though I certainly don’t believe running away from problems or stress is a good option, sometimes a hiatus gives our brains the freedom to come up with creative solutions or perspectives.

On a separate but related note, wasn’t this the original idea behind the sabbatical? Where has the sabbatical gone? What are your thoughts about all of this? It would be great to hear from people at different stages in their careers.

This entry was posted in Blog Posts, Featured, Graduate School.
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