Friday, October 11, 2013

Priorities, people!

My "Intro to Graduate Studies" class just had me read a book about how to survive grad school and find a job. Most of it was fairly useful. I hope that I'll be able to reference it again as I get through the various stages of grad school

But. There's always a but. In discussing time management, the author talks about how hard it is to find time for research, teaching, and family. He suggests that grad students hold off having a family until they've graduated at least, or have a non-working spouse. If one can't manage such a thing, he says, one must be aware that something's gotta give. And that something cannot be your research. Oh no. It's sleep.

Now I don't mean to say that graduate students (or professors) should do poorly at their jobs. And part of that job is research and writing. But it seems like this particular author has taken a leaf out of the business playbook and decreed that unless you give 250% for the rest of your life, you might as well give up now. And I don't think that's healthy. Every job has push and pull. Every job has time management issues. If you are talking to a bunch of graduate students and advising them that they need to be chronically sleep-deprived in order to have a life outside of work? Something's wrong with your view of the world.

Sure, there will be times when this happens. And sure, being both a grad student and a professor is more than a 40-hour-a-week job. But it doesn't have to be 80 hours a week. It could be 50. And there should be regular breaks. I wish the author would have told his readers that students should take a good hard look at whether winning the career game is worth the things they'll give up, instead of assuming that's the path they'll take. Because for me? I'll do my work well. And it won't just be a 40-hour workweek. And sometimes the rest of my life will have to be the thing put on hold until the current project is finished. But time to sleep, exercise, read for pleasure, and recharge are worth not being The Ultimate Grad Student or The Ultimate Professor.

I just finished training to volunteer for the local sexual assault hotline. (Intense. Really intense.) One of the most important things we talked about was self-care - the things you do to help yourself relax and be happy even when the world around you isn't happy. Taking some times - ten minutes, an hour, a day - away from workworkwork is part of self-care. It's part of keeping the thing you love from driving you insane. And it's necessary, no matter how much other people want to shame you for daring to care for yourself sometimes.

I've been keeping a running list of things I do and don't want to do when I'm teaching a class. It includes things like "for lower-level classes, give a bunch of small assignments and grade them fairly instead of inflating. That way, you can also grade the papers more fairly and not feel like you're torpedoing the students' chance of success". After this book, I added "never tell students that their work should be their one and only. Remember that everyone has a life outside of study, outside of work, and that is a very good thing".

Of course these ideas can be hard when you really just want someone to pour heart and soul into your class. It has become my new goal to tell students that yes, they need to work hard, but no, their work isn't the most important thing ever. Sometimes other things are important. If you're working well, if you're not using it as an excuse for mediocrity, never feel guilty about recognizing when something else takes over that importance slot.

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