Balancing Graduate School and Personal Life

Report
BALANCING GRADUATE SCHOOL
AND PERSONAL LIFE
Andrea Danyluk, Williams College
Tiffani L. Williams, Texas A&M University
ABOUT ANDREA
Education
B.A. Math/CS,Vassar College (1984)
Ph.D. in CS, Columbia University (1992)
Machine Learning
Jobs (post
Ph.D.)
Researcher in Expert Systems Lab, NYNEX
Science and Technology (1990-94)
Assist, Assoc, Full Prof, Dept Chair 3 years,
Acting Dean of Faculty 1 year, Williams College
(1994-present)
Service
CRA-W, LACS, CS 2013, program committees,
ICML co-chair 2001, ICML general chair 2009
Family
Married Andrew 1984
Stephan 18 years old,Katya 16
Fun
Biking, hiking, skiing, Kids’ activities, Time
with friends, Travel
ABOUT TIFFANI
QUESTION #1: WHAT DOES GRADUATE SCHOOL
AND PERSONAL LIFE BALANCE MEAN TO YOU?
QUESTION #2: BASED ON YOUR PERSONAL
DEFINITION, HOW MANY OF YOU ARE
CURRENTLY LIVING A BALANCED LIFE?
QUESTION #3: WHY IS WORK-LIFE BALANCE
IMPORTANT ENOUGH TO GET US OUT OF BED
FOR AN 8:30 A.M. SESSION!
TIFFANI’S DEFINITION

I am physically, mentally, and spiritually sound.
Physical: I exercise at least 3 times a week.
 Mental: I get a lot of mental exercise being a
professor.
 Spiritual: I read a lot of cool stuff from all over the
world (e.g.,Bhagavad Gita, I Ching, Bible, poetry)


I am able to happily teach others.


Not always easy—especially when dogs are still
eating students’ homework.
I am grateful for life’s experiences.

Not always easy—especially when stressful
situations occur.
ANDREA’S DEFINITION

Knowing I’m giving time to the people in my life
(especially my kids) and to my work.
Not necessarily equal amounts of time.
 Not necessarily the “perfect” split every day, but over
time.

Making a difference in my students’ lives
 Making Computer Science a happier place for
everyone
 Feeling healthy and energetic.
 Being able to focus. I hate feeling like I’m
thrashing!
 Being able to laugh.
 Appreciating every day, whether good or bad.

EVERYONE’S DEFINITION OF WORK-LIFE
BALANCE IS DIFFERENT
Your definition must be unique to you and your
situation.
 Without a definition or some type of guidance,
how will you know you are out-of-balance?
 Being out of balance causes even more stress, etc.

HOW DO WE GET OUT-OF BALANCE?
Academic stresses
 Personal stresses

ANDREA’S GRAD SCHOOL EXPERIENCE
(OUT-OF-BALANCE)

Three advisors in as many years, with the third
really not working out.
Fell behind on completing my “area requirement.”
 Would the faculty respect me if I changed again?
 Would anyone take me on as an advisee?


Dieting “successfully” and happily, but not so
smartly.
Grapefruit and coffee aren’t the basis of a good diet.
 Feeling crummy.
 Eating right helps one think straight!

ANDREA’S GRAD SCHOOL EXPERIENCE
(IN-BALANCE)

Confided in a grad school friend about my advisor
dilemma.

She talked to her advisor, who talked to another
faculty member, who was happy to take me on as an
advisee.
Kept up with exercise; returned to a healthier
diet.
 Completed area requirement and proposal in
record time.
 Spent remaining time at Columbia very happy in
my new research group.

TIFFANI’S GRAD SCHOOL EXPERIENCE
(OUT-OF-BALANCE)

My graduate advisor did not receive tenure. So,
the last year or so of my Ph.D. journey was
difficult.
Although a difficult situation, it made no sense to
change advisors—even though she was no longer at
the university.
 Had no faculty member to discuss my research or
essentially review my thesis.


As a result of health issues, my mom was
struggling to live on her own. How could I take
care of her as a grad student?
TIFFANI’S GRAD SCHOOL EXPERIENCE
(IN-BALANCE)


I had a strong support system to help me realize that
even without my advisor there full-time, I was more
than capable of completing the Ph.D.
I worked on my Ph.D thesis everyday.
It actually got to the point where I was having fun thinking
about my research topic and its possibilities.

It also helped that I got a new laptop. In 2000, having a
new laptop was a big deal—well at least to me. 


My mom was able to stay with me for a week during
graduation.
Her health didn’t seem to both her as much at that time.
 After graduating, I was in a much better position to get her
the care that she needed.

HOW WE GET OUT-OF BALANCE:
GENERAL ACADEMIC STRESSES

The nature of grad school itself
Open-ended
 What it means to complete a milestone more vague once
course requirements complete
 No obvious finishing date


We’re “high achievers”
We tend to be goal-oriented perfectionists
 There’s always more to do
 Can feel as if it’s a competition for “who works the hardest”



We all have insecurities
We can’t manage an insane pace forever


Burnout, poor productivity
Demands come from many directions
HOW WE GET OUT-OF BALANCE:
SOME SPECIFIC ACADEMIC STRESSES

Courses



Want to learn the material and to do well
Need to learn that sometimes doing “well enough” is ok
Research
Might be a new experience
Requires a new level of independence and confidence
(paper submissions, rejections….)
 Need to push through the times when you’re just stuck
 Requires dealing with group dynamics
 Requires learning from but also “managing” your advisor



Service
It’s fun (and easy!) to get involved in departmental and
other service
 Extra demands placed on women


Work as a TA, RA, etc.
HOW WE GET OUT-OF BALANCE:
PERSONAL STRESSES

Many people in our lives (partners, parents,
friends, children)
A source of happiness, but
 Their stresses can be our stresses

For many, a time for finding a partner, starting a
family
 Managing finances on a grad student stipend
 Logistics of caring for a home (even a small
shared apartment), a car, etc.
 Health issues

ACHIEVING BALANCE:
GOALS AND EXPECTATIONS

Know your own goals



Understand others’ expectations


Prioritize them
Post them where you can see them, if needed
Know which expectations are self-inflicted!
Understand what’s required to achieve a goal
Know why you want to achieve it
 Be sure (to the extent possible) that it’s achievable
 Know how to evaluate your progress
 Talk to your mentors and others


Learn to enjoy the process
Focus on the present
 Appreciate your achievements before moving on

QUESTION #4: WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS?
ACHIEVING BALANCE: TIME MANAGEMENT

Get organized




Break your day into manageable segments




Be realistic about the timing of tasks
Allow time for interruptions and distractions
Reward yourself for sticking to it!
Know when it’s time to stop



To-do lists: short, medium, and long term
Keep a calendar
Set aside time each day to review your schedule
For many tasks, 1-hr increments work well
Keep the perfectionist in you under control
Avoid distractions
Make a list of your bad habits
Set aside quiet time; pick a time to work when others aren’t there
Set aside time for email – or, if you’re like me, find a space where it’s hard to
get to your email
 If a stray thought pops into your head, write it down. Save it for later.




Set up a comfortable work space


A cluttered desk can mean a cluttered head
Don’t underestimate the beauty of a good chair, a great pen, a cup of coffee….
ACHIEVING BALANCE:
INSECURITIES

Seek out a support system
Mentors
 Family and friends

Realize that we all have insecurities
 Do your homework to minimize your chances of
failing



But everyone will fail once in a while. It’s a natural
consequence of doing something hard.
Learn to enjoy your successes
Don’t belittle your own accomplishments
 Keep a “good file” of positive feedback

ACHIEVING BALANCE:
CHOOSING ACTIVITIES

Saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to
something else

Or at least it means having less time for what you’re
already doing
Take some time before you decide
 Does it fit your goals and priorities?
 Don’t do anything out of guilt


Say “yes” or “no” to the task, not the person
ACHIEVING BALANCE:
MANAGING OTHERS

If you plan to say “no” to a request to take on a
new responsibility
Do it as soon as possible
 Suggest someone else who might be available and
want to do it
 If you really wish you could do it, say so; ask to be
invited again


Set boundaries, parameters
Explain why you believe it will take longer
 Communicate about the resources you need


What to do about the advisor, student (if you’re a
TA), fellow grad student who needs you now

“I’d be happy to talk/help you/etc. Can we schedule a
time (in 5 min, an hour, next week….) do do that?”
ACHIEVING BALANCE:
MAKING TIME FOR YOURSELF

Schedule time for yourself

“Free time” won’t magically appear; you have to make
it
Share responsibilities with friends
 Throw money at responsibilities (when you can
afford it; can be tough as a grad student!)
 Streamline
 Don’t apologize for the fact that you have a life
outside of grad school!

QUESTIONS?
EXAMPLE REWARDS

Andrea
Running
 Hiking/Cycling
 Traveling


Tiffani
Working out with a personal trainer
 Reading
 Buying the latest gadget—if it’s in the budget 
 Doing nothing!


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