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Careers Café

TGIF

BY NICOLA KOPER | SEP 12 2011

Thank goodness it’s Friday! Is that because you will take a well-earned break? Or because you know you have at least 24 hours available for report writing and lecture preparation before students start banging on your door again at 8 a.m. on Monday? I’m going to push you to take a real break on weekends to rejuvenate and give yourself a chance for a non-academic life. We might be profs, but we’re also human.

Let’s face it… you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have a type-A overachiever personality. Same with me. That puts us at risk of ulcers, heart attacks, and probably child neglect. Or at least choosing to work on that latest grant proposal instead of going to the beach with your kid and dog on a sunny afternoon in September. And grad school probably reinforces this behaviour, as we get used to cramming for candidacy exams and defenses.

But now that we’re all starting our new careers, I think that despite the pressure to publish and to get grants and grad students and research projects and guest lecture invitations, it’s really time to take a step back and create a lifestyle that is sustainable over the decades that will make up our careers. And that means taking a break every week for yourself and your family. After all, it’s going to take less time to walk the dog than to fix the hole in the floor that the dog dug, out of boredom and lack of exercise, into the apartment below yours. Trust me.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you won’t work some weekends. Field work, conferences, and grant proposals due on Mondays will all put a damper on the occasional weekend, and that’s to be expected. But there has also been a steady shift away from the expectation that all academics must be workaholics who are in the office 7 days a week. I think that consistently scheduling time to spend away from your research makes you more enthusiastic, rested, creative, and engaged in your career when you go back to it. At least, it works for me … overall, I think I’m more productive when I take breaks than when I try to slog through week after week.

This approach takes a little career planning. It’s easy to back yourself into a corner by accepting too many responsibilities to get through in a normal work week (like a career blog?). Admin and volunteering can really eat up your weekdays. It’s important to understand how much administration is appropriate in your department, and how to use current administration activities to negotiate future releases from committees. For example, when you get asked to sit on a hiring committee for the third time that year, you might agree to do it, but remind your dean of your contributions and ask that they consider someone else the next time. Your supervisors want you to be productive, too, and are generally understanding of your need to say no… sometimes. And keep the number of grad students and research projects to whatever level is manageable for you.

So go to your 4 year old’s daycare graduation and spend the rest of the weekend at the playground without guilt. In the long run it’ll be better for your health, family and career. Your NSERC proposal will still be on the laptop, waiting for you, on Monday.

ABOUT NICOLA KOPER
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