First off, I think we all need to take a good long look at the question. Where did we get this idea that doing what you want, what you wanted more than the hundreds of other applicants who applied for your position wanted, was different from your life as a person? Someone once asked me to list my greatest interests outside academia....and I drew a blank. I could have said, “burgers,” or “television” or something easy like that. But that wouldn’t have been true. My greatest interests are precisely why I applied to grad school and I’ve tried my absolute hardest to fit as many of them into what I do professionally as possible. And I keep finding unforeseen pockets to fit them in as I progress through the program. Who would have thought my penchant for Victorian women writers and a taste for Japan could go into the same English dissertation? Not me, that’s for sure.
Of course there is a lot of pressure that comes with this work we do. A good friend once described grad school as a pressure cooker in which we wait to see who pops and who makes it through to the other side. Mixed metaphor aside, that may well be true. We may be laboring under more scrutiny and responsibility than is healthy at times. And sometimes you need to take a break with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and just curl up on the coach and watch some absurdly hokey detective TV show. (I recommend one where the detective is an old lady and, if you can manage it, British. If she spends the episode knitting, you’ve hit gold.) But the thing that should make grad school livable is not the moments you spend away from it: it’s remembering why you’re here in the first place.
I’m not saying that breaks—many, frequent, lengthy breaks—are not necessary. They are. But don’t think of it as time working and time away from working. That route ends with a permanent shadow of guilt hanging over you and keeping you up at night. Think of it like this: you have a variety of things you love. Working has to be one of them. If it’s not, you’re doing it wrong.
About the Author
Bessie McAdams, Ph.D. Student, English
Published in: Student Voices