In a rotating two-body gravitational system, such as the Earth and Sun, there are five Lagrange points. If a particle is placed at one of these points, the gravitational forces from the Earth and Sun will cancel out, and it will not move unless disturbed. The second Lagrange point is always “behind” the Earth relative to the sun, and is ideal for the placement of satellites measuring small signals. However, this point is not entirely stable, and rather than sitting stationary at the equilibrium point, a satellite will go around the Lagrange point in a non-repeating orbit, following the Earth in an ever-changing pattern.
Now, replace the Sun with “work,” the Earth with “life,” and the satellite with me. There exists a point where there’s an equilibrium between them, but I’m pretty much stuck going around it in a disorderly fashion.
I don’t think I’ll ever achieve the platonic ideal of work-life balance, being able to devote all of the time and energy needed at work while still having a relaxing and peaceful home life. Aside from the usual crushing workload of physics grad school, I also have to contend with migraine headaches. Given the additional challenge of working around days when a passerby’s perfume makes my head explode, I’d say that trying for a first-order approximation of a personal life is a more realistic goal than “work-life balance.”
I don’t have a family unit to come home to yet, but I draw a lot of support from my boyfriend and family. John is living in Milwaukee until November, so most of our interaction is on the phone and internet. Unlimited calling and IM make long-distance relationships a lot easier to deal with. My family lives in metro Detroit, so I get to see them a few times a month. Living so close to my family was the factor that made Michigan my first choice for graduate school, and I’m glad I have them here. My mom is particularly important to me; she’s the one I go talk to when I’m feeling scattered and need outside perspective.
The most important thing I do to keep my stress levels down is fencing. I’ve been fencing since I was 14 but stopped when I got to grad school, and my energy levels and self-esteem suffered from that decision. Joining the club fencing team last winter was one of the best things I’ve done for myself. I get regular exercise, I have more energy, and I have a group of friends who are tied together by something other than our career choice. Of course, the downside is that we have three practices a week and competitions on the weekends, so sometimes I feel like I have a “work-fencing balance” instead!
I’m an avid knitter as well, and having projects going in parallel with my work is a consistent calming force. I can pull out a sock for a five-minute brain break while I’m coding, or unwind on the couch with a sweater panel, a cup of tea, and a sports game on the radio. It’s an ideal antidote to the often frustrating process of research, where large amounts of effort go in for sporadic reward. I get out exactly as much as I put in, which helps keep me from feeling like I’m spinning my wheels in all areas of my life. Plus, the things I make keep me from freezing in my over-air-conditioned office.
All of that adds up to me being able to sit comfortably at my Lagrange point, looking at the stars without falling into the sun. Grad school is a lot of work, but as long as I’m participating in the world outside the lab, I think it’s a pretty good life.
About the Author
Jax Sanders, Ph.D. Student, Physics
Published in: Student Voices