Turning it off (and why Queer Eye is essential grad student viewing)
It's seven p.m. and you're just getting home from a nine-hour day filled with labwork, undergrads, writing, and meetings in between. The sun is getting lower but it hasn't quite set yet. Your cat (or dog) (or hamster) (or fish) greets you at the door as you drop your bag on the floor.
The stereotype in grad school - all of academia, really - is that the work never stops. Those fifty, sixty-hour workweeks, the grueling hours in lab, the late nights spent writing and rewriting at home... that's long been the prevalent view of how it is, how it should be. "If you're having a good time in grad school, you're doing it wrong,” is literally a string of words that was recently said to me by one of the, ah, more senior professors in the department. They suffered, so you should too.
Thankfully, it feels like as a generation or two, we’re moving away from that. Not universally – there are still Those Advisors – but as we talk more about mental health in grad school and the detrimental health effects of long-term stress, advisors and departments are being vocal and supportive about work-life balance. Good friends and peers will tell you to take that vacation (and don't give in a work!), get a massage, go for a midday run. But there will always be that nagging feeling at the back of your head: I should be working.
But you shouldn’t be.
That manuscript - it won't matter if you work on it for another distracted hour at nine p.m. while Game of Thrones is playing in the other room. It can wait until the morning.
That stack of papers you carry to and from work every day, the one that's just getting more and more rumpled? Especially that one with the mystery food stain on it? Just leave them at work. Read a book instead.
Your work email. The big one. Boomerang that noise until the morning.
Turning off the nagging voice is, like most other things in grad school, a skill that takes time to master. Your head might be rushing with dozens of ideas after a motivating day, or filled with fog after a rough day of experiments gone wrong, or simply weighing heavy with a seemingly endless list of tasks to do. The best thing you can do for yourself isn’t wolf down a microwaved meal and get back to it, it’s to take time for yourself. (It took me about a year and a half to figure that out.) That looks different for everyone. Throw on your favorite podcast and spend an hour cooking an amazing meal for yourself. Go for a long walk, being mindful of thinking about work; if you notice stressed thoughts creeping in, recognize them but gently push them aside. Make a quick note in your phone if it will help clear your head. Hell, binge Netflix on the couch and make a microwave brownie. As long as you’re relaxed and not guilting yourself for not working, consider it a success!
Speaking of Netflix…
I’m of the opinion all grad students should watch Queer Eye. Not just as a feel-good Netflix binge, but because it’s a show that revolves around making time for yourself, respecting yourself, and making an effort for yourself. Instead of hearing, "You should be working!", you’ll get Karamo’s voice in your head saying, “You’re amazing. You deserve it.” And it’s a fun show that will make you ugly-happy-cry. And that’s my pitch for self-care in grad school.
PS. 11/10 recommend this interview with Karamo Brown and Sam Sanders!