Break? What break? Don’t you know I’m a grad student?

It’s hard to believe Winter Break is nearly at an end. Like most graduate students I use the term “break”  rather loosely. Contrary to popular perception, the life of a graduate student is a far cry from the life of an undergraduate. Graduate students have a much larger workload, never really have nights and weekends “off,” and are forced to constantly assess and reassess the value of their endeavors to their field of choice. Throw in the heart palpitation-inducing issue of the current job market and the highly competitive atmosphere surrounding funding, and you’ve got a recipe for a pretty stressful lifestyle — unless, that is, one learns the importance of balance and adopts habits that serve as healthy stress valves. Readers familiar with my blog know I personally look to regular exercise, meditation, and family time to center myself, but I’ve also discovered that work itself can exert a calming influence.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve shifted into full-time comprehensive exam preparation mode and it’s been a relief to do so. It was difficult to establish a regular routine of comp preparation in the Fall semester since I was (1) gone nearly the entire month of September on a whirlwind of back-to-back travel that included the Bosch Archival Seminar for Young Historians, (2) was working as a teaching assistant in an area outside my discipline, and (3) was responsible for teaching three recitation sections each week on top of the standard t.a. grading responsibilities. Winter Break, while not a genuine “break,” has nonetheless allowed me to realign my history mojo and return my focus to my personal goals. Spending time out of one’s regular routine (and particularly away from campus life every now and again) can be very beneficial to re-recognizing the importance of long-term goals over day-to-day responsibilities.

Daily life will always bring interruptions and distractions. Meetings will demand your time, grading will demand your attention, students will need your help, the kitchen floor must still be mopped every now and then, your spouse might wreck the car, family members could pass away, friends may encounter crisis. But, as you enter the New Year, take some time once in a while to “do you.” Remember why you do what you do and center yourself around what you need to do to accomplish your goals. Be a little more selfish with your time when you can, visit your family, don’t overcommit, take care of yourself, be kind, don’t worry so much about what others think, don’t let the unkindness of others ruin your day, and recognize that imbalance will always come back to bite you eventually.

Next week, I’ll post on some of my strategies for preparing for comps. Have a happy and healthy New Year.

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