You may have about heard it in the introductory class, when the academic officer ranted words like “this will require a lot of sacrifice,” “time is a luxury,” or “some of you will breakup with your girlfriend.” You smirked and rolled your eyes at what you thought was an exaggeration. You never imagined the reality would be as they described it. Until your friends and family started dropping hints about making more time for them.
Here are some sweet and bitter lessons I am still learning from my PhD journey in relation to managing such relationships, and what you can prepare for if you’re thinking of starting one:
Make a Schedule
Yes, a schedule for reaching out to people and not just your thesis. Just like you schedule to write 2500 words every day, you have to plan a people schedule to remember who and when to call, chat, visit or send a gift. Visits and hangouts can get more difficult, even with your closest friends. Sometimes I find that I make mental lists and actions that never actually happen. So include the people you have to check on in your to-do list.
You can’t go for every wedding, but you can’t miss certain family events or your child’s debut on the pitch either. You need to know what matters and plan around that. If you have to attend a wedding, plan the hours you want to stay or accommodate it in your reward system for meeting your writing deadlines (Reward: 2 hours at Annie’s party for writing 10,000 words this week).
Have a Talk
You need to do a debriefing with your loved ones and friends from time to time. Let them know you still care and this is just a season that will eventually pass – hangouts, movies, weddings, TGIF, talk-time may decline but your love is still alive.
Squeeze Out Time
As much as your availability will decline, you still need to make time. It’s a conscious effort of planning ahead. How many hours can you free up in a month? Also, instead of reading in the library, can you have a silent hangout with your friend researching and chatting in between at your place or theirs? If you have kids, can you schedule your reading hours when they attend to their homework? Something can always work, however difficult it may seem.
Sometimes, your accountant buddy or girlfriend may have no clue about your topic on genetics engineering, but you can share your thoughts about your academic journey and how you feel, so they continue to feel included in your life.
You Will Lose Some
Truth be told, it can get difficult, and some people may never understand how you can transform from chatty and outgoing to quiet and constantly-in-the-library or shut out from the rest of the world (even after you explain that sometimes you spend 5 hours reading with a teeny paragraph of success to show for it). Your lover hangouts may vanish along with your memory of birthdays and anniversaries, and those may lead to endless disagreements and frustrations. Still, you must move on and try not to forget what is important.
Shut it Down
Temporarily, of course. Sometimes you need to shut it down for a while. Your body needs some rest and your mind needs to interact with the outside world (no, your research collaborators, colleagues and supervisor don’t count). It’s amazing what you learn or what can spark the light bulb you’ve been searching for for weeks when you speak to someone outside your research circle. Read a book that has nothing (absolutely nothing) to do with what you’re researching.
Spend Time With Yourself
Aside the relationships you have with others, you also need to make more time for yourself (library time doesn’t count). Sometimes, you have a writers block because your emotional and mental self needs a break. When last did you go on a walk and listened to some refreshing music, or just lie down and enjoy the silence? You can only give out what you have – and if your loved ones are getting you in small doses this period, it had better the best of yourself you are dishing out.
All the very best! Remember to breathe.
Please, feel free to share your tips on how you balanced relationships in pursuit of academic gold.
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