Balancing teaching and learning with the rest of life can be challenging for everyone, but Graduate Assistants who invest many hours into their teaching will still have many more hours of work to do as students. As the previous section on time management suggests, careful scheduling and good organization are essential. However, even with the best intentions and the most careful planning, many graduate students and Graduate Assistants will find that they have very little free time, and there will be intense periods of work when balance seems especially hard to achieve. While striving for balance, graduate students and assistants also should recognize that they are embarking on a period of dedicated work that will be challenging.
Even under such pressures, assistants must find some time to recharge or burnout eventually will slow their progress. Scheduling some time for socializing, family, exercise, and even sleep—even if these get less time than before—can help preserve some balance.
Supervisors of Graduate Assistants are urged to be cognizant of students’ lives outside the classroom or lab. Supervisors also must strike a balance between maintaining high expectations for the work of assistants and the performance of students, and having a realistic sense of how well students can perform over the long term without time to recharge. Because many graduate students also have other obligations, including families of their own, sensitivity to Graduate Assistants’ need for balance can be a powerful support for their long-term success.
The recommendations below are common ingredients in good work/life balance. Not all of them will be equally important to any given assistant. Some assistants need more solitude, others more society. Some need more sleep, others more exercise. Very few assistants will be able to follow all these recommendations, but each assistant might consider which of these feels the most restorative and try to prioritize them.
Reserve alone time. Especially for those who feel overwhelmed by the social intensity of teaching, working in a lab, or being in classes, reserving time alone can help with recharging. Block regular times to take a walk, watch a movie, read a book for leisure, or do something else quiet and alone, even if only for a half hour. Some people need more time alone than others.
Seek social time. Making time for social interaction is essential for everyone. New assistants often find it hard to develop a social circle in a new city and new program, but there are many opportunities to get to know other graduate students who are in the same position. The Union, the Graduate School, individual colleges, URec, and other units on campus regularly have social gatherings or outings. These can be especially helpful for meeting people outside of an assistant’s own program.
Make time for exercise. Schedule regular time to go for a walk or run, visit the Klotsche Center, attend a yoga or spin class, or play on an adult sports team in Milwaukee. Exercise can help reduce stress, improve mood, and boost productivity. But too often it is the first thing students cancel when schedules become full.
Eat well. Healthy eating pays off in the long run, but sometimes requires a little more time and planning. Plan meals and healthy lunches, and reserve time to grocery shop for what you need each week in order to avoid falling back on fast food. Consume alcohol in moderation and beware of the effects that alcohol and excessive caffeine consumption might have on sleep.
Get enough sleep. Very few people perform well with fewer than 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Some need more and some need less, but very few will feel happy and productive if they regularly sleep less than 7 hours each night. Beware that alcohol consumption can also affect the quality of sleep.