Life, Laberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

The problem: Life, Laberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

You have recently married that special someone and you want to spend every waking moment with them.  Or you’ve decided this is the year you’re finally going to run that marathon.  Whether it’s a human, a hobby or an alternative passion besides science (I know it’s hard to believe), finding time to balance your lab life and social life can be hard.

The solution:

No need to worry, follow these steps and you’ll be well on your way to that magical place they call…”balance”.  Your social life can science life can finally stop bickering.

Step1. Optimize your time

My motto is work smart, not hard.  Yeah, so maybe I shouldn’t be Facebooking Kevin from ninth grade to see if he has a girlfriend these days before I start my experiment.  Although optimizing your time doesn’t mean you are constantly running an experiment.  I find planning is the key to saving time.  Spend a few minutes at the beginning of each day looking over what you plan to do and preparing your reagents (and checking BenchFly to see how to do that protocol again!).  If you’re just getting started in research, take it slow.  Don’t try to load up the day with 15 experiments.  Start with one and really concentrate.  When you feel you can handle a little more, try two…and so on.  Messing up 5 experiments because you couldn’t remember which timer went to which experiment is basically the same as doing no experiments that day.  Actually, it’s worse because you wasted reagents…

Step2. Communicate

Talk to your boss, your significant other or your yoga instructor.  Communication is vital to success in all avenues of your life, but it is particularly important in science, where an unexpectedly slow-growing bacterial culture can make you two hours late for dinner.  In the lab, make sure you and your boss are on the same page about what is expected of you (to produce x amount of data, to be in lab 9-5, whatever it is) and do it!  Most of the time, the expectations are reasonable, but if they’re not, it’s better to know that as soon as possible.  At home, communicate with your significant other about your commitments and discuss when the two of you can get away together for some much needed salvation.  If yoga, rock climbing, or pottery is your passion, talk to the instructors or others who enjoy this activity.  Find out how much time you’ll need to commit in order to nail the one-legged king pigeon pose, climb the impossible wall or create a pitcher that even your mom would be proud of.

Step3. Escape

“Nobody really expects you to have a social life in grad school!” Although, this may feel like the case- it is not true.  In fact, even efficiency-guru Stephen Covey says people who have extracurricular activities are happier and more productive when they are at work.  I mean seriously, how much perspective can you have on your project when you’ve been thinking of it incessantly for the last 90 hours of the week.  Sometimes the best solution to a problem is to just walk away and come at it again with fresh eyes the next day.  So next time your PI asks where you were you last Friday afternoon, you can say working on your productivity (not at Tom’s Pub).  Just don’t tell them you heard it from me!

Katie in the process of completing her Ph.D. in Developmental Biology at Washington University in St. Louis, studying the effect of diabetes on pre-implantation biology in mice.  Outside of lab you can find Katie playing softball or kickball, often with a frothy beverage in her hand.  Recently married, Katie tries to balance work with home life by spending her free time with her husband and their animals: two English Mastiffs and two spunky alley cats.

3 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. [email protected]

    wrote on July 28, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    For me, learning to pace myself was one of the most important lessons I learned in grad school. Right out of the gates, I just wanted to set up as many reactions as humanly possible to get as much accomplished as I could. However, this usually led to a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation and mistakes and more importantly a loss of attention to the big picture. Exchanging "why" in a project for "how many" can be a dangerous move. Nobody cares if you made 500 compounds if none of them do anything.

  2. leslie

    wrote on July 29, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    Very true. And yet, I learn the hard way and still need reminding. Thanks for the re-confirmation that slow and steady does in fact win the race. (And by "race," I really mean the balancing act.)

  3. Maintain Your Sanity With a Smile | BenchFly Blog

    wrote on November 30, 2010 at 11:42 pm

    […] Life, Laberty and the Pursuit of Happiness – a few essential tips for juggling lab and the rest of your life […]

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