Some Thoughts on Doing Less
Whack-a-Mole: The Life of a Graduate Student
The life of a graduate student is stressful in ways that differ from the stresses of being an undergraduate. A graduate student is more likely to have multiple roles. You’re an advisee; maybe you’re a spouse, an ex-spouse, a parent, an employee, an employer, a teaching assistant, a research assistant. Maybe you’re an intern.
Sometimes all of these roles feel like the arcade game Whack-a-Mole. As soon as you dispatch one of those pesky critters, another pops up. But the moles keep smiling, and after a while, you begin to wonder who’s really getting whacked.
A national survey of graduate students revealed that academic and career success becomes more important than friendships and relationships. The survey’s author speculated that the overriding focus on academics and career “could be related to a fear that excess energy devoted to interpersonal activities might drain [graduate students] of the focus they need to excel academically” (Barna, G., Understanding Graduate Students).
Another loss might be that this overemphasis on achievement may ironically lead to less achievement. Let’s go back a hundred years. Nineteen hundred eight marked the publication of what is now known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law, named after two scientists who demonstrated that moderate stress yields optimal performance. Another way of describing their findings is that too much stress severely compromises achievement.
Maintaining moderate stress (i.e., avoiding excessive stress) is realized when a person has balance in life: balance between work and play, balance between achievement and relationships, balance between the active and the sedentary.
Balance is about finding time for the non-academic parts of your life, about seeing this time in graduate school not so much as preparation for life but as living itself.