I’m a busy person. I’m sure you are too, and so, likely, is most everyone you know. This is my second semester of my Master’s program, and when I went to the graduate orientation the speakers said something like “You will be busier than you have ever been in your life.” I thought to myself, I’m a busy person, how bad can it be? In the short time that I have been a grad student, I have had an intense learning curve in time management and prioritization. I study personality in the coolest animals ever – Leach’s Storm-Petrels – and this requires me to travel out to an island in Witless Bay to collect any and all data for my thesis. None of my data collection can be done remotely so I am away a lot. These birds in particular have a very long breeding season and are sometimes still around on the island into November, so my data collection which started in May will not be over for potentially another month. I am used to intense field work; for my undergraduate research, I lived in a tent on a very remote island up in Alaska for four months at a time. That field season however ended conveniently before the start of the fall semester so I had never had any overlap. This year, I have had to balance classes and thesis work with field work and a new part of being busy: teaching assistantships. Between layer after layer of work, I could hardly find time to breathe! Now like I said, I am a busy person and although this is probably the busiest I have ever been, I am living in a beautiful new place with my partner for the first time. I am making new friends and having new experiences that I have always dreamed of. During my undergraduate degree I learned the importance of balancing school, life, and everything in between. Despite being busy, it is important to enjoy the life that you have, the people you are with, and the place you live in. There are a few ways that I have learned how to balance everything:
- Use your calendar. Whether it is on your phone, your computer, synced between all your devices, a beautiful doodle journal, or your hand (s/o to my supervisor for using this method), do whatever works for you to get your life organized. Write everything down, keep track of due dates, and schedule whatever you have to do into your day. There are so many things going on in grad school that none of us can afford to forget what is due when.
- Learn to prioritize. This was a familiar concept to me from my undergrad, but class assignments are worth different percentage amounts and sometimes an assignment that takes many hours is worth very little of your overall grade. On top of class work, there is marking to do for TA assignments, field work, statistical analysis, writing, meetings, the list goes on. If you have a thesis draft or a major grant application due the same week as a minor class project, prioritize. As my amazing supervisor, Bill Montevecchi, often says to me, “the most important thing is the most important thing.” This saying has really stuck with me and leads me to my next point.
- Keep your supervisor happy. Think about what your supervisor thinks is “the most important thing” and if you are not sure, ask them. I have found Bill to be very helpful in choosing my priorities. Further, if your supervisor gives you a due date, hand it in early if possible. Bring them coffee, stay in contact and keep them updated with your progress.
- Keep yourself happy. This is a big one. Your supervisor and your studies are important, but your happiness and your sanity are number one. Take breaks, have a cup of tea, go for a walk, whatever you need for some personal TLC.
- Make time for things you love. This play’s off of #4 but it is important and so I figured I would make it a separate point to emphasize it. You are probably a complex being with multiple interests. I have heard from too many people things like: “I used to do this amazing activity that made me super happy before I started university but then I just didn’t have time.” I do my very best to balance my various passions in my life to keep doing what makes me unique and happy. For example, I spend much of my time studying behaviour and ecology of the aforementioned storm-petrels, but I have also found myself a voice teacher here in St. John’s so that I can continue studying voice as I have for the last 15 years of my life. It doesn’t matter that I am busier than I have ever been. Voice lessons make me happy so that assignment that I really need to get working on can wait until after the half hour of pure joy that I experience from my favourite hobby.
I hope my musings will prove to be useful for some of you. Don’t forget to eat, sleep, and have fun with your incredible grad studies!