Achieving Balance in Lab Life
Prital Patel (@prital_) is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto in the Department of Medical BioPhysics. She contributes to the Nature jobs blog and is the social media director of the Life Sciences Career Development Society (LSCDS) as well as the co-chair of their annual Networking Reception.
When she finds some spare time, Prital enjoys light science reads & teaching. She loves all things science and is easily fascinated by space exploration.
Life in science is rewarding in many aspects. Even though I can recall many more days of experimental failures than I can eureka moments, science to this day remains my sense of pride and joy. Graduate school to me is about contributing to converting the unknown into knowledge, whilst also actively engaging in different activities that enable the development of diverse professional skills. Our generation of graduate students and postdocs is faced with a unique dilemma that necessitates such an approach. While I set out to do just that, I had a decision to make: how much could I do outside of the lab without affecting the contributions I could make to science? In a rare moment of self-indulgence over Christmas, I read something that wasn’t a scientific article. Professor Tillman, the fictional scientist in The Rosie Project, was trying to find love in a scientific and calculated way. Despite his eccentric character, there was something to take away from his obsession with scheduling and efficiency. It is while reading the book I got inspired to live a paradox; doing a wide variety of things without compromising the important stuff.
No time wasted
Most Torontonians have a love/hate relationship with our transit system. While the occasional (being generous there) delay drives me crazy, there’s much to appreciate when taking the transit system. For example, taking the subway gives me time to work on blog pieces, prepare for my class presentations or even read some of those papers PubMed dutifully sends me every Thursday. I’m also obsessed with learning languages. I took up learning French by listening to podcasts on my 15 minute drive to the subway station (Bonus: I don’t have to listen to annoying radio ads or Taylor Swift for the 500th time), giving me a dedicated half hour to my hobby a day; time which would otherwise be wasted.
Friends and the gym
Over the course of my graduate studies, I have found myself making less and less time for my friends and my health. I found a work around when the hospital I’m based at opened up a fabulous gym just 2 floors above our lab – I was thrilled! This meant that my best friend and I could spend the weekend catching up on our reading and have a gym date right after! It also allows me to keep on top of my social life and on top of all my lab work over the weekend without feeling guilty about my next “non-graduate” indulgence.
Making time to build your soft skills
This is an important one. For anyone going through graduate school you’ve probably heard from several postdocs or senior graduate students how important it is to build leadership, entrepreneurship, and interpersonal skills early in graduate school. After attending several career talks it was obvious that in today’s job market, science skills alone weren’t going to cut it. In addition to stellar science (not in the astrophysics sense), I had to immerse myself into activities that could clearly demonstrate my soft skills. But that would mean science would be sacrificed, or would it? Where could I make time for this? Considering that rush hour can chew up an hour (half hour each way), I decided to leave my house early and return home before rush hour even began. (Bonus: I typically got two seats to myself – a very comfortable typing experience!) This gave me an extra hour a day which I could siphon into co-leading a team to organize a networking reception for life science professionals.
These are just some of the changes that I’ve made in my life to accomplish more without compromising my science. I found that the more I stuffed into my life, the more planning was needed, and rather than this affecting my productivity, the activities necessitated planning and made me more efficient. This is my idea of living a paradox.
There’s a lot we can learn from each other. Have you found a way to achieve balance in your lab life? If so, leave a comment below! I’d love to hear from you and share some more ideas!