UW Graduate School

Balancing work and lifestyle

Students observe their professors devoting large parts of their lives to their work in order to find success in the academy and can feel overwhelmed if they feel expected to spend every waking minute on their studies. This perception causes concerns for students who seek to balance success in their graduate career with other responsibilities, such as family, personal interests or outside work.

  • Demonstrate to students that you value each dimension of your life. Share your thoughts about the benefits of balancing work and life.
  • Offer your students tips on managing time, and help them understand that large tasks can be divided into manageable components.
  • Recognize that students work hard to balance school and home demands. Those with family responsibilities are not able to spend as many hours on campus as other students, but often can be better focused when they are there.
  • Respect the personal lives of all students and encourage students to maintain friendships and a social life.
  • Learn about the demands your students face beyond the department. If you sense that a student is encountering difficulties, listen first and offer ideas for solutions. Or, guide the student to appropriate campus resources.

Family responsibilities

As the graduate student population increases in age, so do family responsibilities, such as raising children or caring for elderly relatives. These students find that the structure of graduate education in a large research university presumes an ability to be on campus at any time, which can conflict with their other responsibilities.

Cultural beliefs influence the ways students deal with family responsibilities while in graduate school. For example, when mourning a family member, some students may be expected to spend considerable time consoling relatives at home.

Dual commitments

Students with family responsibilities are committed to being successful academically, and they are often organized and focused during the time they carve out for graduate work. Unfortunately, students may fear that their professors will misconstrue this attention to other responsibilities as a lack of commitment to scholarship. Emergencies, such as an ill child or parent, occasionally prevent students from attending seminars or meetings and can exacerbate that misperception. Childcare demands do not necessarily lessen, even after a child enters school. Other demands arise, such as illness or transporting children to school or sports.

Isolation

Students with family responsibilities might find it difficult to attend as many social, academic and professional functions. They may experience isolation from their cohorts and departments, missing out on “academic business.”

Time constraints

Students with family responsibilities often need to be home in the evenings. After-hours study group assignments or research projects can present difficulties, as can having to return campus for evening lectures or departmental meetings.

Recommendations

  • Develop accommodations for students with family responsibilities who might need to miss some seminars.
  • Distribute assignments in advance so students can fit them into demanding schedules.
  • Encourage students to explore email, live chats, listservs and discussion boards to facilitate group work.
  • Discuss your own family responsibilities with your graduate students.
  • Plan some departmental, family-friendly social events.
  • Acknowledge the amount of organization, commitment and passion needed to “do it all and do it well.” Help students to communicate how a graduate degree can bring long-term benefits to them and their families.

Resources