Career Wellness for Graduate Students: Work-life Integration

Career wellness plays a big role in graduate school. For graduate students, career wellness can mean to what degree you enjoy your work or study or whether your personal values, goals, or lifestyle align with your role or academic program. You may also have your own definition of what career wellness is and means to you. While work-life integration is one of the important aspects of career wellness, you may also find other topics relevant to you, such as relationships with mentors, effective communication, resilience, and coping, etc. Consult this guidebook for career wellness topics and tips you may find helpful as you pursue your degree.

In graduate school, effectively integrating work, life and school can mean how you handle all the different buckets of tasks that are from various aspects that compose your life – family, work, school, fun, friends, and more.

For me, the energy that I am putting into the various aspects of my life is rarely in balance.  I keep swaying between different important roles in life as a mid-degree doctoral student, an employee, a preschooler’s mom, spouse, daughter, daughter-in-law, a member of my friend circle, my community, etc.

The struggle of seeking balance persisted till one day, I heard the phrase from my supervisor, Kay Gruder:  work-life integration. It is not a newly invented phrase, but rather one that honors that things may be out of balance and that imbalance might be the norm.  It was like an awakening moment for me when I heard my supervisor share, “sometimes it’s hard to achieve a balance as there is often something more important that overrides or requires our attention on our list.” And that is true – for, on a day when I have an assignment deadline, I don’t have the same amount of time to spend with my daughter. On another day, when my family needs me, for example, caring for my child, then this family commitment becomes a priority, and my work or study is less of a focus.  Kay shared that “integrating our commitments and responsibilities into our life is a more feasible approach to living a full life than struggling and making the goal to balance everything.” This shift away from the goal of achieving balance has made integrating all my commitments and priorities more workable for me so that I do not need to continue attempting to achieve a perfect balance.

One of the strategies that I found helpful to integrate the important things and people into my life in graduate school is to be more aware of what I’m doing and be intentional about when and where to spend my time. For example, I would make most of the daytime my “office hours” and throw myself into work during the day when my daughter is at the daycare. By focusing on one bucket for a designated period of time, I can be fully present for just the one thing that I’m doing. No matter how long the time lasts – it could be one day, an hour, or just a couple of minutes- it is well spent and productive.

Sometimes, I find myself feeling guilty about spending too much time on one thing and not enough time on another. To manage my feeling of guilt, one of the approaches I use is to first, acknowledge that everything is a part of my life, and then prioritize what is on my list and keep focusing on one priority at a time. My second step is to tell myself to move on. For example, if I were unable to stay on top of my coursework due to other priorities, I would move onward and promise myself to set a time to catch up. I find it helpful to look at the bigger picture, like a complete day or week. When I view the whole week, I see that I have been able to integrate academics, my assistantship, family commitments, etc. in ways that work well for me.  This also takes some trial and error and resistance to think that things can or should be in balance.

Here are a few resources from Career Wellness Guidebook that you may find useful in exploring this blog’s topic:

Be sure to check out the Career Wellness Guidebook (Pages 14&15) for more information and resources about work-life integration.

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

By Damiao Zoe Xu
Damiao Zoe Xu Graduate Assistant, Graduate Student and Postdoc Career Programs and Services | Pronouns: she/her/hers