Embracing challenges with an open mind and striving for work-life balance

Story by

Coralhead

From

Malaysia

Institution

Cornell University

Major/Field

Social Science

Level

Graduate

Graduate school for me was and still is a series of transitions and adaptations on several levels.

First transition was the academic environment: active participation (not just merely attending, although I was a listener for the most part out of shyness) in the department meetings, seminars, and peer review sessions. It took a good year became I felt confident about asking questions and providing feedback. I realized that people are often kind and as long as I applied myself to the problem, the results are usually satisfactory and the interaction was positive.

Second transition was adjusting to the work load that was expected by professors at graduate-level courses and balancing that with the work that goes into writing a dissertation proposal. Whether it was statistics or social science theory or some methods course, there was so much to do and read within a week! My spouse who was a PhD student at the same university advised me that my approach to coursework should not be the same as an undergraduate, meaning that an ‘A’ might not be as important as understanding and applying the concepts needed for my own research. Eventually, after a year I was able to let go a little as I tend to be a perfectionist or wanting to respect the professors teaching the course by doing the work, attending all the classes, being an active participant. I am not suggesting slacking off but to prioritize accordingly because in the end, the coursework is meant to serve a bigger cause – the dissertation research.

Finally, as a graduate student who is also a wife and mother of three young children, my time is a very scarce resource. Precision time management and discipline are prerequisites for making grad and family work. Having a personal life motivates me to strike a balance. Sure, I would love to work all day on geostatistics or understanding the theory of collective action, or work weekends because there is that paper due, but my children are asking me to come play. So work-life balance is essential because graduate life is like a marathon where I try run it at a sustained speed. I hope to reach the finish line in good form and having enjoyed the journey as well.

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