How to balance your PhD and your social life

How to balance your PhD and your social life

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Doing an economics PhD can feel like an all-encompassing task, but it's important for your well-being that you have a social life during this time as well. It can be hard to balance the two, but if you don't, you may find yourself overwhelmed and not able to enjoy your time researching and writing as much. Here are tips on balancing your PhD with your social life.

Treat your PhD like a regular job

One of the challenges of adjusting to life as a PhD student is the lack of a firm schedule or a definite structure. Although there are options for structured PhD programs, especially in the US, many PhD programs do not have required coursework or set work times. This can make it hard to know when you should be working, and conversely, when you are allowed to take time off.

To help with this, where possible set some regular working hours for yourself and try not to answer emails outside of normal working hours. There can be considerable pressure from your supervisor and others to be available at all times, but waking up in the middle of the night to answer emails is not healthy.

And, if you stick to regular working hours – for example, 9 to 6 from Monday to Friday – you'll have less of a need to answer late night emails. This will help to keep your evenings free for social events, both practically and mentally.

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You need holidays and days off

Similar to the advice above, when doing a PhD program there is a feeling like you should be working every spare second that you have. But no one can work 100% of the time.

For the sake of your social life and your well being, it's vital that you take weekends and holidays off. Use this time to see friends and family and try not to think too much about work while you do.

One good way to take vacation is to add a few days to the end of your trip when you travel to a conference. Conferences are usually held in exciting locations and you'll only need to pay for the extra days at a hotel and your daily expenses. A few days off after a busy conference can be a great way to relax with friends, co-workers, or a partner.

Attend social events at your institution

If you don't know many other people who are doing a PhD, you might feel very isolated and like no one understands what you're going through. A good way to get to know other people in the same situation as you is to attend grad school events at your institution. It is always helpful to get to know other PhD students, especially those working in your field, so that you can support each other and trade tips on succeeding at a PhD.

Taking this time to meet and chat with other PhDs isn't only important socially – it's also a part of professional networking. So don't feel bad about taking a few hours after work to go out with your fellow PhDs.

Prioritize events and don't try to do everything

On top of your research work, when you do your PhD you'll have lots of other events to attend too: department meetings, grad school events, lectures, workshops, conferences, summer schools, and more. These extra events can absolutely help you in your PhD and you should definitely attend some of them.

However, you won't be able to attend everything – and if you tried to then you wouldn't have time for your research, let alone for time off. So prioritize these events – what is necessary, and what is optional? You are allowed to decide not to attend a lecture or other event if you are just too busy.

Create a timeframe for finishing your PhD

A difficult part of finding a balance with your PhD is that it is such a long-term project; usually it lasts at least three years, but often more. This makes it hard to know what goals you should be hitting when, which in turn means that you don't know when it is reasonable to take time off. A way to deal with this is by drawing up a timeframe of your PhD which plans the dates by which you would like to have achieved certain goals.

For example, maybe you would spend three months researching experimental methodologies, another three months designing and implementing your own methodology, six months of data collection, then a year on your data analysis and writing up a paper.

Once you have this timeframe, even if it is only approximate, you can feel more confident about your progress through your PhD and feel less guilty about taking time off. Knowing that you are hitting your targets will allow you to take social time more comfortably.

Header image credit: Pixabay.

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