Headshot of Lisa Garcia BedollaMy colleague recently suggested that I write a message to graduate students promoting “work-life balance” in graduate school. I had to admit that I think the idea of “balance” is the wrong frame. It implies that the goal is to reach some idealized equilibrium where all your work, social, familial and academic pressures magically even themselves out.

For me, a more appropriate analogy is surfing: the waves will come, you have no control over them, and the goal is to balance to the best of your ability. But wiping out is to be expected. There will be times that you will need to devote your energy and attention primarily to work, or family, or self-care — whatever is most pressing in that moment. The art of riding these waves of shifting responsibilities is a life skill that requires practice, patience, and self-acceptance. You will wipe out. I have — many times. The key is to get back up on that board and seek the support you need to stay upright, be it from family, friends, or your academic community. They will be there to cheer you when you ride the wave and to help you cope with the inevitable failures when they happen.

If you want to improve your surfing form, here are some tips I’ve learned along the way:

Take up a hobby!

The path to academic self-discovery in graduate school can be challenging on multiple levels. Presenting your ideas and work to faculty and peers can be stressful and scary. It can be hard to maintain perspective on what really matters if you do not take the time to engage in activities that feed your soul and sense of self. In graduate school, I found that walking my dogs and baking bread helped me reset, refresh, and find the energy and tenacity I needed to get through my program. These “sanity breaks” were key to my ability to stay positive and persevere through difficult times.

Spend time with loved ones.

Don’t isolate yourself in graduate school! I can’t emphasize this enough. Take the time to connect with friends and loved ones both inside and outside of your academic community. Celebrate the small wins along the way and show up for your loved ones when they need you — staying connected will pay dividends for the rest of your life.

If you find you need support navigating your studies or managing your responsibilities, please reach out to University Health Services or to Larissa Charnsangavej, our Student Life Specialist. As you start the new semester, consider joining one of the many skill and support groups available to graduate students, or enroll in one of the free online courses offered through UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. These support systems will help ensure your well being and professional success. Please don’t hesitate to reach out and to take advantage of the many resources that Berkeley has to offer. We want you to thrive!

Fiat Lux,

Lisa García Bedolla

Vice Provost for Graduate Studies
and Dean of the Graduate Division