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Career Assets

Balancing “Work” and “Life” for Young Academics


Dr. Danny M. D’Amore, Outreach Lead

September 2023

The “work-life balance” is something commonly discussed in all professional spaces at all career stages, but it can be exceptionally difficult for post-docs, early career scientists, and young professionals in academia to navigate this challenge. Part of this issue stems from the unique pressures put on young academics: teaching, research, publishing, securing funding, mentoring, service commitments…the list goes on. It can be easy for an early career scientist to hit burnout while trying to achieve all of these things, and it is much more difficult to recover from burnout than it is to prevent it.

How can an early career academic achieve a work-life balance without burning out?

1. Time Management: One of the most important basics of establishing a work-life balance is scheduling time to achieve your tasks. By laying out time to prepare for classes or scheduling a specific time to grade, days can feel more organized, and less time is spent wondering “what to do” or trying to get materials together to accomplish a task. This also allows you to better prioritize tasks that are more important or time sensitive, helping reduce any “last minute crunches” that can really put a strain on you.

2. Setting Boundaries: As much as early academics can feel pressured to “do it all”, especially when up for a promotion, juggling too many responsibilities will inevitably end in dropping one (or more) balls. Letting someone know your plate is too full properly sets expectations – and is ultimately more professional than taking on a task you will later have to back out of. As hard as it is to say ‘no’ to joining a committee or taking on another student, it is important to be honest with yourself about the amount of time and resources you have available.

3. Setting Realistic Expectations: As we just noted above, it is vital that you are honest with yourself about your time and your abilities. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, and you will not do your best work if you are cutting out things such as sleep or regular meals to make time to fit in more obligations. It is also important to remember that seeking perfection will put undue stress on you, which will quicken the road to burnout.

4. Engaging in Self-care: This includes both mental and physical health. Just as it is important to set boundaries about when and where you work, it is equally as important to make sure that you get enough rest (not just sleep!), make time for physical wellness, and engage in social activities outside of work. Engaging with others is a great way to build a support system as well as release some stress you might be carrying from the workday.

5. Periodic Assessments: What worked for you six months ago might not be effective now. Your duties might change, as might your goals. It’s important to regularly assess where you are, what techniques are working for you, and what you might need to change to continue balancing your work and your personal life. There is nothing wrong with changing things up if something no longer benefits you.

Perhaps most importantly, please do not be afraid to ask for help if you find yourself struggling. Mentors and colleagues can be great assets to learn different strategies, and friends and family outside of academia can help you look at issues in a different light. There are also professional resources available, including mental health professionals or time management tools, that might be useful if you find you need a little extra structure. The best plan is ultimately the one that works for you.

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