coffee, writing, and a spring {bike ride}. and a few more thoughts on surviving grad school.

Spring time bike ride yellow bike::yellow shoes

my work station away from home coffee

While T. is done writing his dissertation, I still have work to do on mine. So this past weekend, I left the baby with the husband and took off to a nearby coffee shop for some uninterrupted writing time. We’ve been enjoying some amazing Spring weather and it’s made riding a bike so much fun. I can’t believe that only last month, my bike rides looked like this. A little scary, actually.

I got a lovely bike ride, two hours on the patio of a local café, crepes, and a delicious latte to help ease the pain of working on a sunny Saturday.

But in all honesty, while I used to need these perks to make writing bearable, I don’t really require them anymore. I know that for some colleagues, the more they work on their dissertation, the more the frustration builds and they wonder whether writing it is really the right choice for them. For me, it has had the opposite effect. I had no idea how I was actually going to write a dissertation when I first began and I often felt like I had nothing worthwhile to add to class disscussions. With time, I’ve found my (academic) voice and have come to really enjoy my dissertation and the research and writing that has taken on a life of its own. I enjoy the moments spent in solitude in front of my laptop and feel as though I have many ideas to explore still on the topic of my dissertation.

I don’t know if I would feel the same way if I weren’t also a parent right now.

Being forced to keep my working hours to a limited number a day and getting to explore the different identities that make up my “self” at this point (mama, wife, runner, writer, cyclist, scholar) means that I never fully exhaust one. Before I have a chance to get bored with it, I’m pulled away and forced to turn to a new task. Sure, sometimes that can be frustrating when it feels like I’m expected to wear too many hats at once, but for the most part, it makes me appreciate each one of those components of my life and relish the time I get to spend on each activity that makes up my identity as a whole.

This past weekend, I enjoyed some much needed writing and editing time before putting my laptop away and joining my family for an afternoon at the lake. By the time the day ended, I had the smell of lake and sweat stuck to my clothes, a slight tan coloring my face, and the feeling of a day well spent in my heart. And I was ready to tackle more revisions the next day.

I’m not a “marriage pusher” nor do I think that you need to have children in order to lead a fulfilled life. I do not want my posts to come across like I’m pushing the heteronormative reproductive lifestyle (like how I snuck a bit of academic jargon in here ;) on my readers. All I want to say to the new grad student reading this is: do not lose who you are outside of your scholarship.

My first years were spent living apart from my partner, living and breathing my coursework and teaching assignments, and falsely believing that if I lived the life of an ascetic, I was doing my program justice. I also thought that if I spent as much time as possible on my scholarship (and denied myself the simple pleasures of living while at it), then I could not fault myself for any academic failures or short-comings too much. If I had spent every bit of possible time trying to work, then how could I feel too guilty when the outcome was not quite what I had hoped for and when a paper did not turn out as well as I would have wanted. I failed to see that I was setting myself up for academic burn-out and apathy.

Anyway, long story short: don’t forget to do the things you love outside of grad school. This beast can be all-consuming, all-engulfing, and entirely too monopolizing of your time and thoughts, so make sure to walk away every once in a while and remember that there is life outside of academia.

For me, this past weekend, that life looked like this…

lake views from an afternoon run

baby at the lake baby and papa

going for a run with baby lake

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About simplybike

{Bikes, a new baby, and the story of us.}
This entry was posted in Academia, Baby, Biking in a Dress, Family, Spring Cycling, Stylish Cycling, Vintage Peugeot. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to coffee, writing, and a spring {bike ride}. and a few more thoughts on surviving grad school.

  1. Ms. Cleaver says:

    I’m really enjoying reading about how you’re working to find balance between all your identities. Though not a grad student, I work a full time job I love in community development finance, have a side career designing knitting patterns, I’m also a wife, a pet-owner, and hopefully a mother in the next few years. I know it’s not easy to balance, but it is important not to focus all on one thing at the expense of everything else.

    • Simply Bike says:

      Ms. Cleaver – thanks for adding this comment! I hope that my posts resonate with others outside of grad school, I don’t want to assume since I don’t know what it’s like when working a more traditional 9-5 job. But in the end, the quest for balance is likely the same no matter what field you’re in. It’s hard but worth it. Sounds like you wear quite a few hats too :)


  2. BiblioMOMia says:

    Thanks for this, on this of all mornings. Juggling work and family has become insanely hard for me–mostly because I have a spouse who works 100 hr weeks, and so I don’t have much balance on our family scale. The “balance” tips to my side for everything from childcare to cooking to the mundane tasks of keeping a house livable, leaving me very little time for my academic life in the midst of toddler mayhem. However, I keep pushing at the scale, hoping that I’ll see the sides balance soon. Sometimes persistence is all you need!

    • Simply Bike says:

      BiblioMOMia – hang in there! that sounds really tough and I can (somewhat) relate. For the most part, T. has had the flexibility to really help out with his share of the parenting and child care so that I can also get out of the house every once in a while to focus on my dissertation. But he’s also expected to put in full time hours in his lab in addition to writing his dissertation, and since my fellowship allows me to work from home, it’s me who’s at home with the baby and the house chores all day long. In the end, we realized that it was a losing game trying to do it all ourselves and now we have the help of two babysitters that relieve me of childcare for a two hour period a day, 4 days a week.

      Right now, I feel like we’re in a really good place balance wise, we’ve somehow stumbled upon the equation that works best for us but it’s so easy to get off track and spin into a vortex of work and no life when juggling so many responsibilities. I hope things improve on your end and you find more time for family and your writing in addition to being a mom!


  3. Janelle says:

    I loved this quote from your post!

    “Before I have a chance to get bored with it, I’m pulled away and forced to turn to a new task. Sure, sometimes that can be frustrating when it feels like I’m expected to wear too many hats at once, but for the most part, it makes me appreciate each one of those components of my life and relish the time I get to spend on each activity that makes up my identity as a whole.”

    I am no longer is school but I often feel stretched between my roles in life and I just love your perspective on the advantages of multiple roles. In fact, the main thing I feared leaving college was that I would get bored during the daily duties of a regular work force member. Ha! I was very wrong about being bored. I have even found that even though my study time is much more limited, I am still stimulated by my job to continue to research new ideas. Now if only I had access to more academic journals outside of my work computer….. :)

  4. Nancy says:

    Thanks so much for your lovely advice. I’m in the middle of a PhD right now, heading toward the finish line of my comprehensive exams. “Academic guilt” is probably one of the hardest parts of dealing with grad school for me so far. Your thoughts on balancing work and life are so reassuring. I always tell myself “I’m a human being first, and a grad student second.” I’m a better student when I’m taking care of myself.

  5. I recognize that patio! Reading your blog reminds me so much of my time in the Midwest. Glad you feel like you’re getting stuff done. I remember writing with a baby. My mantra was always, “A good dissertation is a finished dissertation.” I think it’s always a balancing act and the identity shifts never change. I’m still getting used to being the mom of two and not one and working and trying to figure out how to fit in the stuff I love (running, reading, spending time with friends). It’s been a lovely evolution!

  6. Danni says:

    This was beautifully written. I think I started my academic tenure similiar to you—push, push push with little breaks. I thought this was demanded of biomedical science research (and to some extent it is). But, sometime after candidacy I figured out that I needed more or I would break. My husband says I was probably near a break–crying at 2am because of paper revisions, going back to lab after dinner and staying all night, etc etc.

    Learning to enjoy my time with my husband and friends helped me. It also let me see that my life is now and has so much more than just my research, which made my research ideas and experiments better because I was healthier and happier. Now, as we prepare for our baby girl in just 11 weeks and I try to finish my dissertation and defense I have slowed down to a pace that would make my first year self burst with anxiety! Yes, the deadline is looming. but so what?? In the end it will all work out. I have learned that my health and happiness matters, so if painting a dresser for the nursery or going for a walk or reading (my favorite lost activity) takes over my weekend then that is ok.

    What the previous commenter (Nancy) said is true and I wish the engineering and physical sciences supported this more: “I’m a human being first, and a grad student second.”

  7. Dave says:

    I think for everyone, it’s important to find a good balance between the different areas of life.

    For me, personally, the fact that I spend 8 hours a day with my co-workers, and 4-5 with my wife, is starting to wear on me. I’d love to reverse that, or at least even it out, as with both of us working, we don’t really need me to have a full-time income, but I’m not sure if I’d lose some of my benefits not being full-time or if my employer would let me back off. I definitely want to look into it though, and see if I could work out just being at work 3/4 time instead of full time. My life at home is important to me, and I don’t want to take more away from it than I need to in order to sustain it.

    I also want to look more into diversifying our income, and trying to earn some money from stuff we really enjoy like photography, crafting, sewing, etc. Things that can and do involve time together, rather than me sitting in my office at work all day.

    But at the same time, I don’t want to become dependent on those things as a source of income, as I want them to remain fun and something we can do as we feel motivated, rather than being forced to really push them.

    It’s probably a bit too idealistic to try to find a perfect balance between all of that, but it won’t stop me from trying to work it out as best I can :)

    I totally agree with you that, when you are striving to keep yourself a healthy person mentally, emotionally and physically, everything you do benefits. It can be really hard, as everyone has their agenda, and wants you to play into it, whether it’s healthy for you or not, but it’s really important, I think, to learn to say ‘no’, and really push to give yourself healthy limits and boundaries.

  8. Susan says:

    I love this. I am not a mom (yet, i hope) but I hear this all the time from academic moms (some of whom are superstars. Not that we have to be superstars): there isn’t enough time to procrastinate when other things take up your time. I’ve always been someone who generally thrived on lots of obligations rather than few (I get more done on a non-teaching day when I have many planned tasks rather than just “writing”. Even more if I have social obligations at the end of the day). Way to keep a great balance. Your weekend looked beautiful!

  9. Laura says:

    As a graduate student myself writing a dissertation I find this post very inspiring. Your positive take on life is contagious. I also admire that in the midst of all the things you do, this blog is growing and being fueled with fresh ideas and stories. It seems to me that as you approach the finish line of your dissertation and as you find joy in the process, this blog has become an extension of the now acquired writing habit. Congratulations to T for submitting his dissertation and thank you for sharing such full, grounded, and beautiful weekend!

  10. Alisha says:

    Your posts are very applicable to professional school students, too, and they are resonating with me. It’s so easy for vet school to take over your life if you let it, as there is ALWAYS more to do. Like you, I’ve been able to live a much healthier, balanced life, but initially I struggled with that balance. The first challenge was learning NOT to give my entire self over to school. The next challenge was learning not to feel guilty when I was adding more balance into my life. You make such an important point about not losing your identity outside of academia. I think that as academics, we are prone to that since we spend so much time before grad/professional school being defined by the activities it takes to get into those programs/schools…but then once you’re in the program, what do you use to define yourself? It’s good to remember that we’re whole people, not solely defined by our work. I’m so glad to find other people expressing this refreshing viewpoint. :)

  11. Heidi says:

    Lovely photos!
    You know, I thought I loved your hair long (from academichic) but I think your hair looks wonderful with the shorter cut! Plus, as a mother myself who went from long to short when I had a baby, I bet it makes mornings a little more streamlined. You look great!

  12. Roger says:

    As someone long out of secondary education, married with 3 kids, the trick is sustaining your wonderfully positive vibe over time. I agree that it’s healthy to embrace one’s myriad personae and shift effortlessly among them. The truth is that it’s far from easy. With multiple demands on your time and energy, you are yanked in one direction and then another – hardly given any time to fully assume whatever role is required of you for each exchange. That is the most frustrating part! I am happy to be Dad, Honey, jazz guitarist, cyclist, IT manager, or coffee roaster. Just let me settle in to any of those roles for a bit rather than fracturing me into several dysfunctional pieces! This being said, after 20+ years in the work force, I’m definitely biased towards my many other “real” (personal) facets rather than what is expected of me at my job. It wasn’t always that way. But life does have stages, and the script does change.

  13. Hannah says:

    It was so nice to see this post this morning! Trying to wrap everything I can up in the 5-8 weeks before this baby might arrive is taking its toll; the weekend was spent in front of the computer, with a good result workwise but not spouse- or dog-wise. So nice to hear that on the other side things may start making more sense…

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