Health Hero: Finding a Healthy Balance

Posted by: | October 27, 2010

by Jennifer St.Onge

The graduate student life can be an amazing, rewarding experience, but it can also be very stressful, so finding a healthy balance is a challenge. Like many grad students, in addition to conducting research I’m also an employee of UBC as a Teaching Assistant (TA). My role as both student and UBC employee brings many challenges to maintaining a healthy well-being.

Although TAs are told to expect 6-12 hours of work a week, the workload is often unpredictable and usually not evenly distributed making it difficult to organize my time. It is tricky to have almost “two bosses:” a research supervisor and a TA supervisor. I constantly strive to be a good teacher and build positive social interactions with my students, which can take a lot of time and work. There is also a lot of pressure to be successful at both research and teaching, which can be overwhelming at times, since both are criteria for funding and future job applications.

I have found a few things over my time at UBC that help me combat the stress and keep the teaching experience enjoyable and rewarding:

  • had up-front discussions with both supervisors to establish both their expectations and mine
  • learned more about teaching and built up my confidence by going to workshops and getting certifications through the Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Technology at UBC. There are some great, supportive people at CTLT that can be really helpful for finding out about upcoming workshops, resources, contacts, etc!
  • joined support groups for teaching fellows in my department where students can discuss issues and seek solutions from others (a great venue for relieving stress verbally)
  • continued to make being active a priority and taking advantage of cheap student/staff rates by playing volleyball through UBC Rec.
  • joined the UBC Meditation Community to have some relaxation time to break up the busy day and regain my focus.

It has also been important for me to think carefully about my priorities, both for the short and long-term. Some of the best advice I have received is: “It is up to you to determine what your graduate experience looks like so it’s important to use your years here to take advantage of any opportunities that you are interested in.”  Although I have certainly felt the pressure from different faculty or instructors to use my time in certain ways, it has been important to focus on what makes me happy and fulfilled so that I can have the best experience possible.

I know that it is tricky for a lot of faculty and graduate students to balance their different roles and priorities.  So I am wondering what you do to achieve a healthy balance between research and teaching?

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