A Story of Challenge: Finding the balance between the ‘Ying and Yang’

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We asked you to share a significant challenge during your PhD : here’s Halley’s challenge

Balancing the ‘ying’ of personal life with the ‘yang’ of professional life is a big challenge, no matter which profession you choose. Finding this balance was extremely difficult during Ph.D. Today I would like to shed light on some of my personal challenges which affected my ability to get through graduate school.

I came to the USA to get a master’s in Biology and joined a newly established lab to complete my thesis project. Around the same time, I was dating my now husband who was living 500 miles away. My PI was very happy with the amount of work I put into my research and within a year I had enough data for a publication, thus I decided to pursue my Ph.D. in the same lab. At the same time, things were hunky-dory in the dating phase although it was a long distance. Anticipating that my husband would find a job near me, we decided to get married during the 3rd year of my Ph.D. After which the most difficult part of my professional and personal life began.

Unfortunately, after marriage, my husband was unable to find a job near me which was very disappointing. But we still continued our long distance relationship. I was traveling whenever possible which meant a lot of time away from the bench and thus my productivity significantly dipped. My PI was unhappy with my progress and was not supportive of me taking any time off. I tried to compensate for my absence by working very long hours in the week. Thus, extended hours during the week and traveling on weekends exhausted me. My spouse was very understanding and supportive for the most part but would be frustrated not knowing when I would be done with grad school. This uncertainty affected our relationship significantly. It looked like my marriage was falling apart and so was my life long dream of getting a Ph.D. I started suffering from insomnia due to constant negative thoughts and I was unable to focus at work due to lack of sleep. I was tired all the time and felt like a living dead person. Slowly I slipped into depression and hit my rock bottom. That’s when I realized that I need to get my life back together and decided to visit my school’s counselor. She counseled me to accept the long distance relationship by not forcing my husband to move near me. Secondly, she suggested to join group exercise classes and do mindful meditation for 20 mins/day to deal with my anxiety. To tackle my loneliness she suggested that I spend more time with my close friends. I started incorporating her suggestions into my daily schedule. I made sure to exercise 5-6 days a week, be more social in the community and incorporate some self-care. At first I found this new lifestyle changes to be very time consuming, but eventually, I started seeing positive outcomes. I was able to sleep better, my work productivity boosted and most importantly I saw a substantial amount of improvement in my personal and professional relationships. I bagged two small research awards during this period which helped to lift my self-confidence and improved my relationship with my advisor. I was starting to see light at the end of the tunnel and was getting my life back together slowly.

At times achieving my goals seemed impossible. However, by seeking help to regain my physical and mental wellbeing, I was able to finish my degree and sustain my marriage. Currently, my husband and I are living a happy married life and am working as a Postdoctoral scientist.

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