Trying to find a balance

Back in the day I loved this song by Atmosphere called ‘Trying to find a balance‘. The title might suggest it’s a spiritual quest of some sorts and you could interpret it like this. Yet, for me it’s kind of a reminder of what I’m trying to do everyday: hussle, and when it’s balanced I achieved my goal.

‘Because these people do a lot of simple shit to impress us
While everyone was trying to out-do the last man
I was just a ghost trying to catch sony’s pac man’
Atmosphere _ Trying to find a balance

At the moment I feel like the ghost trying to catch pac man, pac man is the balance I’m chasing after while juggling teaching & writing. As soon as the calendar hits September I know that I will need to find a balance again of teaching 3 days vs researching 2 days, or the other way around. And this continues till April 2015. Now don’t get me wrong, I can’t do 9 to 5 jobs, so I’m super happy with my job, in which I do get the liberty of deciding to start at 10 and finish at 10 in the evening.. but what I’ve learned (and trid to cope with) for the past 3 years is finding a balance between these jobs.

Being a PhD student (hired by university and paid by university) is a fulltime job in some countries, well.. you’re a student: doing a PhD is a learning process in which you try to explore undiscovered territory and this discovery is what you write up in your dissertation. You’re a student. Sometimes you get to lecture other students, as assistent to a professor or you’re responsible for preparations or grading of a course you’re supervisor is working in. For me, teaching is part of the job. So, besides trying to cram 60% of my time into research, I have another 40% to fill with teaching. Teaching happens from September till May/ June, so I get most research done in summer time (the period when you actually would like a break from teaching ;)). This 40>60% position would a) prep you better for tenure and b) you actually build up two career experiences (as academic lecturer and as researcher).

When I started working in this position I barely had any teaching experience (I was good at doing presentations, but that was it). You can imagine how that felt in the first year (Am I good enough? Do these kids learn something from me? My god, I’m only 24, they’re 22, how will they ever take me serious?), and in the second (Didn’t we learn from this bad experience from last year prof? Why are we again passing out so many assignments > we’re just going to be grading for days again…). But in my third year, my investment in teaching so many tutorials (8 per year > 3 hours a 3 groups a week * an average of 26 students + exam supervision + correction/ review sessions) paid off. And I felt bored! Now wait up, wasn’t I complaining about balance? …

The investments I made in teaching took a chunk out of my time for doing research. I could conduct interviews/ field work etc. besides teaching 9 hours (and an equal amount of grading a week), but doing a PhD means you need time to think… To just think for a few days in a row… sometimes thinking for a week and if that works out, you can write for a week as well. I missed this in the balance I was trying to find for researching & teaching. I could start writing on Monday, but on Tuesday & Wednesday I felt interrupted by running a few tutorials and needing the most of Thursday to grade assignments or prep for the lessons the week after.

This year, my 3/5 PhD year, I finally found the balance. Or at least, I think I did, because every waking moment I’m dreading the start of September. I’ve had 4 months of not teaching to spend on research (from June till August) and it felt like a luxury. I took classes, I visited workshops: I felt like I was Learning! And not just in the educational term: I had to rewrite (hey, I had time for it!), I had time to think through the common threads of the thesis again (and of course kill a few of them but replace them with a new better one!), I had .. time. To think. To read. To write. To edit. To linger on a paragraph in Bourdieu’s The Logic of Practice.

And somehow by having had these few months of writing in one go, I build up the confidence that I’m able to find my balance back sooner when it starts getting out of hand. I had the time to create a great writing plan that I could oversee for the past few months and that is viable so far 😉 Because I had time, I was in need of time. I’ve got only two more years to go (which is actually not that much!) So that’s one thing, plus I can thrive on the teaching experiences from previous years picking up the same courses (with similar assignments) again. But did I find a perfect balance over summer? No. Will I? I don’t know, but every year I somehow manage to cram more things into it than previous year. So, there must be some improvement.

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