One of the main challenges faced by graduate students and newly appointed professors is finding the time to both fulfill one’s professional obligations and enjoy one’s personal life. In many respects, the challenge is not new—we’ve been aware of the difference between the personal and the professional since we were just children. Admittedly, things were simpler back then. So-called “professional” obligations did not consist of much more than homework and chores, and our personal activities seemed to encompass everything else. Professional academic life, however, is not as straightforward or easy to manage.
Over the next several months, I’ll be exploring a series of issues that arise with regard to balancing personal and professional life in the context of academic philosophy, and the posts on this topic will be part of the aptly-titled Balance Series. Achieving the ideal balance is, I suspect, an obstacle that all academic philosophers have confronted at one time or another, and for those early in their philosophical careers (like myself), the challenge can loom especially large. After all, graduate students and newly appointed professors are bombarded with a myriad of new professional commitments that can put a substantial strain on the other aspects of their lives that they enjoy.
In this initial part of the series, I identify 6 aspects of a well-balanced academic life (3 from the personal sphere and 3 from the professional sphere). Although I doubt that these 6 aspects will capture everything necessary to make for a well-balanced academic life, they should still serve as a useful framework for approaching the topic.
Let’s start with the personal sphere—the realm of activities that seem indispensable to a fulfilling life even though we are under no professional obligation to perform them. I hope the majority of our personal activities can be categorized into these three areas:
- Solo: These are the activities we enjoy in our solitude. Among other things, these activities can include reading, writing, working out, and playing videogames. I have yet to meet anyone—no matter how social—who doesn’t occasionally need time to herself.
- Interpersonal: These are the activities we enjoy with others. They include all things we do with our families, friends, and (often) our other acquaintances, ranging from a romantic evening with one’s spouse to a chat over lunch with a professional colleague.
- Subsistence: Unlike the other two categories, these activities are frequently ones we do not enjoy. They refer to the many mundane tasks we must do to fulfill our basic needs. Activities like cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, paying bills, and buying groceries fall into this category.
Now let’s turn to the professional sphere—the realm of activities we are professionally obligated to perform as part of our academic jobs. Mirroring the personal sphere, I divide the professional sphere into 3 subcategories of activities:
- Research: I define research activities pretty broadly. Basically, anything related to furthering one’s research falls into this category. This includes (among other things) reading journal articles, completing graduate coursework, revising old paper drafts, presenting at conferences, submitting to journals, and writing one’s dissertation.
- Teaching: Anything directly related to teaching undergraduate students falls into the teaching category. Some of these activities are course preparation, holding office hours, running class sessions, and grading.
- Administrative: I label all other profession-related tasks (i.e., those not clearly nestled under the teaching and research categories) as administrative activities. These tend to be the most mundane of our professional activities and include sending emails to colleagues, filling out forms, returning library books, and so on. However, this does not mean that administrative tasks are not time consuming. For example, applying for jobs falls into this category, and that process is immensely time consuming.
I must stress that these categories are not mutually exclusive. If one enjoys reading academic philosophy, for example, then reading academic philosophy could easily be considered both a solo and research activity. Similarly, discussing a paper with a colleague over lunch could qualify as both an interpersonal and research activity. But remember that these labels are only meant to serve as a foundation for further inquiry into how to achieve the ideal balance between personal and professional activities.
Next time, I’ll look at a question that we all confront as we plan our summer vacations: how long should our vacations last? More specifically, how long can we disconnect from our professional lives without neglecting too much work or being too intellectually rusty when we return? I'll try to answer these questions (and others) on the next installment of the Balance Series.