Three Boundaries Every Graduate Student Should Keep

financialpressuresGraduate school requires a self-starting attitude. It requires being disciplined with your time and regularly assessing your short-term and long-term goals. But when you combine your research with your TA responsibilities, your own classwork, personal life, and dissertation prep, it can quickly bleed together. The rise of smartphones and mobile technology doesn’t make it any easier. If you’re not diligent about setting boundaries in your life, you will quickly find that you don’t have time for the things that matter most to you. While everyone will set those boundaries in different ways, there are three areas of life that we believe must be protected to succeed in graduate school.

Your Work

Obviously, you have made tremendous sacrifices in life to be in graduate school. Some students with families live under federal poverty standards while pursuing their doctorates. Especially if you have tenure-track aspirations, you’re not in it for the money or the acclaim. You love what you’re studying and you want to make a contribution to the field.

Since you’ve invested so much into being where you are, don’t let it go to waste. Just as you would with any job, be focused when you’re in the office or in the lab. Take advantage of every minute on campus to get as much done as you can. Take every precaution to eliminate distractions that might derail your attention to your work. At the end of the day, your university filtered through many candidates before choosing to invest in your education. As stressful as it might get, it’s an opportunity that so few people will enjoy in life. Don’t let it slip through your fingers!

Your Family

So many graduate students forget the sacrifices that their families make while they pursue an education. Don’t neglect your spouse, children, or significant other during your graduate years. Set aside non-negotiable times to enjoy each other’s company and make the commitment not to let your work interfere. It could be a standing date night every weekend or a dedicated time at the end of the day together. Mark it on your calendar as an appointment that can’t be broken and get creative in how you date your spouse!

Those family relationships are foundational to your overall stability and it’s easy to neglect them in the midst of your mounting deadlines. Make the decision now that your family is more important than your research and let your time management reflect it.


A good friend of mine recently made the comment, “Don’t take your health for granted. Take care of your body, not just so you’ll look good but so you’ll remain mentally sharp.”

He was right. Your physical health impacts your mental capabilities more than you could ever imagine. Set aside time to exercise and make an appointment with your bed every night for at least 7 hours. Be mindful of your snacking habits while in the office and make healthier food choices. Additionally, take some time to wind down at the end of each day to process your thoughts and relax your brain. Turn off electronics like your cell phone and television. These habits will help you approach each new day refreshed and alert.

Discuss: What other boundaries would you say are important to maintain in graduate school?

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