What is a “week-end”?

Throughout my grad school experience working weekends has become more and more common place. What’s more is now I often feel guilty the weekends I don’t go into work, especially if the alternative is just relaxing at home. And I know I’m not alone in this. But my question is “Is that healthy?” And I think we all know the short answer is “no”.

So why do we do it? Well I’ve justified it with the fact that getting a PhD isn’t the same as having a job. Despite being paid a stipend, a PhD is about the learning experience and research makes its own hours. Certain experiments have specific time lines that often don’t fall into the standard 9-5 work week; it’s just the nature of the work. Plus, on top of the hours physically at the lab, reading papers and preparing presentations at home just seems expected. But I’ve also noticed (and been guilty of) a culture that brags about the number of hours we put in; stories of 13 hour days and 2am time points described almost as badges of honour.

There are other factors in play as well. I love my flexible schedule, being able to come in late if I work later, or leaving early on a Friday to catch a train because I worked 10 hours on Tuesday. It’s one of the huge perks, the freedom to make your own schedule, to be accountable to yourself and your work. Every day is simultaneously Wednesday and Saturday. But it works the other way too. Knowing I can always put in more work on the weekend, maybe I’m not being as productive as I could be during the week. But in the end working at home each evening and coming in to the lab every weekend can lead to burn-out, no question.

Another factor is the high “failure” rate encountered in most fields. The truth of the matter is, experiments fail! A lot! So even if I am working, when my experiments aren’t, I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything. So I force myself to work harder or longer make up for that. Kathryn talks about this nicely in her post on grad life and mental health. So some weekends I find myself coming in with the express purpose of finding something to do, because I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished enough that week. The antithesis of this is when my experiences are working. Then I’m excited, motivated and happy to come in on the weekend. Because I want know the answer or finish the experiment. Those are the best weekends to work!

I can’t change the culture or the nature of the work, I can only change myself. So I’ve started to try and limit the extra hours I work on weekends and instead spend my down time taking care of the other things in my life, like cooking, laundry, exercise and sleep! But the caveat to that is I’m also trying to make my working hours count. Aleks has offered her tips for productivity and I’m working to be more organized. The only way this trade off will work is if I adhere to my schedule and don’t spend my work week surfing the web, answering e-mails or working on my extracurricular. Because in the end, there is still a lot of work to be done.

This is another chapter of me working on my work-life balance. I’m going to try and limit working weekends to only when I’m happy and motivated to do so (or I can’t avoid it) and focus on enjoying weekends away from the lab (mostly) free from guilt!


Banner Image by McGill Instagrammer @aleksbud // @gradlifemcgill

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