Time Balance as a MD/PhD Student

Q (from ask.fm): As a MD/PhD student, do you have any time for yourself? For family and friends? To just take a break? I would like to do a MD/PhD program, but I want to enjoy my 20s…

A: Of course you have time! I fully want to enjoy my 20’s as well so even if I don’t feel like I have time, I MAKE time to enjoy it. When you’re in the graduate portion of your PhD, your free time is really based on how much your PI will push you (or how much you push yourself). It is an important consideration when you pick a lab. If the PI is understanding and aware that people are not robots who just work 24 hours a day to produce data, then you should be granted the time that you need. In fact, I’ve had PI’s tell me to go home because I’m in lab too late or I’m there on a weekend!

I actually just read a blog post today about this culture of pushing scientists too far (in response to a sad situation), and a particular quote from it stood out to me:

“The best (and more importantly, happiest) scientists I know are people who are interested in many things, who approach all aspects of their lives with engagement, purpose and openness.”

There seems to be a cultural shift away from pushing students too hard, which makes me glad. Obviously, we want to be successful and have a lot expected of us (which only increases as we progress through our careers), but we have to appreciate our own limits as well.

As someone who enjoys writing for fun, watching sports games, enjoying my weekend nights out with friends, going home to see family and friends (which requires an eight hour drive one way for me right now), playing musical instruments, and many more leisurely activities, I believe that doing so makes me better at what I do by keeping me happy and healthy. I believe that everyone can make time to have a life if they work hard enough to do so. Not only that, I also believe that they all SHOULD. It may take a little work to figure out how to balance everything, but it can be done and it is definitely worth it. As long as you find a program and an advisor that understands that you need to have a life outside of school, you will have the time that you need.

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Hanna is a MD/PhD student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She aspires to become an academic physician-scientist specializing in medical oncology and dedicated to improving cancer immunotherapy. The energy she once used to pep up crowds as a member of a college marching band is now directed toward exciting and educating others about science and medicine especially through her tweets at @MDPhDToBe and her blog at www.mdphdtobe.com.

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Posted in Frequently Asked Questions, Medical School, Science Writing

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