Posted in Recap, Support and healthy working

Recap: #ECRChat on Work/Life Balance

This week’s #ECRChat was hosted by Andrew Frayn. Andrew completed his PhD at the University of Manchester in 2008.  He has taught at the Universities of Manchester, Salford and Central Lancashire.  He is currently completing a monograph, Writing Disenchantment: British First World War Prose, 1914-1930. Here is his recap of the chat.

I was interested to see in the vote for the second #ECRchat that ‘Work/Life Balance’ received no votes.  I wondered whether that was because people thought they had it covered, or whether it was something which wasn’t really on the radar for ECRs.  Or, at least, whether it was something people hadn’t thought about in a structured way.  I started the chat by asking everyone which of these was the case, and the resounding response was the latter.  The point was also raised about whether ‘work/life balance’ is an appropriate term; the suggestion that work and life are so clearly separable.

An issue which clearly arose was a need to separate workspace from relaxation space.  Several people noted the problem of being in between jobs, or studying part-time, and having to work at home.  This often means that work feels omnipresent, or that academic work is in effect a leisure activity in itself, becoming a consuming effort on top of paid work.  Those who were able to separate physically or geographically from work seemed to have a better handle on it.  This sometimes meant working longer hours to keep work at work, but a higher quality of time once it was left behind.

The importance of making sure to take time off was stressed in the face of comments about feelings of guilt when not working– perhaps paradoxically, taking more breaks can increase the quality of academic work by maintaining freshness and focus.  A number of chatters noted that doing exercise or manual tasks was a good way to relax.  Suggestions ranged from various types of physical exercise, to yoga, gardening, baking, and many more besides.

Another issue was social circles, and relationships both with partners and friends.  Some respondents felt that it was hard for non-academics to understand the academic environment, workload, and ways of working; others have found that the regular reminder that academia is not everything was helpful.  Even in the first case, it was agreed that having non-academic friends was an important factor in keeping sight of external priorities.

A difficulty in relaxing for many was a lack of funds, and we finished by talking about what things can be done cheaply or for free.  There were fans of camping, walking, and a range of mind-numbing television programmes the like of which I couldn’t possibly recommend – watch at your own risk.  Museums and galleries are often free, but for arts and humanities PhDs and researchers something of a busman’s holiday.

What clearly transpired was that people are doing a range of things to relax, and that many of us need to think more carefully about how we relax and the amount of time we allocate to doing so.  As ECRs become ever-more pressured in terms of the output and achievement requirements to attain a permanent post, so it becomes proportionally more important to look at our working and relaxation practices in order not to burn out.

I’ve organised the Storify into groups about particular topics, rather than chronologically.  I hope it’s a useful resource for everyone – look after yourselves!


You can also download the archive of tweets from the chat, here #ECRchat_tweets_2012_08_16.pdf

#ECRchat will be back at the same time next week with your host Katie Wheat. Topic poll coming to the blog soon. That’s 11:00-12:00 in the UK (BST), 12:00-13:00 in Europe (CEST), and 20:00-21:00 in Australia (EST), on Thursday 23rd August.



Postdoc in psychology and cognitive neuroscience, researching visual word recognition. Likes MEG, TMS, fMRI, reading, waffles, and motorbiking.

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