This week, my department had the misfortune of losing a student. She had completed all of her coursework, passed her comps, and apparently was making good progress on her dissertation. While working on her comps, she completely neglected her health and worked far too hard, and it was more than her body could stand. Such a tragic loss for so many reasons: She was a kind person, always inquisitive, and an incredibly hard worker. The “worst” of her graduate studies were behind her, and she was really looking forward to making a life here for herself and her daughter (who is also a grad student), and now she’ll never enjoy the fruits of her labor.
As much as we all joke around about letting everything else in our lives go to pot during grad school, it really is no laughing matter. As a grad student, your work is never done. Ever. Merely doing the bare minimum will not get you by. There’s no point in pursuing a graduate degree if you’re not willingly going the extra mile, anyways. That said, at some point, you have to cry “Uncle!” You are not going to fail out of grad school if you allow yourself to sleep 7 hours rather than 4 hours a night. (If you are, then your problems are far greater than just some sleep.) Taking 30 minutes to eat something really is OK. Exercise is even better. It seems impossible to fit in that yoga class or 5K run in between reading, completing assignments, going to class, fulfilling your assistantship duties, working on your own research, etc., but if eating well, sleeping enough, and exercising regularly means that you will live to reap the benefits of your work, I’d say that you can’t afford not to do these things. Love your body, and it will love you back.
I used to be a masochist when it came to school. In college, I’d practice anywhere from 2 to 5 hours a day (I was a music major), after having a full day of classes (sometimes literally 8AM-5PM), and keeping a part time job on top of all of that. My diet was terrible, I exercised only occasionally, and sleeping more than 5 hours a night was indeed a rarity. I paid the price in many ways, and now that I’m sleeping 7-9 hours a night, exercising a few times a week, and eating a well-balanced vegetarian diet, I feel happier. Moreover, I feel like I’m actually more productive than I am when I deprive myself of my basic needs. The amount of time I “lose” to caring for myself is quickly made up.
While I realize this all sounds easier said than done, I encourage anybody who isn’t caring for him/herself to stop this self-torture and be kind to yourself. None of us knows how many days we have been allotted, and I say that we should enjoy them while we can.