Trainee survival tips: the importance of self-care

Being a graduate student or postdoc can be hard at times. Okay, often really hard. Picture this: It’s very late at night, and we find a frustrated scientist alone in the lab, head in hands, completely exasperated, not knowing what to do next. Sound familiar? We’ve all been there. However, being a successful scientist can be equally as hard. Picture this instead: a scientist at the office busily revising a manuscript, drafting the next paper, preparing for a talk, and submitting several grant applications. Even when things are going well there can be many stressors that can build upon each other. The key to surviving any career in science is to appreciate and practice self-care.

What is self-care? Self-care is about more than just some mental health trend about wellness. It’s being aware and mindful of yourself and your needs. Self-care involves intentionally making yourself a priority, but that does not mean you have to do so selfishly. Fundamentally, to practice self-care you need to know who you are, what makes you happy, and respect where your limits are.

Self-care entails mindfulness:  it is absolutely necessary to take the time to know and understand yourself better. Some things can be answered readily, such as whether you prefer to be sociable at work or independent. Other aspects of self-awareness can require more thoughtful introspection. For example: how do you respond to changes or stressors? Taking the time to know your own temperament, and how you perceive and engage with the world around you are the foundation for understanding what makes you happy and what constitutes your limits.

Although self-care is ultimately an individualized experience based on your unique sense of self, here are five general tips to help you implement self-care:

  1. Find something that you enjoy and try to incorporate it into your daily routine. This can be anything from reading for leisure, playing a sport, or spending time with your pets.
  2. Choose the right people to socialize with. Try to focus your energy on those who make you feel good, and allow you to laugh and take things more lightly.
  3. Take a break when you need it. Self-care is about recognizing your limits and taking the time to slow down or stop when you’re doing more than you are used to. If necessary, get a change of scenery and go for a walk. When you decide to resume your work, you will be more relaxed and ready to get things done.
  4. Take time to decompress each day. Figure out how you best relax your mind and clear out the daily “noise.” Then take the time to allow your mind to rest and reset before beginning a new day. You can meditate, practice some yoga, or simply listen to some music.
  5. Love yourself. While it is essential to know yourself, keep in mind that you are unique and also deserving of self-love and self-compassion.

Being a trainee can be very difficult, and may take a toll both mentally and physically. So, remember to take the time to be mindful of yourself. Comment below to share your self-care tips!

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the views of the author(s) and do not represent the official policy or position of ASCB.

About the Author:

Ashley is a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Sandra Schmid at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. She is investigating the mechanisms of focal adhesion turnover by clathrin-mediated endocytosis. Email: Twitter: @alakoduk