The balance between "a lot of work" and "too much work"

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Last time I talked about my PhD committee. Since then, a bit more than 2 weeks ago, I've been at the lab every single day, weekends included. Not just to pass some cells, but we are talking here a full morning or even a full day. I've been arriving to the lab earlier than before, mostly because that allows me to do all my prep before anyone else arrives or to take the microscope for longer hours. I've been leaving the lab later than before, making sure that everything is done and that even my lab book is up to date. Meanwhile, on my personal life, we've had a couple of birthdays, a wedding and a couple of family reunions, and we haven't skipped any of them.

I'm exhausted.

Here is the thing. I'm not complaining. I made my plan and I like it. Sure it means I have 3 experiments running at the same time almost every day and planning is taking a bit longer than usual, but so far it has been worth it. I've encountered some problems, and that's to be expected, but I'm getting a lot of data, which is great. My boss is out for another 2 weeks and for the first time in a long time I am actually exited to have a meeting with him, since I think I have good things to report.

But usually when I get cramped weeks like these, my family starts to worry. Remember they are on another country and so, for them, to know that I am at the lab all the time translates into I'm burning out myself. I think I have mentioned it before, but I am the first one in my family to go into research and it has been a long road to explain to them that long hours for them is not the same it is for me. Still, they worry that I am taking on too much.

And here is the question. What is too much? For me too much comes only when you start sacrificing the quality of the things you are doing. I've seen people cut on washes of their cells, to "gain" 10 more minutes on the microscope, and then wonder why they have too much noise in their signal. I believe that as long as you manage to plan your day well enough and you are honest about your work rhythm, you can easily tackle more than one experiment at a time. I know my max (and I am referring to big experiments here) is 3 big ones at a time. Once I tried 4 (immunofluorescence, synchronized phagocytosis, running a gel for Western Blotting and a 2D gel) and I ruined 1 which meant I had to start from scratch.

So there has to be a balance between all the things you want (or need) to do and the ones you can actually do, without losing yourself while doing it. It's ok to be exhausted but it's not ok to be burned out. The reason why I haven't say no to all of those events I mentioned before is that I need those to get some extra energy. As much of an introvert that I can be, the more hours I spend in the lab, the more I need a bit of interaction with my friends and family. So, as tired as I might be, that's not something I am willing to compromise. The balance I have achieved is a very tenuous one, but one that is giving me a lot and hence I am doing my best to keep it.

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