Balancing your career

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Many clinical academics report that their dual role provides extra variety in their working week, helping to avoid the potential for monotony and burnout. However, it does mean that you will need to manage your time appropriately across two professional domains. The following tips should help you to strike a balance between your clinical, academic, and personal life.

Be realistic

Have a realistic sense about what you can achieve, and over what timescale. You will need to juggle many different priorities in your career, these may include:

  • Your patients
  • Your research
  • Your personal wellbeing
  • Your family
  • Grant applications
  • Writing papers
  • Marking assignments
  • Your collaborators
  • Requests from strangers/students/journalists

The order of priority of these will change over time depending on your workload, training requirements, your personal circumstances and events completely outside your control (nobody in 2019 expected they would need to drop their training and research to focus on COVID-19). Having a good sense of your own capabilities, strengths and weaknesses, your current capacity, and the priority level of a task can help you plan your time. Be aware that you will often need to set self-imposed deadlines may be necessary, particularly for your academic work.

Set yourself some boundaries and try to stick to them

You might want to start by deciding how many hours a week you feel able to work, and dividing up your time from there. The limit may fluctuate over the course of your career. Setting yourself a daily finish time, or limiting how much you are prepared to take on over the evening and weekends, can help. You might also want to set some ‘do not disturb’ hours for your email inbox.

Be collaborative

Healthcare is becoming increasingly collaborative, with organisations integrating their services and teams moving toward interdisciplinary working. Networking is an important skill in clinical academia, particularly for those who are not on structured training programmes like the integrated pathway. You will find that the greater a network you build for yourself, the more opportunities will come your way.

Another advantage to collaborating early in your career is that you will see that those around you experience the same trials and challenges that you do. In a competitive and stressful career it is common to feel overwhelmed and undervalued. Having a network of trusted colleagues will help you through these times and identify imposter syndrome for what it is.

Learn when to say no

You might be tempted to take on every offer of collaboration, work experience, or other extracurricular work – especially when you are starting out. This is understandable, particularly if you are still considering what area you want to specialise in. But you might end up over-burdening yourself which can lead to burnout or having to back out of commitments you have made. While it is good to appear keen, you do not want to gain a reputation for being unreliable.

Find the right mentor

The role of mentor is often confused with that of your supervisor, but these are two distinct roles. Your supervisor is responsible for formally overseeing your training in a structured fashion. Although they often provide some pastoral care this is not primarily their role and you might find that they are not ideally suited to offer impartial support of a personal or emotional nature. This is why having a mentor who is more removed from your day-to-day work can be valuable.

Not all schools and universities offer formal mentoring schemes. If this is the case for you, it may still be possible to arrange an informal mentoring   

Make time for your mental and physical health

Basic things like getting enough sleep each night, eating well and exercising regularly will really help.  Having a self-care routine is important, and this will be different for everyone. You might find meditation helps, or having a creative outlet of some kind. Try to take some regular time to clear your head and relax – whatever that looks like for you.

Have other interests

You don’t need to be a concert standard pianist or a county standard runner, but it is important to have things you enjoy doing, even if you are not very good at them.  Spend time with friends and family - relationships need investment if they are to survive.

Keep asking yourself if you are having fun

If you are  - great, keep doing it. If not, it might be time to do something different