Going home for the holidays: how to mix math and family time + BONUS dad jokes for holiday de-stressing

Going home for the holidays can be hard when you’ve got a lot on your plate. Thus I present to you my most useful tips for getting the most out of mixing family time and graduate student responsibilities.

If possible, do not

Breaks are important! This is a concept I’ve covered in a previous post, but the breaks I was talking about there were on a much smaller scale. Time off from work, or vacation time, is proven to reduce stress, increase mindfulness, improve sleep, promote heart health and boost brain power. Therefore, if you can afford to dedicate your days to vacationing while on official break time, try to do so! However, in the likely event that work is unavoidable, accept that and make a plan.

Make time for break time

First of all, choose days that you will not do work. Major holidays and celebrations are easy ones, but you should also consider the days leading up to and following times with a lot of activity. For me, that means giving myself plenty of space surrounding travel time. The 13-hour drive from Atlanta to Delaware makes this essential. Also remember that designating time to spend with loved ones is important, but you also need to designate time to spend by yourself, relaxing. While I love my family, time with them isn’t usually “calming,” so make sure you pencil those days into your schedule as well!

For the days that you do work: plan!

Have some structure! Decide ahead of time what you will be doing on what days and for how long. Maybe you work best in the mornings and prefer to take time off in the evenings. Great! Plan that out! Setting a schedule ahead of time helps to alleviate the stress of not knowing when you can accomplish your tasks. Also, don’t be afraid to be flexible. Several days can be categorized as work days with the caveat that it’s only a work day if there is nothing better to do. So you have the option to work, but if a better plan comes along, you can change your mind and not feel guilty! These types of days are for lighter, more optional work (i.e. writing a syllabus, sending emails, tracking down citations).

Communicate with family ahead of time

Friends and family may not understand or may feel sad if we choose not to participate in traditions or outings due to some looming deadline they know not of, so make sure you give advanced warning about plans you may be skipping. Since attempting to explain the stress of qualifying exams to someone that has never studied for one cannot really do the feeling justice, it’s crucial to make sure your family knows you’ve set aside time just for them. It is also crucial that you set firm boundaries about how you plan on doing that.

Create an elevator pitch about what you do

This may sound weird, but most of your family likely does not comprehend the math you do on a daily basis. For those odd aunts and uncles who you see once a year, a few prepared sentences about your research area can be a lifesaver when a full explanation might be out of their grasp. For me this looks like: I enjoy computational number theory, which means I like to search for integer or rational solutions to equations using programs. This has some cool applications in cryptography, like in the way your phone exchanges data!” Is it entirely accurate? Maybe not, but my mother has spent four years telling her peers I study computational analysis and prime numbers, so do what you can.

Finally, be present when you are present (there is a pun here somewhere)

Try not to worry about work when you are with your family or relaxing. Winter break is several weeks long, and there will be time to accomplish what you need to. Stressing about your work instead of enjoying yourself is never a good way to spend a holiday. 

+Bonus dad jokes for holiday de-stressing

Q: How much did Santa have to pay when he went to buy his sleigh? 

A: Nothing. Because it was on the house.

Q: Why isn’t every man in a red suit with a beard Father Christmas?

A: Because correlation doesn’t imply Claus-ation.

Q: How do you find the value of taking Yule the the xth power? 

A: You take the yule log!

Q: Why does Santa always enter a home through the chimney? 

A: Probably because it soots him.

Q: What’s every elf’s favorite type of music? 

A: It’s wrap.

Q: Why did the Grinch decide to go to the haunted house the other day? 

A: Because he was searching for the holiday spirit.

More can be found here!

About alexisnewton

Alexis Newton is a second year Ph.D. student at Emory University studying computational number theory. She earned her master's degree at Wake Forest University. She is also an instructor for Emory Math Circle and a co-organizer for Emory's weekly graduate student seminar in algebra and number theory. Outside of the math department, Alexis enjoys reading, writing, and playing with her cat Alfie.
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