Setting Boundaries

Setting work boundaries is one of the most important things you’ll need to learn. It’ll be useful as a PhD student, and onto whatever academic or non-academic work you might pursue. But how do you do it? Here, I’ve set out some examples that might help you determine your boundaries, and how you implement them.


One of the things that we all have the same amount of is time. Thus, it's really important to set boundaries about how you use, and when other people make use of or request use of your time.

So, I've got some tips here that I think might be useful for you. The first thing is to actually know what your boundaries are. So, I think it's really hard to let anyone else know what your boundaries are around time or how to use your time when you don't have a fixed understanding of what it is. So, I've seen this a lot where students in general don't want to work outside particular hours or they've got a part-time job that they want to make use of or get access to or whatever it might be, but they don't communicate that to whether that be other members of their research group. Whether that be to their supervisor. Whether that be to their actual part-time job about the importance of their PhD. So, there are constantly requests that they feel outside their boundaries. So, knowing your own boundaries first of all is a really easy way to start sticking to a particular boundary. So, that might be working 9 to 5. It might be not accepting meetings in the afternoon or only accepting meetings in the afternoon. So, the first step, make sure you know what your boundaries are, and I would strongly encourage you not just to think about it and come up with some ideas in your head but to actually write them down. Putting them on paper. Putting them digitally wherever you like to keep your notes will help make the boundaries more real for you.

The next thing to do is to communicate them with others. Now, this doesn't mean that you're going to send them a Google Calendar invite that says "Here's my work hours.", but it does mean if someone says "Hey Richard, can I have 15 minutes of your time on Monday afternoon or Monday evening to 6 o'clock?". I can say "No, I don't meet after 5 pm.". So, you'll need to choose another time, and that's as simple as that for you. You might or you might not tell them you need to choose another time. You can say, "I don't work after 5 pm but how does 3:30 pm work for you?", and you can go from there. o communicating them with others is really important.

The next thing, if you want other people to respect your boundaries, you've got to respect your own. So, if you set rules like "I don't meet after 5 pm.", Don't say "Yes" even to your supervisor. That just sends the wrong example that for some people the rules can break or in some circumstances the rules can break. So, make sure you really stick to them. So, there you go, some ideas about boundaries. How you can understand your own; how you can communicate them with others; and how you can try and stick to them yourself will help you keep a better control over when it is you do work, and who you do work for.