Order of Operations

This post comes to us compliments of Melissa Corrente. Melissa is a part-time instructor of Health and Physical Education studies at the Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University, North Bay. We’d like to thank Melissa for her wonderful piece that advocates for balance and family while reinforcing the importance of persevering through academic work. 

I recently read a journal article titled Striving to Obtain a School-Work-Life Balance: The Full-Time Doctoral Student (Martinez, Ordu, Sala & McFarlane, 2013). Five full-time doctoral students were interviewed to explore their experiences, and four themes emerged from the data. Martinez et al. (2013) found that doctoral students strived to achieve a school-work-life balance by purposefully managing their time, seeking well-being, finding support, and making trade-offs. There was one participant who discussed the order of operations in the doc life which made me reflect on my own order of operations. I was never the greatest math student; however, I do remember learning about BEDMAS (brackets, exponents, division, multiplication, addition, and subtraction) in public school. Upon searching the internet I was surprised to find they use a new acronym now which you can see below.

Upon reflecting on the priorities in my life I came up with the acronym SMHPT (son, me, husband, PhD, teaching) to represent my current situation.

My son will be two years old in April, and he is my first priority. After my son, I take good care of myself which includes eating healthy, exercising on a regular basis, and socializing with friends. My husband and our relationship are also important, so we recently had a weekend getaway to recharge our batteries and enjoy the great outdoors. After taking care of my family, the PhD is the next order of operation, because I am currently working on my research proposal.

Order of Operations 1

It is my goal to finish the research proposal before baby #2 arrives in two months! At this point I will be switching my priorities and the baby will move to the beginning of the equation. Teaching was a priority for me last term, however this term my focus has changed to research. I do miss being in the classroom, however I am at peace with my decision.

I think it is important to remind ourselves that priorities change and our order of operations one day may not serve us the next day. I encourage you to explore the current order of operations in your own life. Are they serving you or do you need to make a few changes? I have found that managing my priorities on a day to day basis has served me well.

The Martinez et al. (2013) article also discusses how graduate students carry various competing roles. I try to see the roles in my life as complementing each other because I learn from each one and they inform who I am as a parent, scholar, and educator. As you experience the graduate journey think about how the various roles in your life complement each other. Don’t be afraid to reach out if you need support as I have learned that asking for help is a necessary part of the graduate school adventure!

Melissa Corrente

Order of Operations 2 



Martinze, E., Ordu, C., Sala, M. R. Della, & McFarlane, A. (2013). Striving to obtain a school-work-life balance: The full-time doctoral student. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 8, 39–59.

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