A variety of situations are likely to come up during the course of a mentoring relationship. Addressing these issues in ways that remain professional while also acknowledging the need to balance work and life can be challenging. Modeling how to perform such balancing acts can be a substantial component of being a mentor. At least three categories of personal situations come up often.
The first entails a discrete event or obligation that makes it especially difficult, or even impossible, to meet the obligations of the academic program for a time (i.e., a serious illness or injury for the student or family member, or the birth of a child). In these cases, the most important thing is to make sure the student is aware of relevant policies and resources. In some cases, it can be beneficial to discuss whether it would be better to take some time to focus on resolving the personal issue. Students should always consult with their advisor and/or program head to determine the feasibility of taking time off.
The second issue is that many graduate students, like faculty, struggle with work-life balance. Some have substantial family obligations, ranging from child care to ongoing care for an adult family member. These may limit when they can be on campus and which hours they can work. Mentors should be mindful of such circumstances. Other students are thinking about when or even whether to have children, move across the country or further for a job, or make similar commitments with large professional and personal implications. They often observe faculty closely to see how we have navigated similar choices, and they may ask directly about such decisions. Even when students do not bring up the questions directly, some infer much from what they observe, so faculty should be mindful of what they model.
The third issue that often arises is whether a student wants to continue with graduate school. Mentors should listen and provide encouragement but not judgment. Students raising such questions are often implicitly asking for encouragement and support. Others, however, may genuinely be questioning whether this is what they want to do with their lives; they should be able to discuss that question without a presumption that continuing is the only or best option.