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Recognizing and Preventing Burnout in Grad School

4 min. di lettura · Di Academic Positions

Academia is a field where the line between work and life tends to get a bit blurry. High workloads, high expectations are a recipe for stress—and prolonged stress leads to burnout. Burnout means being emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted. Someone who is burnt out always feels tired, has no motivation, can’t focus, is inefficient, apathetic, and hasn’t been performing at their usual level. Once you recognize that you are feeling burnt out, here are some things you can do to recover.

Find a Hobby

Do an activity that forces you to take a break from working and have some fun. You could join an intramural sports team, take a pottery class, or join your student association. If organized activities aren’t for you, make an effort to do fun, non-work-related things with your friends on a regular basis.

Set Work Hours

Academia isn’t a traditional nine to five job. This often gets construed as a justification for working nights and weekends and is a one-way ticket towards burnout. As a PhD student, you will always have a never-ending-stream of work, but one way to take control of it is to set work hours for yourself. Decide you’re going to work from ten to six or twelve to eight and then work as efficiently as you can during those times. Once you’re done for the day, relax and recharge for the next one.

Change Your Surroundings

If your research allows you to be mobile, try working in a new setting. Spend the day in your local public library or a quiet coffee shop rather than your graduate student office or university library. A change of scenery can provide a nice break from your regular routine and might help you look at a problem in a new way. Even changing up the way you work for a day can be a nice break. Go screen-free for the day (if you can) and focus only on book chapters and journal articles.

Find a Community

Doing a PhD can be very isolating, especially once you get to the dissertation phase. If you don’t work in a lab, you are probably conducting your research entirely alone. Having a support system, both academic and not, is crucial for working through this isolation. Attending a reading group or thesis writing workshop can help you feel less alone and work through any roadblocks you’re experiencing.

Improve Your Time Management

Poor time management skills can increase your stress levels. If due dates are constantly creeping up on you, you’ll end up pulling all-nighters to make your deadlines. Keep track of your deadlines is a simple way to start improving your time management. If you’re naturally a last-minute person, fight those instincts and start working on projects weeks before they’re due.

Set Realistic Goals

Having big aspirations can be incredibly motivating, but then can also add a lot of pressure. A key part of goal setting is choosing goals that are achievable and realistic given your time and resources. Breaking your goals down further into smaller deadlines helps you see the progress you’re making towards your goals and prevents you from feeling like you’re working all the time without any results.

Change the Conversation

If you ask a grad student how they are, it’s not unusual to hear “busy” or “tired” or “stressed” followed by a list of the work they still have to do. Rather than perpetuate a culture of overworking, steer the conversation away from work towards your other interests. Ask questions like “have you seen any good movies lately?” or “what TV shows are you watching right now?”

Take Care of Yourself

Eating well, getting enough sleep, and being active are the foundations of self care. Your health (and productivity) will suffer if you don’t make an effort to take care of your body and mind.

Graduate students experience depression and anxiety at six times the rate of the general population. If you are struggling emotionally and psychologically and need support, contact the counselling and mental health services at your university. These professionals can provide resources, support groups, and counselling sessions to help students recover.

Di Academic Positions  ·  Pubblicato 2019-02-01

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