Graduate Studies; One step at a time!!!!

Grad school burnout!

Posted by saintdeb on January 3, 2008

A classic catch-22 situation as was described by this article which I stumbled upon, when it came to the lives and issues plaguing graduate students! The fact that most universities and researchers do recognize the problems but the acknowledgement has started only since the last few years makes it a very important issues to be understood by all prospective students! quoting from the original article:

“Many graduate students are told, “We value teaching, and you will teach (though you may receive little or no training as you become a TA), but if you excel at teaching we may reward you with a special grant that allows you not to teach.” Also, “The demands will be so great that you will need a unique support system to help you through your academic quest,” but the environment will allow little time to establish relationships, and the department may be so competitive that it hinders relationships from forming. Again, “You might want to take advantage of your advisor as a mentor, and they will enjoy that also,” however, their research demands force them to commit their time and energy in the direction of research and publishing and may force you to do the same. You might desire coherence in your life, and that would assist you in your personal wholeness and integration of your studies, but again, there is no time for such things. Facing these academic “catches” may require some critical reflection on your personal lifestyle and environment to avoid emotional fatigue.”

The reason for burnout seems to be the excessive amount of effort demanded by the university setup with an absence of any suitable coping mechanism!

One of the survey findings of “Barna” research group commisioned by the gradresources team is given below!!

“The survey revealed that graduate students do feel a great amount of pressure. Fifty-five percent of the students surveyed considered dealing with stress and burnout a major challenge. In addition, 70 percent of the grads responding to a broad list of “anxiety producers” declared that their major concern was the achievement of the elusive “balanced life,” i.e. finding ample time for family, self, and others and feeling that their life is under control.”

It is clearly apparent that many graduate students suffer from emotional fatigue! To better evaluate the causes of the burnout process and classic burnout environments, traits, indications, results, solutions etc, I will present to you the results in some more detail. All excerpts are from gradresources and I request you to use the original article for better understanding!

First, lack of time. Graduate students indicated that their total available free time averages to about 15 hours per week. For many, those hours are consumed by family or job responsibilities, leaving little time for personal needs, refreshment by exercise or leisure pursuits, or even for ordering priorities.

Second, financial pressure. Forty-six percent of students surveyed listed finances as an anxiety. Dealing with the financial pressures which result from an extended period of study and pursuing future job prospects may raise graduate students’ anxiety levels. Many are already in the work force, at least on a part-time basis and face the tensions of the working world as well as those of intensive study.

Third, lack of faculty contact. The Neumann study (refer original article) revealed that faculty involvement was an important ingredient in academic success. One third of those surveyed in the Barna Study said they desired a deeper personal relationship with their supervising professor. Yet the need for individual support and affirmation often goes unmet due to a lack of faculty availability. This situation contributes to the sense of helplessness that graduates feel as they strive to shape their academic environment. One Ph.D. student explained, “Having come from a smaller undergraduate experience to a major research institute, I felt stressed over the department politics for which I had no game plan.”

However, it is unreasonable to expect graduate students to shut down, take time out, or demand that their supervisors lessen requirements to help them cope with fatigue. In the present academic system, the life of the graduate student is so clearly defined with built-in pressures that there is little room for escape and recovery.

Excessive workload, lack of balance, inadequate free time, and little opportunity to influence the environment make up only part of the fatigue syndrome. Most graduate students possess distinctive inner qualities and traits that help them persevere in academic goals but which may also accentuate the cycle of burnout.

The Traits

Traits exhibited by a majority of graduate students set up an emotional cycle of perfectionism that easily leads to exhaustion. The Barna survey revealed that most (54%) take life very seriously. Eighty-seven percent said they wanted to be known for integrity. Many graduate students also exhibited perfectionistic tendencies – placing high expectations on themselves and allowing no room for failure. Consequently, the average student refuses to acknowledge the internal alarms that signal a need for help.

Graduate students are usually classical examples of the “over-achiever.” The Barna data presents the profile of an individual who sets lofty (often unrealistic) goals, allowing no room for flexibility or adjustment to the barrage of new challenges. Many feel inadequately prepared for the tasks that they face – such as being a teaching assistant. Although some colleges offer seminars in learning teaching techniques, many still do not. Despite lack of guidance, grads still sense internal pressure to push themselves until they master these skills independently. Suffering occasional feelings of bondage to a faculty member does not deter them because they know that their future in academics is partly determined by a positive report from their professor.

Traits of an overachiever:

  • Does several things at once (i.e. telephoning. holding a conversation, jotting notes on a pad and swiveling back and forth on your chair all at the same time).
  • Often feels guilty when relaxing.
  • Quickly bores with other people’s conversations, wants to interrupt, finish sentences for others or hurry them up.
  • Tries to steer conversations towards his/her own interests instead of wanting to bear about those of others.
  • Usually feels anxious when engaged in a task, wanting to finish it and get on to the next one.
  • Is unobservant about anything that isn’t immediately connected with what he/she is doing.
  • Prefers to have rather than to be (i.e. to experience possessions rather than to experience himself or herself).
  • Does most things (eating, talking, walking) at top speed.
  • Finds people like himself/herself challenging and people who dawdle infuriating.
  • Is physically tense and assertive.
  • Is more interested in winning than in simply taking part and enjoying himself/herself.
  • Finds it hard to laugh at himself/herself.
  • Finds it hard to delegate.
  • Finds it almost impossible to attend meetings without speaking up.
  • Prefers active holidays to dreamy relaxing ones.
  • Pushes to achieve his/her own standards without showing much interest in what he/she really wants out of life.
  • Some burnout symptoms:

  • Decreased stamina
  • Sleep problems increased need for sleep or insomnia
  • Weight loss or gain; decreased or increased appetite
  • Accident proneness
  • Increased susceptibility to illness
  • Psychosomatic complaints headaches, migraines, u1cers or backaches
  • Substance abuse — excessive drinking or drug use
  • Cardiopulmonary problems increased blood pressure or heart disease
  • Major effect:

    1. Quality of work affected
    2. Degree plans halted
    3. Interpersonal relationships stunted
    4. Career jeopardized

    The Solutions

    It is essential to develop effective coping skills while in graduate school to succeed in a healthy manner, both while in graduate school and later in life. An individual’s reaction to, and ability to cope with stress may be more important than lessening the load.

    The problem of burnout demands that the graduate student possess a strong ego identity which according to Antonovsky  is “a sense of the inner person, integrated and stable, yet dynamic and flexible; related to social and cultural reality, yet with independence, so that neither narcissism nor being a template of external reality is needed.” This inner sense gives confidence to the individual and a coherence to life experience which frees the student to cope with the pressures of academia.

    Developing adequate methods of dealing with stress throughout a lifetime involves recognizing weaknesses, utilizing strengths and employing outside sources. For salutogenic chart, refer original gradresources article

    To aid in developing a strategy for coping, gradresources gives the following practical recommendations for dealing with the burnout syndrome.

    1. Journal your progress. Journaling your progress in dealing with stress and burnout will enable you to identify how this syndrome operates personally in your experience and to seek solutions. Some possible suggestions are:

    • Begin to analyze your destructive “self-talk” — identify the statements that you say to yourself that minimize your worth and are false statements of your progress and accomplishments. Don’t compare yourself to superperformers. Be aware of what you require to remain refreshed and do not attempt to maintain the same pace as them.
    • Identify your strengths and give yourself the opportunity to rebuild confidence through utilizing them. Grad Resources offer aids to help in identifying personal strengths and weaknesses. At particularly low times, list the top fifteen strengths and read them back to yourself.
    • “Mark your trail” when exhaustion sets in. Begin describing the conditions that bring it on, the symptoms by which you identify it and the most efficient means to deal with the problem. Take note of your progress and remember that healthy change takes longer than expected Use your stressful experiences to prepare yourself for the next occurrence.

    2. Manage time and set personal priorities. Without good time management, burnout becomes a high probability. When attempting time management consider: First, conserving time — be wise with the hours in the day. Set a schedule, but don’t be forced to follow it absolutely. Second, controlling time — learn to say “no” where possible and follow through. Third, making time — realize priorities, reorganize them, and stick to what is important. The following are some suggestions for making use of your time:

    • Find privacy where the telephone can’t ring and people can’t interrupt.
    • Get an appropriate amount of sleep. Add one-half hour of sleep each day until you wake up on your own to assess your biological need. You can go for a brief period of shortened nights for extended study hours but do not sustain this schedule for long periods of time.
    • Allow yourself leisure time and take vacations — even if for a day. Include types of leisure that refresh (alone and in a quiet atmosphere) and that give perspective ie reading an article in another field, novels, listening to music, cooking (or even escaping to the graduate coffee house).
    • Exercise regularly — even regular walks will help.
    • Eat properly balanced meals. Plan menus for two weeks and freeze large dishes. Plan meals around for socializing to give more time for interpersonal relationships.

    3. Cultivate relationships. To cope with burnout, acknowledge your need for interaction with other people. Although finding time for relationships is a challenge for graduate students, social networks add a balance that is vital to alleviating stress. Here are some areas to appraise:

    • Assess your current friendships Which of these are at the acquaintance level the companionship level or the established-friendship level? How could these relationships be cultivated with the goal of seeing them progress to a higher level than they are at the present?
    • Develop interaction networks Consider exercising with a group of people to be accountable to one another and maximize the aerobic benefits.
    • Find ways to get out of yourself and get your focus off your condition. Many faculty are hosting optional seminars that cross disciplines to provide greater depth for graduate studies that would be missed by the student unable to think past this fatigue condition Most importantly look for opportunities to serve your peers, the campus community, and the less fortunate in your city.

    4. Seek professional help. If stress becomes overwhelming and coping strategies do not help, seek professional help early.

    5. Develop your world view. Your philosophy of life is vital to achieving purpose and fulfillment. Acquiring a perspective on your place in society and contribution to life will help guard against feelings of discouragement and meaninglessness that deepens emotional fatigue. In assessing your world view, here are some essential questions to consider:

    • What is the highest priority of your life?
    • What would you like the biggest priority of your life to be in 40 years?
    • Is there a cause (or causes) for which you would sacrifice your personal standard of living?
    • If someone asked you to describe the principles by which you live your life, what would you say?
    • Are there any absolute rights or wrongs? What are they?
    • How do you make decisions? For example: How will you decide upon your future job placement? The person you decide to marry?
    • What is one question that you would most like answered about life?
    • If you could change one thing about our wor1d what would it be?

    This article was beyond any iota of doubt, the best article dealing with grad student fatigue syndrome and coping techniques! I sincerely hope that all of you would take time and go through this article!



    5 Responses to “Grad school burnout!”

    1. Bryan said

      I agree with this article in many ways. I am a full-time grad student (15 hours this semester) and I work full-time as well. I am up almost every night until 1am or 2am then up at 7am and go to work. It is hard but manageable if you plan things out right. For the burn out factor, the biggest thing I have found that works for me is to balance things. If I focus too much on my studies and exclude everything else, then my life quickly becomes a nightmare. I found that it is important to find time for studies, family, work, and very important ME time. You have to find something that you do for you that allows you to not think and just relax mentally. This may be running, watching all movies/TV shows, or whatever. This becomes almost vital during the weeks close to mid-terms and finals. This has worked for me and I know that it is important.

    2. Paul said

      I’m pursuing an MA in English, but not hard enough. I’m burned out enough to be behind in 3 of 3 courses, and am seriously considering taking Incompletes and bugging out to finish the last month’s work at a saner pace.

      My big mistake, I think, was being here at all. The work in grad school can be interesting, but the volume of work itself is part of your education. It is fundamentally ritual in nature. Most of it serves little purpose, but you will need to keep up to do well in papers or tests. And keeping up is not a benign one-foot-in-front of-the-other process. It demands everything, and what’s worse, few will acknowledge it.

      If you need your “me time,” but you don’t know how or want to plan your life meticulously, you will fall behind and burn out anyway. And then you’ll feel guilty for taking the “me time” and not burning out earlier.

    3. tired said

      i am enrolled in a PhD program (chemistry). 2nd year now and i think i am burn out. The worst thing of it all is that i came to grad school already burned out! 12 years away from home country, struggling to survive in a strange land, while aiming to support my family back home. 12 years of working full time and going to school full time(undergraduate), and dealing with discrimination and people who take advantage of you. 12 years of not being able to see my parents and sibling. 12 years of being broke all time and not knowing what to do next. So what did I decide to do after 12 years…..YES continue on and go to graduate school. i dont know who i am anymore…and i am beyond being stressed or tired….just total helplessness and misery. i do know that failure is what i fear the most in life….and i can tell you that i am very close to it!

    4. saintdeb said

      As is quite clear from the first line, I have adequately mentioned that it is not my article and have also provided the source

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