Monday, January 21, 2008

Update on the burn-out posts

Things are looking up here. I want to thank the commenters in the posts below for good suggestions, support and feed back. It helps to know that someone is out there and your thoughts and ideas have helped me to see things clearer and ask myself some important questions.

Since last week a few things have happened, which were all small steps towards making things better.

I have slowed down at work and made time for reading widely within my field. This is not a long-term solution because I will not always be able to work at a slower pace, but right now ditching a few self-imposed deadlines and making time for thinking and reading has been nice.

Likewise I have taken evenings and the weekend off. Read a book, watched TV, cooked nice food, gone to the gym and in general taken good care of myself. Again this doesn't solve the problem in the long run, but was a nice breathing break.

I picked up where I left one of the manuscripts before the holidays and realised that although making the last figures will take time, it is not impossible. I think I am realistically looking at some 15-20 hours of work and since I don't have too many other obligations this week it should be possible to finish this paper soon. I also got an email from the co-author (and former advisor) on the other paper, and she has very few comments, so it looks like this papers is also close to being submitted.

I tried to talk about the flexibility issue at work. I ended up mentioning it in a group meeting dedicated to discussing work conditions, so I figured it was appropriate, but couldn't talk about it in a very personal way. I think my point about the need for more work from home time was largely not understood and maybe even seemed a bit offensive to some. The actual meeting was awkward and I felt a bit like I was the problem kid who wanted different and unreasonable rules. However, bringing up the topic made me realise that one of the reasons the others don't understand is that I'm in a very different situation to most of them with being a post doc and on my way out. My intense need to publish over spending time actively on the ongoing projects is mainly brought about by my leaving from this institution. Maybe I am also wrong to assume that I can have all the time in the world to write right now. I am still employed via ongoing projects and I realise now that it is totally reasonable for my PI to expect me to spend many hours a week on those, even if it doesn't mean writing. I think the issue is partly about my preferred way of working while writing (comfortably at home at the longest possible stretches of time) and partly about a lack of discussion between the PI and I on how I should spend my time (writing or doing new research). Even if the meeting made me feel like a fool, this realisation alone was enough to make me consider the meeting a success. I think I understand better now how to frame this discussion when bringing it up again.

I'm trying to work on some of my own issues that brought me in this crossroads position in the first place. I've tried reach out to friends and even tried to talk to my mom about it. I'd say it's definitely with varying levels of success, but I've also gotten some challenging and really useful input. As I've said in one of the earlier posts, one solution is obviously to lower my expectations for my own productivity. This is difficult for a number of reasons. Partly because in academia one does just not lower ones level of productivity and stay in the game, but it's also difficult because having high expectations of myself and getting acknowledged by others because of my accomplishments has become a huge part of who I am. As I just told a friend, maybe the dilemma is to find a way to still achieve academic goals, but not for the acceptance from others, but simply because I think it is important/ interesting/fun (which I still do, at least some of the time).

5 Comments:

At 2:57 PM, Blogger Kim said...

I'm glad things are feeling better. (I didn't offer advice before because I have no idea how to get out of a slump longterm; all I know is the short-term solutions of exercise and other ways to relax.)

 
At 3:44 AM, Blogger EcoGeoFemme said...

I'm so glad that things are looking up. And I'm really sorry you felt foolish in the meeting, but glad that you could still get something positive from the experience. because we are usually our harshest critics, I bet that the people at the meeting didn't think as badly of you as you think they did. Some of them might have been secretly feeling the same way.

Anyway, good for you. :) Keep us posted.

 
At 12:06 AM, Anonymous Karen said...

saxifraga said:
As I've said in one of the earlier posts, one solution is obviously to lower my expectations for my own productivity. This is difficult for a number of reasons. Partly because in academia one does just not lower ones level of productivity and stay in the game, but it's also difficult because having high expectations of myself and getting acknowledged by others because of my accomplishments has become a huge part of who I am.


Please, please, please don't let this situation lead to burnout!

I never aspired to academia, but I got involved in a 5-year engineering project, starting in my mid-twenties, which was exciting, fun, propelled by new ideas, and a heckuva lot of work. I did probably the best work I'll ever do professionally on that project. I didn't have children, and so I could work 60- and 70- hour weeks, week after week. I was very committed to the project, and after a few weeks it seemed like I was slacking off if I took a weekend off or came home one night at a reasonable hour. Eventually I burned out, dropped into depression, and became far less productive.

One surprising outcome of this process was that I discovered my project co-workers didn't value me any _less_ for working fewer hours; they were relying on my expertise and my willingness to help out in a crisis, not my slavish dedication to being there all the time.

One unhappy outcome of this process is that I will probably take antidepressant drugs for the rest of my life. The depression is well-controlled with meds, but the truth is that I broke myself during that time, and I'll never recover from that injury. I can only medicate away the more distressing effects of it.

DON'T DO THAT TO YOURSELF. (Yes, I'm shouting, as loud as I can.)

 
At 12:25 AM, Blogger saxifraga said...

Thanks

Kim: I know what you mean about not knowing what to suggest. I wouldn't have known either.

Karen: a big thank you for the wake-up call. I really, really appreciate when someone takes the potential implications of working oneself into the ground seriously. This is the sort of feed back I would hope to get from co-workers, but I think they maybe just don't realise how overworked I feel. I am trying to work on these various issues, so hopefully I won't go as far as you did, but I do see the signs and that is scaring me, a lot.

I haven't seen you here before, but welcome. It's late now, so I must go to bed and can't really think straight. Maybe I'll add some more coherent thoughts later.

 
At 10:43 PM, Blogger Wayfarer Scientista said...

Glad things seem to be looking up. Do keep us informed...and my apologies on my delay with the email. But it will happen.

 

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