Academia is plagued by overwork, we all know this. In order to "stay in the game", starting from a PhD we overwork ourselves to burnout and beyond. Academic projects, duties, papers, deadlines loom over us constant, and it's almost impossible to set boundaries for a healthy work-life balance (if there really is any, btw?).
I will not talk about why people leave academia, as overwork is only one of the many reasons why people become disillusioned with the environment and their job. I will also temporarily gloss over toxic power-relations that halt any healthy change in academia.
Usually, PhD, postdoc, and Early Career Researchers, especially in recent years, are the most affected by this. What really bothers me is that, when we complain, when we say that there is something wrong with what led us to burnout, we are either told that this is the way things are (even arrogantly so), or we are sugarcoated with half-solution that do not address the REAL problem. I will skip the first one as I believe perpetuating the logic of academic elitism and survival culture is a horrible practice that does not even warrant a discussion.
The sugarcoating is what is really infuriating. We are told to stick our head in the sand, that after it will be better (usually meaning: you will be in a position of power where you will be able to make other people miserable), or to let our "creative" side out some times, or to just get trough with your will.
Don't get me wrong, all these suggestions, except the first one, are good and true. Talking with specialists, talk with other colleagues that for sure share our same feelings, get off the work for some time. They all help in a useful way. However, they all fail to recognize one thing or they don't highlight it enough:
Our tiredness comes from the system, not from us.
Failing to recognize this means failing to recognize that the current academic system is broken. We need to change the system, and stop accepting things as they are. We need to get in touch with our peers, organize, and demand change. The current system thrives when we are divided, when we work a corridor distance from other colleagues, but we don't know anything about each other.
Once, my best friend, who doesn't work in academia, told me something that has been stuck in my head since. He was referring to his job, but it can be applied to academic jobs as well (especially humanities): we are not saving lives.
We are not saving lives, enjoy some rest and f*** work for the amount of time you need to recover. You are not alone, and let our voice be heard.
Some readings #
Academic, A. 2014. “There Is a Culture of Acceptance Around Mental Health Issues in Academia.” The Guardian (March).
Ayres, Z.J. 2022. Managing Your Mental Health During Your PhD: A Survival Guide. Cham: Springer International Publishing.
Hazell, C.M. 2022. “’You Have to Suffer for Your PhD’: Poor Mental Health Among Doctoral Researchers – New Research.” The Conversation.
Hazell, C.M., L. Chapman, S.F. Valeix, P. Roberts, J.E. Niven, and C. Berry. 2020. “Understanding the Mental Health of Doctoral Researchers: A Mixed Methods Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis and Meta-Synthesis.” Systematic Reviews 9 (August):197.
Levecque, K., F. Anseel, A. De Beuckelaer, J. Van der Heyden, and L. Gisle. 2017. “Work Organization and Mental Health Problems in PhD Students.” Research Policy 46 (4) (May):868–879.
Pyhältö, K., A. Toom, J. Stubb, and K. Lonka. “Challenges of Becoming a Scholar: A Study of Doctoral Students’ Problems and Well-Being.”
David, N. 2021. “A Lost Generation? Early Career Researchers and the Pandemic.” Impact of Social Sciences.
Gewin, V. 2022. “Has the ’Great Resignation’ Hit Academia?” Nature 606 (7912) (May):211–213. doi:10.1038/d41586-022-01512-6.
Hiscott, L. 2022. “Early-Career Researchers in Large Research Groups Are More Likely to Leave Academia, Finds Study.” Physics World.
Mahmoudi, M. 2020. “A Survivor’s Guide to Academic Bullying.” Nature Human Behaviour 4 (11):1091.
Mainz, J.G.-U. 2022. “Early-Career Archaeologists Are Pessimistic About Future Careers.” .
Woolston, C. 2018. “Feeling Overwhelmed by Academia? You Are Not Alone.” Nature 557 (7703) (May):129–131.
Woolston, C. 2020. “Postdocs Under Pressure: ’Can I Even Do This Any More?’.” Nature 587 (7835) (November):689–692.
Zamecnik, C. 2022. “Academia Has an Image Problem— and Early Career Scientists Are Paying Attention.” GEN Biotechnology 1 (2) (April):144–145.
Graeber, D. 2018. “Are You in a BS Job? in Academe, You’re Hardly Alone.” Chronicle of Higher Education (May).
Langin, K. 2022. “As Professors Struggle to Recruit Postdocs, Calls for Structural Change in Academia Intensify.”.
Leitheiser, S., R. Vezzoni, and V. Hakkarainen. 2022. “Painting Outside the Lines: Transgressing the Managerial University, Avoiding Forced Creativity.” In , edited by Alex Franklin, 43–73. Cham: Springer International Publishing.
McGuire, R.H., and M. Walker. 1999. “Class Confrontations in Archaeology.” Historical Archaeology 33 (1):159–183.
“Enacting Transformative Change to Academic Careers? Ask an Early Career Researcher.” CESAER.
Poutanen, M. 2022. “’I Am Done with That now.’ Sense of Alienations in Finnish Academia.” Journal of Education Policy (April):1–19.
Sims, M. 2021. “Women Academics in the World of Neoliberal, Managerial Higher Education.” Societies 11 (1) (March):25.
Smithers, K., N. Spina, J. Harris, and S. Gurr. 2022. “Working Every Weekend: The Paradox of Time for Insecurely Employed Academics.” Time & Society (December).
Susi, T., S. Shalvi, and M. Srinivas. 2019. “’I’ll Work on It over the Weekend’: High Workload and Other Pressures Faced by Early-Career Researchers.” Nature (June).
Urai, A.E., and C. Kelly. 2023. “Rethinking Academia in a Time of Climate Crisis.” eLife 12 (February).
Woolston, C. 2021. “Impact Factor Abandoned by Dutch University in Hiring and Promotion Decisions.” Nature 595 (7867) (June):462.