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Burnout in research: A reality worth talking about

By Rodrigo Verney, December 1 2023—

This is not going to be your typical “try to get more sleep” or “start a workout routine” type of article. Everyone who has been in or is looking for research would kill for the chance of adding a few extra hours to their sleep schedule and would gladly pass up their free time to have a chance to work on a healthy mind and body. 

Truth is, research is much more than just an opportunity to advance knowledge in your field. It is the culmination of years of repetitive and arduous work. It represents all of the sleepless nights and the mountains of publications you had to read in tangible proof that all of it was towards a product that may very well outlive you.

It’s okay to go automatic sometimes.

You will most likely be filled with work at all times. It is okay not to be fully there when you are doing it. The brain is a muscle and as is the case with any other muscle, it will try to find the path of least work in between two actions. So you might be putting all of your brain power into the research. That means that it will have to take it out of somewhere. Maybe you forget a close friend’s name or you skip on plans you arranged ages ago — this is fine. You are going through a tough and stressful process. Let them know where you are mentally. They will understand and support you. 

Whenever the disassociations get more frequent and you feel like you are forgetting things more frequently, visit one of the resources on campus, and talk to a specialist or friend. Sometimes, just putting it into words helps you make sense of it all.

Set alarms or you will forget how to eat, sleep and all in between

It has personally happened to me multiple times. The biggest sign that I had to make an effort to change was a night when I had to really force myself into trying to remember whether or not I had lunch that day. You don’t feel hungry, nor do you feel dizzy because your mind might be fine skipping lunch once or twice. Nonetheless, your body starts to enter a stage of self-preservation and it will work until it has to retain energy. Eventually, you will crash. Worst of all, there is no room to think anymore, you are just wasting your time.

Distance yourself from it from time to time. 

You are not your work nor will it define you. Relax, there is so much more work left. Research is like a sea current. Once you are in, you will get sucked by the tide. There is no telling where it will lead you and no rhyme or reason as to which direction you will take, but you will find that there is always more work left to be done. 

I get it, this is our dream. A chance to prove to the world and ourselves that we are worthy of the title. That we are that intellectual that we always dreamed about. That we can be more than our grades, our expectations, and our past mistakes. 

However, we already are. We are people who encompass all of that and much more. We deserve to respect and preserve what makes us who we are. So give yourself the care that you deserve. Don’t work on the paper after hours. Yes, meeting deadlines is important, but having two hours to just breathe a little, check up on your friends and family, and do the things that you love will not cost you in the future if you are truly working hard when you need to. 

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