The necessary year of ‘No’
Burn out. It’s a relatively new word for an age-old problem. Apparently, burn-out was introduced in the 1970s and described as “the extinction of motivation or incentive”. We hear an awful lot about it at the moment and it seems the covid pandemic is big contributor to burn-out for many.
I’m in the tail end of my third year of appointment to an Assistant Professor level position. I’m not convinced that the covid pandemic is solely responsible for my current sentiment around work but it is, no doubt, a contributing factor. I am physically, emotionally, and most of all mentally drained! I’m sure you can all relate in some way or time.
I’ve decided it is necessary to implement a hard ‘No’ policy this year. I’ve heard whispers of ‘work to live, not live to work’ idea. It’s intriguing! I gather that this means working but having that luxurious 8 hours of sleep and 8 hours of play that unions fought for years ago. I am making light of the topic, of course, but it definitely seems that somewhere along the way I forgot (or maybe just outright neglected) how to live outside of work.
So, if you ask me to do something this year and I say no, please don’t be offended. I’m just trying to take a step back and re-prioritize my overall health. I’m initiating a ‘no’ policy when it comes to any request to serve on new committees, journals, etc. I’m going to focus more on the commitments I already have until some of those positions end. I’m also looking forward to having a ‘summer break’.
What led to burn-out? Can she really be doing that much work? Does this mean I don’t work enough? What is a normal workload? I know, I know… I ask all these questions too when I see/hear people post/talk about themselves. It’s not healthy you know, asking those questions, but I also know it is hard to stop.
Now, I have no idea what a ‘normal’ person should or should not be working but I can give you an idea of the last three years for me and why I am choosing a ‘No Year’.
Move country. Develop and teach two new courses. Teach another full course. Re-learn and teach introductory zoology labs – I hadn’t done these since my own first year zoo labs. Apply for NSERC DG. Apply for Genome Canada funding. Go for Genome Canada final-stage interviews. Apply for three internal grants. Rejected from Genome Canada. Learn crazy admin processes. Take on editorial roles. Agree to be on Annual Leaves committee. Receive internal grants. Suicide on campus. Agree to be on two undergraduate student research project committees. Supervise a USRA student. Publish some papers. Rejected from NSERC DG. Building a house. Trying to have a life, maintain friendships around the world and not drive my spouse insane.
Still building a house. Take on supervision of two undergraduate research projects. Spend the summer doing field work. Continue two editorial positions. Agree to be a board member for a foundation. Agree to be on two undergraduate student research project committees. Attend two conferences. Get a puppy. Family bereavement leave. Unexpected passing of a colleague. Find that the Annual Leaves committee workload has doubled. Agree to be on Faculty Council and two hiring committees. Take on course mapping for the department review process. Publish some papers. Reapply for NSERC DG. Apply for three internal grants. Develop and teach two more brand new courses. Teach another full course. Get adjunct status to enable supervision of graduate students (my institution does not have a S&T grad program). Apply for Genome BC money. Start new projects. Receive NSERC DG, internal grants and Genome BC. Review two internal grants. Moving into newly built house. Trying to have a life, maintain friendships around the world and not drive my spouse insane.
Supervise two summer research assistant positions. Spend 2 months of summer doing intensive field work. Continue two editorial positions. Become a Councillor for a society. Supervise an undergraduate research project. Agree to be on another hiring committee. Learn more crazy admin processes related to grant funding. Publish some papers. Attend a conference. Develop and teach another brand-new course. Decide I really don’t like developing new courses all the time. Teach another full course. Manage to "buy" myself out of teaching 1 full course. Continue editorial work for two journals. Apply for one internal grant. Receive internal grant. Apply for smaller external grant. Rejected by external grant. Spend weekends doing lab work to keep cultures alive during lab shut downs. Spend months in relative isolation like everyone else due to pandemic. Advertise for and interview prospective graduate students. Agree to be on one undergraduate student research project committee. Become progressively more ‘unwell’. Continue on Faculty Council. Continue on foundation board. Agree to be on workload committee for S&T. Agree to help with EDI research on campus. Continue with collaborations. Try to form more collaborations. Review two internal grants. Review a NSERC application. Trying to have a life, maintain friendships around the world and not drive my spouse insane – I think I may be less successful on this last one.
Honestly, I’m probably forgetting some stuff but whatever. I may be selfish for my desire to want to say no to ‘new’ things this coming year but, these timeless words say it best: “frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”. I need it. I am so in awe of every other person out there continuing on with all they do because I am feeling the struggle to maintain productivity and enthusiasm.
You, you all deserve kudos for everything you do!!