Let’s talk about burnout in academia

In academia, it’s easy to think that the next break is just around the corner.

“I can focus on my writing next month when the teaching is over.”

It’s easy to tell yourself that the amount of workload is normal.

“Everyone else seems to manage the same workload so I should too.”

It’s easy to defend your lack of free time by upholding this, frankly, really destructive myth that, if you truly love your job, you can work non-stop. And if you don’t work non-stop, you are not ambitious or passionate enough.

“Find you passion and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

But this is simply not true. Your body and your mind cannot take this forever.

Ask yourself this: Have you felt like you can’t get up in the morning? Like you don’t care about what you do anymore. Have you started to question your professional achievements? If this is the case, then there is a chance that you are showing symptoms of burnout.

Burnout is a condition that is characterized by exhaustion, cynical attitudes, and feelings of lack of achievement. It is often a result of prolonged chronic stress and unfortunately very common in academia. According to one study, more than 25 % of university faculty report frequent burnout experiences. That’s a massive amount!  

Burnout can happen to anyone. It is not a sign of weakness. And it’s not your fault.

Rather, it’s a sign of an unhealthy and unsupportive work environment that’s been draining your resources. It’s a sign that you’ve been working at the edge of your capabilities, and that you’ve not been provided with the support needed to handle all the demands in your environment.

If you recognize symptoms of burnout, speak up and ask for help. Talk to your supervisor, your friends or your professor. Focus on your own wellbeing and recovery, and seek professional help, if needed. In Finland, you can turn to the occupational health services, HR or your university’s wellbeing services.

So what can we do to prevent burnout or at least to reduce the prevalence of it? We can:

  • normalize decent working hours
  • respect each other’s right to evenings, weekends and vacations free from work
  • speak up when the workload crosses a line
  • create support systems and support groups for all academic staff
  • set achievable, realistic and clear goals for doctoral students and helping them get there
  • promote social support

Take it seriously and take care of yourself. I’ve been there. Twice. Don’t be like me.


Read more about burnout:

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