Radical Self-Care: 3 Strategies

The pace of life in today’s world and a cultural focus on productivity and outcomes leave little time for self-care. Taking time for mental hygiene is not embedded in our culture in the way physical hygiene is; I would argue that both are equally important. You’ve probably heard or even used the phrase, “I thrive on stress.” In our scientific culture, long days and nights in the lab or in front of the computer are worn as a badge of honor, of dedication to the cause, or simply what must be done. And while low levels of temporary stress do lead to increases in some measures of performance and productivity, our bodies did not evolve to “thrive” on high levels of chronic stress. This leads to decreases in output and creativity, but is also correlated to long-term risks to your cardiovascular and immune health. Functioning on low levels of emotional energy and high levels of stress for long periods of time can feel like we’re treading water: we’re still breathing, but it’s not sustainable.

Unfortunately, it sometimes takes us sinking to notice that something is wrong and feel required to take action. And while some of us notice the issues while we’re treading water, there’s a fear that putting in more energy to fix things followed by failure will only make things worse. Many things have been said about the PhD (and academic science in general) and whether or not continuing is worth it, including this recent blog in Science and this one on the “Valley of Sh*t.” As someone who was recently in that place, and has hit rock bottom at other points in my life, I’ve developed a three point strategy for turning discomfort and stress into personal growth, ultimately leading to what one of my past counselors has called “Radical Self-Care”, and a recognition of what my needs are in a situation. Though these three points are listed in the order that makes sense for me, sometimes there is a clear need for one over another. Care must be taken however, to not get stuck on one solution if it fails to get us where we want it to: Continue reading

Academics Anonymous: Why I’m Leaving Academia

The Guardian Higher Education section is constantly publishing interesting and well-written articles about the issues surrounding academic life. In one of their particular sections, titled Academics Anonymous, different academics give their opinions and perspectives on what can sometimes be quite a frustrating topic, especially for those who feel unable to voice their feelings or trapped in cycles of unhappiness.

I recently stumbled on one of their older articles, written by someone about to leave the academic scene after a stressful time in their Postdoc.  The author gives a more negative view on the entire academic process and career progression, but in doing so brings insight into some of the more pertinent issues.

Like Academics Anonymous, we continue encouraging the sharing of personal stories anonymously as a powerful tool for discussing important issues and bringing about cultural change.

Thrish Lab Blog – A Personal Note on Mental Health

Dr. Thrishantha Nanayakkara of King’s College is an incredibly successful researcher who runs a great lab. He also happens to practice Buddhism too. In this incredibly insightful blog post for PhD students, he explains how the philosophies of equanimity and responsibility can be applied to a PhD (or any academic career) and therefore find peace within oneself despite the incredible amount of external pressure creating stress and inner turmoil.

In the post, he describes the difference between achievement and accomplishment as applied to publication in a journal, and how one can use rejection from a journal for learning, growth, and ultimately, satisfaction and peace.

We at Labmosphere tip our hats to Dr. Nanayakkara, who, despite the pressures of being an academic, finds the time to work on his inner growth and peace and strives to help students do the same.

Burnout in Academia

The Greater Good Science Center has recently published this article on risk factors for Burnout. What struck me most about the article is that in three out of the four risk factors, author Tchiki Davis mentions her experiences in graduate school. Does the culture at your institute perpetuate these risks? Does your own personality? If so, how do you prevent burnout in fields that promote or self-select for these types of behavior and personalities?