Thursday, November 29, 2001

De ny-slitne; Finn Skårderud om utbrenthet -
I have been mentioning burn-out before, but after I discussed this with Hilde, she asked me to write about it in a form that other Ph.D. students can use.

Burnout is a real threat to students, and particularly PhD students, because studying is a task which never ends. When working on a PhD you also very often work with something you are really interested in, and the work can't be kept within the 8 hours you are supposed to be at the office. An article in the newspaper, a good book, a conversation in the sauna: it will all become related to your job in a very real and involving manner.

There is also no end to how much work you can do on a PhD. There is no quota you need to fill, it's an endless labour where everything from sentences to lab-experiments can be added, reviewed and calibrated over and over again.

You never know if you are doing well. Until the day when you get the response from the assessors, you have no real knowledge of whether you have done well or you will fail. The closest you'll come is indications - you can't be sure. And here in Norway, that means 3-4 years of lonesome struggle, just hoping you'll be smart enough.

So, what can we do to avoid burning out?

All the usual stuff, of course: have a life and make it a physically active one: that's a given, even if it's not always easy. But there are a few problems which are specific to scholars, which can be solved "the academic way".

It's part of the nature of the work we do that we shouldn't start splitting a PhD up in smaller bits and then be graded more often (like every year), so we have to live with the insecurity. But something can still be done, and I think the key-word should be "net-work".

Meet others who work in the same field, talk, chat, listen and present your own work - it's not just a luxury, but an absolute necessity. Conferences aren't just a good career-booster, it's a survival strategy.

For somebody tucked away in a remote location like me, the allotted funds for travelling don't get me far. This is one reason why I use the net, and this blog, as frequently as I do. It lets me see my own thoughts in a different format from the usual, and in different contexts - and it even leads to feed-back! But it would be more fun and better for me to be able to spend more time with Jill, Hilde, Lisbeth, Espen, Jesper, Gonzalo, Anja, Susana - to go to conferences and sit in on lectures in locations which are equally remote, just remote in an other direction. Or perhaps I could afford to invite somebody to spend time here?!?

Actually, I probably could offer an office and a place to stay if a fellow scholar wanted to spend a while in Volda. Want a winter in Volda?

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