Wikipedia.org: “a psychological term for the experience of long-term exhaustion and diminished interest (depersonalization or cynicism), usually in the work context. It is also used as an English slang term to mean exhaustion. Burnout is often construed as the result of a period of expending too much effort at work while having too little recovery.”
Just in case you don’t love Wiki, I go to my friend Merriam Webster to tell me his version:
Pronunciation: ˈbərn-ˌau̇t Function: noun Date: 1940
2 a: exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.
I bring this up as my second issue on this blog and my first since introducing myself because I think it is ever important…preventing burnout as a graduate student. Now I know there are some among us here at Mayo that would scoff at such a comment…but trust me—I have seen it with my own eyes…people that are in the process of burning out, and that’s why I want to bring this up.
It isn’t as if the notion of balance is new…it has been around a while, heck my parents (and their parents) always stressed the notion of making sure my life wasn’t all about work or play or one sided. I steal the line from Tim Allen, Santa Claus 2, when he says, “I’m a rubix cube with pants!” Like the multi-color rubix cube, I think it is very important to have many facets of your life, and I think sometimes, especially in this Mayo environment, one can get carried away with the work side of life. Its an amazing place, don’t get me wrong, but I think it is important to know when to step back and let the hair down, so to speak.
One thing that I have been privileged with over the years are amazing people that always stressed the importance of this. Now summer is upon us, and I wonder if those people reading this, who are either a) scoffing at this blog in the first place, or b) know deep down that I am talking directly at them, will put the book down, the pipette down, and go have fun. Whether it’s a bike ride through the countryside here in Olmsted County or a leisurely drive along the MN-WI border—try by Lake Pepin—its beautiful there—or BBQ with your friends or catching one of Hollywood’s blockbuster summer hits at Chateau, I think everyone here at Mayo owes themselves a little down time this summer. Take a break from the lab work and relax.
When I was in Scottsdale, AZ doing a rotation with Dr. Joseph Lustgarten, he always stressed the importance of having fun! It was and to me, even more important than the work you do for a couple reasons. I am of the mindset that your work improves when you take a break from it, because you come back energized. Also, unless you are one of the lucky ones that gets famous doing science, and lets be honest, how many truly get famous, win a Nobel Prize, etc…not many—chances are, and this might be a pessimistic perspective, you won’t be remembered in the end for the science you did in the lab—you will be remembered when you are gone for the way you made a child smile when you volunteered at your local church, or an elderly person’s day when you sat down and listened to them for a moment. You will be remembered for your work and the way you lived your life outside the lab probably more than your work inside the lab. I know we all have inspirations of doing both winning a Nobel Prize and touching people in our own communities—and I know I do, but I think it is important to think about these thing...
So I urge each and every one of you—those on the process of burning out—and those who are balancing their lives just fine—to go out and play a round of mini golf, have fun with your friends, go to the Rochesterfest parade, concerts in the park (they’re free by the way), or enjoy whatever the plethora of activities you like to do in your free time. Take a little more free time this summer and enjoy life. I know, I know--We wouldn’t be at Mayo touching the world in the small way we do if we didn’t love what we do at work in the lab or in meetings, seminars, etc, but if you employ these concepts into your lives, the work will be even more enjoyable and productive than ever before.
You know who you are. You overzealous, unyielding, never take a vacation, stay in the lab until 8 to 9PM daily, work the whole weekend, or even worse, one of our six Mayo holiday days, never go out, always working graduate student just trying to get a Nature or Science paper. I’m not slamming you for having incredible work ethic, I’m just saying, that you have your whole career in front of you. Don’t work so hard now that you don’t want to do this later. Enjoy being a student—it has its privileges…just ask a faculty person…lol…remember you are a STUDENT at this stage, not a PI.
So as a student, remember that as country crooners Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett sing—“its 5 O’clock somewhere”, relax, take a deep breath, and enjoy summer. Then I hope you transform your thinking to the other 9-10 months of the year. Because after all, that is what will make you more productive, more energetic, and might just get that thesis done faster—than wasting time repeating experiments that failed because you were too burnt out or in too much of a hurry to think through them properly.
Here’s to hoping I always heed my own advice.