Stress vs Burnout

By Kelly

By the time you read this post I will be on my way home after five weeks interstate. I’ve been travelling to Hobart 3-4 times a year performing analyses on equipment we don’t have at my home institute. I love Hobart. It’s a wonderful city and I would move here in a heartbeat, but right now all I want to do is go home. I think most people get to the end of their PhD and think about how they might have done things a little differently. Personally, I would think twice about relying on an instrument that requires you to spend weeks and weeks on end away from home. It gets very tiring. Now saying that, we’ve just had significant success and I have a very cool dataset to play with over the next few months, but it hasn’t come easy!

The entire premise behind a PhD is to create new knowledge, and at my university we like to do that by using fancy instruments. I believe there is a direct correlation between ‘fancy’ and ‘tendency to break’.

The  problem is that travelling to use equipment heightens the sense of urgency, you can’t just pop back and repeat something. So when things go wrong, the downtime can be devastating. I learned along the way that allowing two weeks for measurement was never enough. It would take the first week to get the instrument running properly. Unlike at university, I’m at a government agency that doesn’t approve working on weekends, or after hours, unless I can convince an advisor to accompany me. Hey I’m great company but possibly not enough to drag someone in on a weekend. While this sounds strangely civilized, not working weekends,  it also means that I need to be EVEN MORE EFFICIENT!

My dearest friend once teased me saying she’d never met anyone so black and white. I learned to SCUBA dive, loved it, became an instructor. I went back to university at 30, loved it, ended up doing a PhD. At the beginning of this year I decided I needed to finish up my lab work and have worked every spare moment producing more data, good data, than I collected in the entire previous year. Problem is, I’m spent. I only seem to have two gears, fifth and reverse. My husband pointed out two very important details recently, 1) it’s possible I will always be a pretty bad driver and 2) this is not the time to burn out.

And he is absolutely right, I’m a horrible driver who tends to lurch in first, and I haven’t even STARTED writing yet so I should be careful to reserve a bit of energy for that final push. But before I lurch forward in an academic sense, I’ve permission from my main supervisor to take a few days off.  I don’t know what you’re doing, but I’m about to have a latte, or a wine…or maybe I’ll just go back to sleep 🙂