In the latest episode of The Struggling Scientists podcast, hosts Suzanne and Jayron delve into the topic of burnout and its impact on the scientific community. Joined by their guest, Cevdet Acarsoy, a psychologist and PhD student, they explore the various dimensions of burnout, its prevalence in academia, and strategies for prevention and recovery.
Burnout is a term commonly used to describe a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that remains unmanaged. It manifests through three dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism towards work, and professional inefficacy. The symptoms include increased fatigue, energy depletion, distancing oneself from work, and reduced work efficacy. While burnout is not a medically recognized diagnosis internationally, several countries, including the Netherlands, consider it a medical condition.
The High Prevalence of Burnout in Academia:
The discussion sheds light on the staggering prevalence of burnout in academia. Cevdet shares findings from a Dutch survey in 2020, revealing that 39% of PhD students reported severe symptoms of burnout. This figure is nearly double the burnout rate of the general working population, which stands at around 17%. The correlation between workload and burnout symptoms is evident, with an increase in burnout as workload escalates.
Unique Challenges in Academia:
The podcast emphasizes that burnout affects academics at all levels, not solely PhD students. The struggle arises from the unmanageable workload, lack of control over decision-making and funding, insufficient rewards and recognition, competition, perceived unfairness, job insecurity, and high expectations. Academic environments often normalize stress, creating an atmosphere where everyone is expected to be stressed, which plays a significant role in exacerbating burnout rates.
Recognizing and Addressing Burnout:
Detecting burnout can be challenging due to the high levels of stress already present in the academic setting. Cevdet shares personal experiences, highlighting how stress becomes the new baseline, making it harder to recognize burnout until it reaches a breaking point. It is crucial to identify burnout early and seek support from university resources, such as confidential counselors or psychologists. Communication with supervisors about stress levels, without necessarily disclosing burnout, can also be beneficial.
Preventing and Overcoming Burnout:
The podcast provides effective strategies for preventing and recovering from burnout. Taking breaks, resting, engaging in light exercise, maintaining a balanced diet, practicing good sleep hygiene, and seeking help from trusted individuals are essential steps. Changing job characteristics, delegating tasks, managing work-life boundaries, and addressing conflicts with colleagues or supervisors are valuable in preventing burnout. Psychotherapies, such as cognitive variable therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, EMDR, and mindfulness-based stress reduction, can be effective in treating burnout.
The Impact of Burnout on Research and Institutions:
Burnout not only affects individual researchers but also has a significant impact on research teams and institutions. The podcast discusses the cost of workplace absenteeism in the Netherlands, primarily caused by workload and stress, which amounts to €3.1 billion annually. It emphasizes the need to redefine the definition of a successful researcher and provides suggestions like peer support groups, career progression opportunities, mentorship, and job security to reduce burnout cases.
In this informative episode of The Struggling Scientists podcast, Suzanne, Jayron, and guest Cevdet Acarsoy shed light on the critical issue of burnout in academia. They highlight its adverse effects, discuss its prevalence among scientists, and provide valuable insights on recognizing, preventing, and overcoming burnout. By addressing the unique challenges faced by researchers and advocating for supportive environments, the podcast leaves listeners with practical steps to promote well-being and maintain productive scientific careers.