Academic guilt: There's always something I SHOULD be doing! — R Voice

Academic guilt: There's always something I SHOULD be doing!

Andrea Hayward
Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 577 admin

Lately, I've been thinking about why there's so much guilt and other negative feelings associated with taking a break, taking time off, or even just slowing down in academia. And one of the things that always stands out for me is this feeling that there's always something you should be doing or that voice at the back of your head telling you there's so much you could be doing right now, every time you think of taking a breather.

I'm sure that every researcher/academic/grad student/faculty member has experienced this at some point, but I wanted to know just how bad it is. So I ran a poll on Twitter and found that a vast majority feel this way ALL THE TIME. This can't be good! 😣😥

I decided to bring this conversation here to get the community's thoughts on it. So, have you ever felt like this - "There's always something I should be doing."

If so, how often do you feel like this? What do you do when you start feeling like this?

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Comments

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 342 ✭✭✭✭

    Why do you write posts that target me, @Andrea Hayward ?!?! 😂😱

    I'm feeling like this constantly, I'm really struggling to "wind down" from PhD life into worklife where technically I am contracted and have work hours. I feel I don't know what to do with my evenings/weekends so I should be working. I've started volunteering to fill my time more.

    Even though my work is quiet at the moment and I'm feeling guilty about it, even though I'm in waiting mode because I had such a productive week last week that I need others to sign off on things. I know I've initiated a few things and done the work I can, but I am wondering what else I should/could be doing. I know I don't have a job come end of February when my contract runs out, but nothing new is posted to apply for, no funding options that are viable for my work have come up, I haven't got any new work to write up into papers. I feel there's only so much time that same routine each day takes up. I guess there is always reading to do..but once the new papers directly relevant have been read, it feels pointless trying to absorb information when you don't know the reason.

    It's almost more exhausting worrying that I should be working than when I am working!

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 577 admin

    LOL @Shruti Turner I promise I'm not attacking you with my posts. We're just ALWAYS on the same page 😄

    I'm sorry to hear that like the others who took my poll, you're feeling like this constantly 🙁 but you can't even be surprised by something like this in academia anymore (which is even sadder). I completely get the "not knowing what to do with your time" and although you're trying non-work stuff to fill your time (which is great!), I think I should remind you that not having anything to do is sometimes perfectly okay. And just because you have free time or your calendar might be empty, you don't have to be available or be productive in a way that's not work-related. It's easy to forget this. I have to remind myself too, sometimes.

    I feel like on some level, we're so used to "the grind" and constantly rushing to get stuff done, that we've somehow made this the norm in our minds. So when things slow down (mostly because we've gotten a ton of work done), we end up feeling like we're slacking. And this is never the case! I guess we'll have to start being okay with a lull once in a while because usually the lull is much-needed and timely. What do you think?

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 342 ✭✭✭✭
    edited August 11

    Haha, I shall believe you this time @Andrea Hayward 😂

    I agree that the saddest part of it all us that these feelings are un-surprising to the point that we just accept it as the norm. Yes, thank you - I really did need that reminder:

    "not having anything to do is sometimes perfectly okay"

    I just need to figure out how to feel settled with this, probably the first step is accepting it's okay. I just don't know what to do with myself! Though, in the past couple of days I have started reading more regularly which has been nice - my default used to be just switch on some mindless TV but I never felt good/productive doing it.

    I agree 100% about the lull..I think also appreciating that usually the lull is there because of our own productivity before it, like you say. We could drag out our work over days/weeks but actually we have earned the quiet times because we have worked hard to make it so. I feel like this is an act of self-care I am horrendous at applying.

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 322 ✭✭✭✭
    edited August 14

    I'm in the all the time group.

    I have experience being told ...."you are beating yourself up". When I said there's too much to do (which is the case for a lot of us) and there is actual real tangible pressure have been told "its professionalism"...or worst case that I was incompetent and weak because I'm feeling pressure...and showing it/talking about it. Really worst case...when I broke down......"you should see a doctor, you are mentally ill" . Have seen it happen with other people too.

    Finally, figured that mostly...the academic culture and people in power gaslight those beneath. That's my observation. Instead of asking why a student/postdoc/researcher feels so much pressure and addressing the workplace(culture) issues contributing to the pressure (unnecessary paperwork, micromanagement, uncertainties of future, bad project, toxic team dynamics, not having a voice, room for discussion, limited resources, etc.) collectively as teams/organizations....

    we simply ask people to practice self care, breathe, be mindful and meditate. Or make people doubt their own abilities. I guess...it annoys me that tables are turned.

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 322 ✭✭✭✭

    Right now...I have nothing to advice on what to do... because it would be "here's my advice....but I don't follow it myself". 😅

    Ideally, get to a place where the tangible real external pressures are not out of control. And it's possible to have a support system.

    If it's just a mind made scenario of internally generated pressure while all external factors are not so bad, much easier to handle...

    (than if it's real pressure to keep doing until one kicks the bucket.)

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 577 admin

    @Shruti Turner I disagree slightly. I feel that the first step would be to become aware of the fact that "not having anything to do sometimes is perfectly okay." And you're doing great I'd say because you've already got this down. In a world that's driven by productivity, even acknowledging this and believing it to be true is a BIG WIN, don't you think? 😊

    Now accepting that it's okay is another battle altogether and I feel like we'll always be a work in progress when it comes to this. I fully acknowledge and relate to just how difficult this can be. And on some days you might be fantastic at "living" this understanding, but there'll still be days when you're rubbish at it. What I've found to be very helpful is looking at these slip-ups as just that. Slip-ups that you can definitely come back from. I look at it like this - Just because you've got a flat tire, doesn't take away from how long you've been driving. You take some time, get a snack while the tire is being fixed/replaced and you get back behind the wheel when you're ready to drive again.

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 577 admin

    @Raj sundaram sorry to hear that you're in the "All the time" group too. I can't imagine how exhausting and overwhelming it must feel. I am also very angry at the response you got when you tried to talk about it. These reactions are so terribly misguided and not to mention, selfish, and they highlight much of what is wrong with academic culture. It's quite literally like telling a crew they're not doing enough to keep the ship afloat when they've been assigned to a sinking ship to begin with. Argh! 😣

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 342 ✭✭✭✭

    Very good point about the first step, @Andrea Hayward. I don't know why I didn't even consider that, maybe I am further along than I thought?! I am on the same page about the BIG WIN!!

    I love your analogy about slip ups. It's so true, we don't consider a flat tyre a failing on our part, just a slip up/hurdle we get up and move on from. I'm going to keep this firmly in my mind, to remind myself when I need it. Thank you!

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 322 ✭✭✭✭
    edited August 14


    It's quite literally like telling a crew they're not doing enough to keep the ship afloat when they've been assigned to a sinking ship to begin with.

    Yep. Being set up to fail/to become exhausted (with multiple useless obstacles thrown en route...just for the sake of it....). Plus being blamed if one fails and an attitude from the top "if this succeeds its because of me, if it fails, it is because of you". The scenario is more common than we would like it to be. Sorry to have pulled you (and probably others here in the community) into my anger. I thought I had gotten used to the ways in academia/life/people and am quite immune. Alas.

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 577 admin

    @Shruti Turner yes, even I think that you're further along than you thought! Glad you like the analogy. It's helped me through some really trying times.