This is not normal: Advice for stressed academics

Submitted by miranda.prynne on Mon, 14/12/2020 - 09:00
With the overhaul of teaching, soaring workloads, childcare demands and other challenges presented by Covid-19, many academics are at risk of burn-out. Psychology professor Jay Van Bavel outlines steps that stressed lecturers can take to manage workloads
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This video will cover: 

00:35 The importance of acknowledging your own limitations 

01:21 Triaging your work commitments 

02:06 Easing your “normal” demands and expectations of other staff and students  


Hi, my name is Jay Van Bavel, I'm an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at New York University, and I write a column on academic mentoring and advice for early career scholars at Science Careers.  

And one of the topics I’ve recently written on is how you can manage your stress during the current pandemic.  

Obviously, this is an incredibly stressful time, and so we have a recent column with some concrete advice that you can take to make your work life a little more balanced and less stressful.  

The first thing that we recommend is that you need to acknowledge that this is not normal. And that means that you’re not going to be able to do the same amount of work that you normally do, at least most of us won’t.  

And there are a lot of barriers and stressors, and that is understandable and human to be burdened with these things, and not be able to cope or keep up with the normal level of productivity and scholarship and teaching and mentorship that you normally hold down.  

And so that first step is just acknowledgement that we are not superhuman, we are human, merely human.

The second thing you need to do is start to develop some concrete strategies about how to deal with it.   

And so we recommend a number of strategies.  

One is think about how you can structure your priorities better and so, for example, if you have something that is urgently due, you obviously need to prioritise it.  

But a lot of things we have in academia are actually things that we would like to accomplish. You know, broad or lofty goals or requests that other people have asked of us.  

What we need to do now more than ever is triage, just like we would if we were an ER nurse, to figure out what do we urgently have to deal with, and what can be put off until after, you know, things are returned to normal, the vaccine is distributed, and we have the bandwidth and supports to get our normal work done.   

So that's the first thing.

If you’re a faculty member and you’re listening to it, that means you have power. And so that power means you need to also communicate this to people who work with you, your students and staff and trainees, postdocs, PhD students.   

You need to communicate to them that it’s not normal and also help them prioritise things and take a little bit of the pressure off them that they’d normally have that’s coming from you.   

That might mean pushing back deadlines for assignments that shouldn’t be urgent, rescaling your expectations for research projects, dissertations, proposals and teaching, and what your students might be able to do.  

The other thing you need to do is understand that some people are going to have it much more difficult.  

In particular, parents, and especially mothers, are overwhelmed. They’re experiencing a high degree of stress and depression right now during the pandemic, and we need to design strategies that allow them to cope and manage the workload.   

And so if there are ways, for example, to shuffle your teaching or service load so that parents might have less meetings or less workload now during the pandemic, and they might be able to pick it up, you know, next semester or in the summer or the following year.  

So if you can restructure things in the way that your lab works, or your department works, or university works to help parents cope.  

Many of them are home-schooling right now and it is absolutely overwhelming. I am a parent of two kids and the home-schooling part has been a complete struggle. And schools have opened and then they have closed, and then day cares have opened and then they’ve changed their hours. 

And schools are reopened but only, you know, for part time and so there’s just an enormous amount of stress. 


This video was produced by Jay Van Bavel, associate professor of psychology and neural science at New York University

With the overhaul of teaching, soaring workloads, childcare demands and other challenges presented by Covid-19, many academics are at risk of burn-out. Psychology professor and father-of-two Jay Van Bavel outlines steps that stressed lecturers can take to manage workloads



Mon, 08/02/2021 - 10:57

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It is wonderful! Full of insights!
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Tue, 16/03/2021 - 14:37

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It's nice to read suggestions for reaching out and offering ways to rescale expectations. My department missed so many opportunities to do this, but luckily, I have support networks in place outside of the office to help me parent, mentor, teach, nurse, love, and assist my family.
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Wed, 09/06/2021 - 19:33

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De acuerdo el estress es un mal de este tiempo, trabajo, casa, estudio, todo implica hacerlo ya¡
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