Being a graduate student is grueling, tiresome work. Most of us work ten to twelve-hour days during the week, and even throwing in some weekend hours. All done in the name of science, and so that we can stick it to Reviewer Number One, who won’t believe your data until you do that fifth control experiment for figure 4. With so many hours spent hunched over a lab bench, hands cramped from pipetting and eyes falling out of their sockets from lack of sleep, it only makes sense that we all eventually get to a point where we just burn out.

When the Dreaded Burn Out hits motivation dwindles, it gets hard to get out of bed in the morning, and a general state of apathy takes over. Who cares if you collect this time point at 12 hours versus 16 hours? Does it really matter if you wash your slides three times? You definitely don’t need to back-inoculate that culture tonight – it can wait another day. Almost every graduate student will experience some form of this feeling, sometimes multiple times throughout their time in school, but fear not – there are ways to combat this! I’m here to give you a few of my tips and tricks on how to avoid The Dreaded Burn Out.

    1. Find a Hobby. Throw yourself at it. Seriously. I cannot overstate the importance of having a hobby outside of the lab. If all you do in life is eat, breathe, and sleep science, then at some point you are bound to burn out. Just like professional athletes have to take rest days, scientists need to give their minds a break from thinking about their work. I promise these breaks will actually help you to generate ideas, and keep you appreciating the science, even when experiments are failing. Some ideas:
      1. Bake – it’s like science, but you get a yummy treat at the end of it
      2. Hike – you’ll remember what sunlight looks and feels like, and that alone can increase your happiness
      3. Get a pet – they’re the perfect listeners and won’t tell you that Reviewer Two actually has a point when they say you’re overreaching your conclusions
      4. Literally anything that is not being in the lab, reading scientific papers, studying, or anything to do with science. You’ll thank me later.
    2. Take a nap. Sleep is important. No one is going to argue against that. On those long days where you have to wake up early and stay late, bring a pillow to work. Rest your head on your desk during those 20-minute incubations. If your graduate student funds can’t afford you a nice travel pillow, a sweatshirt is a great alternative. I’d also suggest some noise canceling headphones or earplugs for the cheaper amongst us. If your lab is anything like mine you’ll need them for when your lab mate interrupts your nap with a loud curse after they dropped their culture dish on the floor. Oops.
    3. Take a vacation. Sometimes a hobby just isn’t enough. Every now and then you just need to get out. Hop on a plane, a bus, a train, or into your own car and just get away for a weekend. Leave your laptop at home and turn off email notifications on your phone. Better yet, lose your phone in a lake. Whatever you do, just take those 48 to 72 hours for yourself and do whatever it is that you love. Follow your favorite band to the city they’re playing that weekend, camp high in the Rockies, or find a beach and relax there with a silly fictitious book that has absolutely nothing to do with science.
    4. Get to know your Starbucks baristas. Caffeine, caffeine, caffeine. Grab your favorite colleague and make a trip to your local coffee shop, Starbucks, or Dunkin (formerly of the Donuts variety). Treat yourself to an overpriced Cup o’ Joe and a bakery item and use that 20-minute break from the lab to rejuvenate. Vent to that colleague about the experiment that’s not working, or your frustrations with the grant you’re trying to write. Just get out, enjoy the sun for a moment, and get some energy back. (If you don’t drink coffee, like me, there’s usually a good tea or caffeinated fruit drink you can get too.)

Find whatever works for you in the end, and just remember: you will graduate…one day.

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Photo by Vivek Karthikeyan on Unsplash