Are You Addicted to Academic Life?

Each month I host a group coaching program. Participants are mostly post-PhD and mostly academic. In the last meeting, we discussed keeping things balanced between work and other parts of your life. Although most people in the group would be considered successful in their career to date, it was clear there are two approaches to achieve success.

One was to make research and academia a central part of life. Building most, if not all other, things around academia. Academia first, as it were.

The other was to strictly limit the time work could impose on the rest of life. Nothing specifically put first. But realising there are times and places for everything. And that, even if there was “nothing” to go to, stopping work would be useful.

Like I said, both approaches seemed successful for those in the group. However, I don’t believe both will be useful long term. Making academic life the centre of your life, might be fine for short bursts or distinct periods in your life. But at what point does that become an addiction. I am not an addiction researcher; I’ll leave that to the likes of BrainPark. But I do know that an over reliance on anything is not good for us. As an academic, over reliance on work or perhaps over focus on work can lead to our sense of self being too closely tied to our academic achievements. So, successes mean lots. But so do failures. And with rejection and failure more common than any other outcome in academia (think writing papers, submitting grants, and even collecting and analysing data), having your sense of self tied VERY closely to work is a recipe for disaster. Where the disasters range from burnout, to breakdown, to frayed tempers, to perpetual disappointment. I’m sure you’ve got a few more examples you could add.

So, with that in mind, I thought I’d create a checklist to help you identify an addiction to work or a lack of life balance.

How addicted are you to academic life? In the last month:

  1. You have worked more than 200 hours.
  2. There isn’t a clear pattern of “work time” and “non-work” time.
  3. There haven’t been 2 consecutive days of no work (e.g., a weekend).
  4. Long work hours are justified as “necessary for success”.
  5. Work takes place at home, as well as on site (COVID notwithstanding).
  6. Working at home takes place anywhere, not just in a dedicate study space (e.g., the bedroom, family room, and/or kitchen).
  7. Other commitments (e.g., catching up with family or friends, attending sport or music practice) were impacted by work (e.g., arrive late, leave early or don’t attend at all) (see post about cancelling Christmas).
  8. Grant rejections feel like a personal rejection.
  9. Peer review reports feel like personal criticism.
  10. Your time to email is usually before 8am, and after 6pm.
  11. You are annoyed when others do not reply to your email within minutes or hours.
  12. You have started to write another grant, another paper, another experiment, without finishing others first.

“This was an excellent session, with everyone actively participating. I found it very useful and informative I really was impressed!”
Dr Catherine Haigh, Associate Professor

Dr Richard Huysmans is passionate about working smarter, not harder. Since 2008, Richard has been helping PhD students and academics improve their productivity without increasing their work hours. He’s tried various productivity approaches so that you don’t have to. He knows what works in academic and student research settings. His clients appreciate his cut-through approach. He knows the sector and how to turn ideas into reality.

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