Sunday, March 25, 2012

This "Humor" Scares Me...

A grad student acquaintance posted this to Facebook this morning. The ensuing comments all noted how hilarious it was, and how "totally true!"

I admit that I laughed at a few of them (I am startled when I meet people who don't like to read, and I have brought work to a bar a few times).

But, really? Most of it is kind of terrifying, IMHO. Look at how many of the reasons involve the normalization of working constantly. Look how many of them involve the idea that it's totally normal to never take breaks/vacations, and of how feeling guilty if you do is "an inherent feature of relaxation." Look at the one about popping ibuprofen like they're vitamins.

So you're working constantly to the point where you work twenty hours a day and are racked with guilt if you take a break to do laundry, and you've having head and body aches ...... but it's not a sign that you need to slow down and relax and get some balance in your life? Instead, it's a joking sign that "you might be a grad student?"

I call bullshit on this unhealthy lifestyle that grad students normalize and joke about. I call bullshit on the idea that it's perfectly normal (and even funny) for people to work themselves to the point of physical aches and pains, or to be unable to allow themselves time off of work without guilt.

And I seriously, seriously call bullshit on the idea that the work of grad students - writing papers to be published in obscure journals or presented to audiences of 5-10 people, and teaching mostly apathetic students - is so critically important that it justifies this kind of workload and stress and guilt. As I've said before - you're not saving someone's life. You're not being paid overtime. So take a freaking break!! (A real one - not one of those "free hours" where you do your laundry and cook some dinner and pretend that that's an actual break).

Sure, the work grad students do is work. And like any other type of work, it can eat up your life. And if you love the lifestyle of working constantly and wouldn't have it any other way? Then, great. There are people in all fields who love their work and choose to put in an inordinate number of hours doing it.

But let's not pretend that this is the way it *should be* ... especially not for people who don't feel fulfilled by it, but instead feel inordinately stressed out and guilty. And especially not for the type of work that is done by grad students.

No one's life is riding on whether you analyze that last passage of text or run ten more statistical analyses by the end of your weekend. Your career won't be made or broken by whether you get that article revision finished on Thursday at midnight or Friday morning at 10 AM. Your career and your discipline are not going to stop moving forward if you take a weekend off to visit a friend in another state.

So quit killing yourselves over work and quit feeling guilty if you take a break.

And most of all, directed to all academics? Quit joking around about this kind of thing as if it's normal or as if it's a healthy way to live!!


  1. JC, I couldn't agree with you more and it's the normalising of the joking about the over working obsession (When does he/she ever get to sleep?) that worries me too. I guess it's a means of defense - it's takes the edge off when you can joke about it and deny the reality of the game. And if I can really be honest, I am totally pissed at the nerve this person has in mis-spelling 'Foucoult' when all of us geeky, non-sociable Humanities PhDs who never eat the right amount of protein know very well is 'Foucault'! Ughh.

  2. Scary, yes. My department has had this list hanging up on a corkboard for years. It appeared during the first year of my MA and became a "hazing" of sorts. You knew you'd "made it" the more items you could check off the list.

  3. And what do you think of Facebook friends (from academia, needless to say), who always (always!) post things academia/intellectually/philosophically-related? It's Facebook! Not (another) plateform to show off how much you know about Foucault (with the right spelling), or how many complicated words you can align one after the other. Am I a not-as-good social scientist if I write about the last movie I saw or post a picture of a place I went?

    1. Maggie, it is very funny that you post this right now, because I just clicked over here from Facebook after rolling my eyes at a grad student "friend" who posted three or four overly-intellectual, abstract, "I'm soooo smart and introspective" type of statuses in a row.

      So yes, I completely agree with you. And when I was an active academic, I'd say 99% of what I posted was non-work-related. Because like you say ... it's FACEBOOK.

    2. I'm all for hard work... but I want the level of the work I put in to match the *importance* of the work. I'm guessing that I'm not alone in finding the academic hamster wheel insufficiently meaningful!

      In the sage words of an academic colleague who found a new career about the same time I did, "If I were negotiating peace between India and Pakistan [she's from Delhi], I'd be happy to get to choose which 20 hours of the day I work. But to write another article of literary criticism? Really?"

  4. And as I keep telling my own grad students, the key to staying sane (saneish?) is balance - working ridiculously long hours is a sign that something's wrong, either you're not working smart enough or you're trying to do something unachievable or you're going about something the long way round...

    In my experience, people who work really really long hours actually don't achieve very much per hour because they;re too tired/stressed/strung out on caffeine to actually work effectively. Intellectual work is HARD and can only effectively be done for a few hours at time, for normal humans... It scares me how much it's accepted that any kind of work is worth sacrificing everything for...