A couple of weeks ago, Inside Higher Ed ran a report called “Why Academics Suffer Burnout,” which concluded that many academics experience emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and work-related dissatisfaction. To which I say: if you can’t take the heat, get your ass out of the kitchen. Sub-arguments in support of thesis:
1) Yes, we academics do a lot of things: we read a shit-ton of books, we write hundreds of words even if our brains don’t want to cooperate, we teach students who would rather be sleeping/screwing/eating/playing video games, we serve on committees with other crazy, narcissistic whack-jobs like ourselves, blah, blah, blah. It’s still not digging for coal, driving a truck, running a farm on the edge of bankruptcy, or, hell, living in the Third World trying to find a path out of poverty instead of a path toward tenure. Cowboy/girl up, nerds.
2) Let’s move beyond relative comparisons to other jobs — I’m aware of the pitfalls of that way of thinking (“just be grateful for what you have, peon!”). I’ve long believed that every person has a particular level of maximum stress, which s/he will fulfill no matter what the conditions. So the professors freaking out about having too many theses to advise are the same ones who pissed themselves for sixth grade spelling tests. I’m not sure when this particular neurosis develops — nature? nurture? alien abduction? — but I notice it in myself and everyone else I see. So I would speculate that the people suffering burnout in the academy would also suffer burnout if they were flipping burgers at McDonald’s. The only difference is the consequence: stressy-professy ruins part of a student’s education, while freaked-out-Mc-D’d-out gives Comic Book Guy salmonella. I think society should be willing to accept the latter over the former.
3) Make way for those who can hack it. From the outside looking in, your 4/4 load with research support, health care, retirement, and awesome-sauce job security looks mighty nice. I — an many of the other graduate students out there — would be happy to take that off your hands. And we’ll do a damned good job.