Burnout among professors is common since the academic and professional demands placed on them by their institutions’ administrators is often high and intense. Everything from grading papers and exams to attempting to obtain tenure can be stressful. Therefore, it is important for professors to find ways of avoiding burnout and actively find enjoyment in their work. Here are some tips for how professors can avoid burnout:
Know your stressors and what triggers them. The Centers for Disease Control list symptoms of stress, including reduced enjoyment in normally enjoyable activities, feeling emotionally numb, increased feelings of anger and tension and wanting to be left alone. We educators often recognize these symptoms in our students, but we should also be aware of how the stressful events in our lives trigger our own symptoms. If deadlines are stressors, creating a time management system can help. This might even involve creating a more structured rubric for students’ papers.
Be prepared for under-prepared students. As Janie Crosmer found in her doctoral research on professor burnout, a common source of professors’ stress is that many students are coming to college courses unprepared for the required academic rigor. It is important for us to remember that, while we cannot control how well-prepared students are when they start college, we can show them the path to success. When our students feel prepared for academic success, we also reduce or even eliminate one of our common sources of stress.
Advocate for collective departmental values. Working in a department that is not united in its goals and values can also be another factor that leads to professor burnout. Feeling unsupported by colleagues can be defeating. While we certainly have to be responsible for ourselves, our workloads can often seem hair-ripping-out excessive, especially for those who work at institutions that place more emphasis on teaching than research. Coming together as a department to offer support and resources for one another is crucial for avoiding collective faculty burnout. For example, if one professor is working on an upcoming conference presentation, another professor with whom they’re close could step in and substitute teach in a class of theirs.
Don’t let the financial stress obliterate your passion. Some professors take on as many teaching opportunities as possible (sometimes even dividing their time between several colleges and universities) in order to make a sufficient salary. According to Glassdoor, the national average salary for non-tenured assistant professors at American colleges and universities is approximately $49,000. While, for many Americans, this might seem ideal, it can feel defeating when we consider that tenured professors often make upward of $60,000 a year. For those who are on the tenure track, it is imperative that you remember your financial situation is not permanent and could certainly be worse. Taking on additional work should only be done if you feel you absolutely can handle it.
Manage your time; manage your mind. Schedule your tasks with deadlines in mind, but allow yourself breaks to mentally and emotionally relax and regroup. Burnout is essentially the result of a domino-effect of stressors. When I work with students on their time management skills, I tell them the same thing. Spend an hour or two maximum on the most pressing task, then take a break. Do something you enjoy in your break time. Listen to music, do yoga, watch a show on Netflix or Hulu, or read a chapter of a book you have been wanting to read for fun. And don’t forget to eat! After a set amount of time doing that, return to your work and repeat this process until your work is complete. Maintaining a healthy mind and body is crucial to avoiding burnout for professors. As Rosalyn M. King, a professor at Northern Virginia Community College, recommends, do not jump from one task straight into another; spend time on rewarding yourself for a job well done before you start the next task. Take the time out to enjoy life and remember why you love working as a professor.
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Daniel & David
How to Avoid Burnout as a Professor