“WUR has highest sick leave” said the title of an article that was published in the Resource magazine, in September 2020. The author stated that work pressure and overtime are key causes of the increased illness of employees. This surprised me because the university does so much to help us balance our stress. But I can say that I too know how tough it can be to work as a researcher.
I published about the amount of pressure I feel right now in my previous article for Resource and received many responses from other PhDs, who had similar experiences: “It is funny how we all experience the same struggles and still feel so alone in them.” By expressing my own feelings publicly, I hope I can help others to cope, as they will realise that they are not alone. At least for me, this notion is often consoling.
Yet, someone else, who worked as a research technician before starting a PhD and thus had even more experience than most beginning researchers, let me know that this may not be enough: ‘I have seen a lot of my former colleagues go through the same emotions. I was hoping that I would have been able to learn from their experience and not be affected like that. Sadly, knowing was not enough and struggling with my experiments makes me question what I am doing.’
It can be helpful to discuss expectations with your supervisors
What more can we do to help each other cope than talking and consoling? What more can WUR do, to prevent stress from becoming so severe that it makes us sick? The university organises the surf your stress week, we can go to the occupational social workers (contact: firstname.lastname@example.org), we have walk-in hours at our grad schools. All these possibilities are advertised heavily. Are people reluctant to use them or do these measures not work? Is this job even doable, without struggling?
I have no answers to these questions, but I have another tip: It can be helpful to discuss expectations with your supervisors. Ask them what they expect from you and be honest about your expectation whether you can manage to achieve these goals. Tell your employer what you need, to be healthy at work and let’s surf our stress together.