The Unique Characteristics of Grad School Fatigue

I have experienced what “hard work” is in the real world. For seven years I worked long hours, had 80 hour weeks, and whined about being over worked, under paid, and perpetually exhausted. After having my first child, I thought I might remedy the problem of going back to work by starting my PhD. I thought I would have more flexibility and time to spend with my lovely daughter and be extra supportive of my husband completing his residency at McGill.

The fact of the matter is that grad school has this deceiving way of taking it out of you. Despite working long hours in my “real job”, I was able to go home, have a glass of the wine, go to the gym, or do whatever I felt like that night. I worried about work when I checked in the office in the mornings, but once I was out of the clinic, I was my own woman. Now, I analyze reasons for variance in my life, I mix up “Chef Boyardee” with Chef Bonferroni, and I get overly thrilled when the word “significant” is used in any sentence.

When you are a grad student, you are always thinking. I think about statistics in grocery lines, how to summarize results while cooking dinner, and I dream about the day I write the last word of my thesis conclusion. I have been increasingly frustrated with lately for being glued to my Iphone. Although it is a beautiful device and has made my life simple in many ways, it is also a constant reminder of academic work that needs to be done.  For example, I have been consulting with a group overseas of late, and unfortunately their mornings start a lot earlier than mine. As of about 2am, I can see my phone light up excitedly with incoming emails about the analysis for my thesis. I have not mastered the skill of being able to ignore them yet. Because my son continues to wake up throughout the night, I have now found myself answering these emails as a way to ease the pain of “sleep training” him.

For those of you who do not have kids, there are several methods that you can use to get your child to sleep at night. I tried them all with this little guy. The first trick in the book worked with my daughter, and she slept straight through the night as of the second month she was brought into this world.  However, my son has no ability to master any of the tricks. So, after 13 months, I am now at the “let him cry it out stage” (my paediatrician recommended it~ so there must be some evidence behind his approach). It involves sitting in my bed listening to him belt it out for an hour (sometimes two) until he soothes himself to sleep. My pain/guilt is eased by answering emails back to supervisors, students, and statistics advisors during this time.

The crazy part to this is that the people who receive the emails think I am a “hard worker” and have no idea I replying to the emails in my jammies and using the activity as a strategy to cope with the angst associated with my son singing Pavarotti at 3am. I guess it is a bit of a negative feedback loop, but it does make the middle of the night kid breaks a little easier.  

So, tonight….at 2am…while my son is screaming (let’s just call it singing), I have answered all of my emails-and now I am blogging my thoughts about this fatigue syndrome I am experiencing. Perhaps my thoughts are not as clear as they should be, but I do realize that I need to try and adopt the previous strategies I had when I was in the “real world” with a “real job”. These are what I need to start doing:

1)      Acknowledge that this is the “real world” and grad school is a “real job”. That being said, I plan to be more careful with my time in the next few months and use it more efficiently. I will be an “academic” at certain times of the day, but at one point…let’s say 5pm….it is over.

2)      I will start engaging in more physical activity. I sometimes get on such a writing roll lately, I forget to do things for myself…so that needs to change. I am scheduling time for me once a day…let’s say noon.

3)      MOST importantly, I am finding a new night time home for my phone. I do not need it anywhere near my bed. It is going to sleep on its own tonight downstairs. I might have my own anxiety being separated from it, but I think I will survive. Starting from tomorrow, I will be a grad student when the clock strikes 8am (should I program that into my Iphone???). The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese. I am more of a cheese gal anyways.

Hopefully my new time use strategies will make me more efficient and less mentally fatigued. The nice part about grad school is that the deadline for thesis submission is not set in stone (realistically). Each chapter is getting written one word at a time, and it will be great at the end. Until it is complete, I will hopefully have a few nights of sleep where I can dream happy thoughts of writing those last words…and I promise that I will be writing them sometime between the working hours of 8am-4pm, after I went for a long run without my Iphone. I am a dreamer, but I think it is a realistic goal.

Good night!

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