Early career scientists in academia, such as graduate students and postdocs, often have to deal with the pressures of work from their short-term appointment, lack of job opportunities, and requirement for publication (publish or perish). As the time goes by, you often find it difficult to juggle long hours at work and manage your work-life balance.

Unsurprisingly, many early academic scientists view their work and life as extremely stressful, accompanied with feelings of anxiety, and depression (Gloria & Steinhart, 2013). All of these emotions may negatively affect your health, job satisfaction, productivity, and engagement with your research and workplace.

Among a variety of stressful challenges at the workplace, early career scientists may experience repeated rejections, impostor syndrome, and burnout. Therefore, in this article, we show you how to identify these challenges and come up with solutions to overcome them.

Repeated Rejections

Even though the first rejection is probably the toughest of all rejections, any rejection following it may still be equally painful. Unfortunately, most academics have to deal with repeated rejections (Jaremka et al., 2020)

As you encounter more rejections, you may find it easier to process. On the other hand, repeated rejections may also become a hurdle. In addition, it can affect the way you think about your self-worth.

Identifying Disillusionment from Repeated Rejections (Jaremka et al., 2020):

  • Losing your confidence.
  • Taking these rejections as a long list of personal failures.
  • Stressed and overwhelmed.
  • Becoming cynical and forming negative thoughts.
  • Feeling depressed and unmotivated.

Tips to Overcome Repeated Rejections (Jaremka et al., 2020):

  • Give yourself enough time to process each rejection.
  • Accept the rejection as an opportunity to improve your research, manuscript or grant.
  • Plan the next step only when you are ready.
  • Be persistent.
  • Seek help from a colleague, mentor, or professional, if this challenge makes you depressed.

Common Stressors in Academic Life, Stress Academia

Impostor Syndrome

Have you ever felt your achievements or skills are not good enough to be in science? When this happens all the time, your self-doubt may snowball into a big hurdle and cause you to feel stressed. It may prevent you from being productive and lead you to believe you don’t belong in your field of study.

Impostor syndrome is a tendency to question your accomplishments and believe you are not as competent as others think are (Jaremka et al., 2020). Surprisingly, this is common in academic scientists, despite a lot of evidence of their knowledge, skills and accomplishments.

It doesn’t help when academic culture continuously demands high quality results, such as getting a greater grant, producing many high-profile publications, and scoring glowing teaching evaluations.

Identifying Impostor Syndrome (Jaremka et al., 2020):

  • Feeling insecure and that you don’t belong in higher education.
  • Afraid that people see you as a fraud.
  • Undervaluing your skills or accomplishment.
  • Stressed and overwhelmed.

Tips to Overcome Impostor Syndrome (Jaremka et al., 2020; Levine, 2020):

  • Realize that you are not the only one in academia experiencing this challenge.
  • Push back your negative feeling: It is not real, nor based on facts. Try not to let it dictate your future.
  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Recognize your unique ideas, skills, achievements, positive values, and professional record.
  • Surround yourself with supportive friends, colleagues and mentors.
  • Talk to a professional counselor, particularly if what you feel causes significant issues in your work and life.

Burnout

When you experience burnout, you start questioning the value of your hard work. Burnout is a state of persistent stress generating physical and emotional tiredness, and eventually lack of interest (Jaremka et al., 2020). This condition is both serious and incapacitating. Burnout may arise from being overworked. More often, it comes from feeling too overwhelmed.

Identifying Burnout (Jaremka et al., 2020):

  • Feeling helpless, unappreciated, and exhausted.
  • Unmotivated and losing interest on completing your tasks.
  • Feeling that you’ve reached your upper limit.
  • Overwhelmed and close to quitting.
  • Not caring about your job.

Tips to Overcome Burnout (Jaremka et al., 2020):

  • Remember that burnout is a common problem in academic science.
  • Remind yourself why you pursue this academic career.
  • Set realistic expectations so you don’t get overwhelmed with your list of things to do.
  • Even though it’s hard, try to improve your work-life balance.
  • Talk to a supportive colleague or mentor who can motivate you and find a good solution together.

Repeated rejections, impostor syndrome, and burnout are regular stressful experiences in academic life. Despite being common, many academic scientists find it hard to admit they experience these challenges due to high expectations of the academic culture.

However, when you experience these challenges, be kind to yourself and be persistent. Keep in mind you are not alone in these challenges. Talk to your mentor or colleague. Also, consider seeking professional help, particularly when these challenges become too overwhelming and your thoughts turn into self-harm.

References

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