Day: May 27, 2017

Question from Reader: Burnout

Reader Burnt-out Postdoc (BoP) has a question for the blogosphere. Please help BoP by sharing your thoughts in the comments!

I’m now in my third year of postdoc. After moving to my current position I started working on a new, challenging and very interesting project, for which I had to develop many new skills. It was a somewhat risky endeavour and I put all my soul into it, working long hours, weekends, even some holidays. This effort payed off and the project turned out to be very successful: I got interesting results, published several papers, got some invitations to conferences and such, and in general became slightly more visible (in my tiny niche, but nevertheless). This fall I also had to apply for jobs and grants. The job search was overall quite successful (no doubt, as a result of the success of my project). I landed several interviews, including one for a tenure track position (which I didn’t get but spent a ridiculous amount of time preparing for the interview), got two offers for postdoctoral positions (both from very strong groups), and accepted the one that seemed to better suit my interests. So far, a classical example of how hard work and dedication pay off. (btw, doing two postdocs is perfectly normal in my field)

However, I now fear all of this came at a price. Immediately after the last job interview was over I fell into a strange state of apathy, probably best described as a burnout. It’s not that I’m tired (I’ve taken a few days off here and there) – I just completely lost any interest in my work. I have to drag myself to University every day, then force myself to actually do something useful. Needless to say, I don’t feel even the slightest urge to work on the weekend. I can only do something very technical, as I feel that no creative juices, so to speak, are left in me. I’m no more interested in reading papers and attending talks. The mere idea of going to a conference is depressing (and I have several of them lined up in the coming months). The results of my project, that seemed so cool a few months ago, no longer excite me. I’m constantly thinking about quitting science altogether, and the only thing that is stopping me is that I don’t really know what else I can do at this point to make a living. In fact, I would rather not do anything at all, so maybe trying to win the lottery can be a good option.

Perhaps if I could take a really long, say month-long vacation, this apathy would go away, but I clearly cannot afford it. On the contrary, I know perfectly well that I should work as hard as ever in order to publish even more papers and to be prepared for the next round of job applications (but what is the point if I don’t even enjoy doing science anymore?). On the other hand, a month-long vacation would only convince me that not working is much better than working, so not sure it would be helpful. I’m really worried that I will never regain that passion for science I used to have. I always had other interests and hobbies, but I don’t see how these could be turned into gainful employment.

If you have experienced or witnessed a similar condition, is it at all reversible?

With best regards,
Burnt-out postdoc