What Do Scientists in Academia Worry About?

Plenty!

Job security, “Publish or Perish”, work-life balance, promotion, imposter syndrome, grant income, metrics, teaching evaluations, student and staff recruitment, budgets…the list goes on and will be unique to you as a person and your specific role(s).

What can you do to minimise the impact of worry?  There are lots of great free tools out there – like a Worry Diary for managing your worry.

Other strategies to keep in mind are to:

Manage Your Workload Model like a Boss

Your Workload Model, i.e. time, lies at the heart of many academic worries.  There is no magic wand you can wave to balance everything in any way that looks remotely sensible.  So – it boils down to just saying no.  Being selective about the duties you take on prioritises your time.  If you enthusiastically say “yes!” to everything, practice saying “no” occasionally.  Like most things in life, striking the right balance is vital.  Don’t shy away from shouldering responsibilities when you must, but equally, don’t be shy about confidently saying no when you need to.

Develop Your Self

Leading a research lab is often likened to managing a business.  Except as a scientist, you didn’t train to be an expert in leadership, project management, people management and budget management etc.  While these disciplines may seem deadly dull, they can be mastered if you apply suitable techniques and approaches.  Make use of staff development available to you in these areas and focus on developing your emotional intelligence and communication skills as well.  Doing this propels you forward in both your personal and professional lives.  I saw this recently on Twitter: “hey academics, what’s something important to your work that you never took a class on?”.  As well as the above I would add English language.  Learn to write science well!  Even if you cheat a little and use software such as Grammarly to improve your writing.

Fuel Your Passion

Passion fuels my intrinsic motivation for research.  Passion keeps my research moving forward whilst juggling the many non-research balls of academia.  How do you keep your passion burning hot?  Do everything else as efficiently as possible, tapping every Personal Development trick, tip and technique you’ve learnt and don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

We often worry about the future and dream up little nightmares about how the wheels will fall off our academic lives for all the will in the world.  It’s like Mark Twain said:

I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.

If you broke your leg, you wouldn’t attempt to walk around on it for a week.  And it’s the same with your mental health – take as much care with your mind as you do with your body.  A good place to start is with a Worry Diary for managing your worry.

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