Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It's better to burn out than it is to rust...

A new AAUP survey on the burnout phenomenon among academics is familiarly sobering.

The study was conducted using the Maslach Burnout Inventory Educators Survey, which "assesses three aspects of burnout on a multi-point scale. The categories include:
• Emotional Exhaustion: Feelings of being emotionally overextended or just worn out with work. (Average Scores: 14-23).
• Depersonalization: An unfeeling and impersonal response toward recipients of one’s service, care, treatment or instruction. (Average Scores 3-8).
• Personal Accomplishment : Feelings of competence and successful achievement in one’s work. (Average Scores 36-42)."

The higher the score, the greater the burnout. Interestingly, the academics reporting the highest composite "burnout" scores were untenured faculty, compared to non-tenure track faculty and tenured faculty. Also, women had higher scores in Emotional Exaustion. Although these findings might not seem so surprising anymore, it is important that we keep some sense of perspective, and I want to share some comments from a BANDIT member who provides that perspective eloquently:

"I realize all jobs cause some level of stress and that the tenure process is pretty stressful due to it's ambiguity. I have recently taken part in several studies on work/life balance and it is becoming more and more apparent that there is no formula for achieving tenure and/or appropriate work/life balance. Here, the three categories of our commitment to the university are reported to be measured as service (20%), scholarship (40%), and teaching (40%). Yet, it is evident that if you really pursue only 20% service, it will not work so well. So, it's more 40%, 40%,40%, thereby making little sense.... On the other hand, I feel strongly that we are in a pretty amazing position in that we are lucky enough to get a job that allows us to run around after monkeys in beautiful places (or basically in a dream job), have unstructured time during many portions of the year, and get to teach eager wide-eyed (usually) students in the things where we are passionate. So, I tire quickly of campus negative burned out attitudes. I think it is important that as new faculty, we work to avoid stress and attempt to appreciate that we have these amazing opportunities. My observations suggest that the burned out and stressed teach pretty poorly and are bitter about their accomplishments. That is just silly."

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