By: Raven Cokley, University of Georgia
If you have spent any time at all in the academy (or trying to secure a position within the academy as a graduate student), then you may have encountered burnout at one point or another. Essentially, burnout is what happens when your mind knows that you have things to do but your body says NO.
Typically, we hear about burnout during high transitional periods (i.e., at the end of the first year of a doctoral program or after defending a dissertation). However, we rarely discuss feelings of burnout after other high-stress situations, like the doctoral preliminary/comprehensive exams process. As doctoral students, we often hear that, “once you get to candidacy, that is when the real work begins”. Subsequently, no one actually stops to explain how we are supposed to take care of ourselves after we have reached that milestone.
While everyone may not experience burnout after comps/prelims, it is still important to have this discussion about doctoral student (candidate) mental health. Here are a few suggestions for combating burnout after candidacy:
1. STOP. For many, achieving candidacy is a fleeting moment shared between a student and their advisor, as you are ushered onto the next task. Fight the urge to “do more” now. STOP. Sit with yourself and your thoughts for a moment (however long you need that to be). Totally unplug (if you are active on social media). If you can garner any amount of stillness/peace, take it!
2. REBOOT. What do you need for a fresh start? A nap? A visit from your best friends? Total silence? Discover what your “reboot button” looks like and do that. You cannot run on a drained battery!
3. TELL PEOPLE WHAT YOU NEED. This can be challenging for those of us on a busy schedule. Sometimes, we are moving so quickly that we don’t stop to ask ourselves/tell others what we need. Whether it is a home-cooked meal, a trusted friend/relative to watch your kids, uninterrupted sleep, or a fun dinner out on the town, let those who love you know how to best care for you/help you to care for yourself.
4. SAY NO. Hopefully, this one does not require too much explanation. If you are tired, exhausted, and/or burned out, the last thing that you need is another responsibility to add to your to-do list. After you have submitted those papers/defended your oral exam, JUST SAY NO.
5. CELEBRATE! It can be really hard for us to celebrate ourselves, particularly if we know that bigger things are coming (like actually defending a dissertation!). However, achieving candidacy IS big; it is a huge accomplishment that deserves to be intentionally celebrated. Burnout is real and so are you. Despite the metaphor, you are NOT a machine. You are human, and you require rest. You may also require a reboot, and that is okay. Take care of yourself along the way to accomplishing your dreams; you deserve it!
Raven K. Cokley, M.Ed., NCC, is a third-year doctoral candidate in Counselor Education at the University of Georgia. Originally from Sarasota, FL, she received her B.S in Psychology from the University of Central Florida and her M.Ed. in Professional Community Counseling from the University of Georgia. Raven is a nationally board-certified counselor, with clinical experiences in P-20 settings, including charter/public schools and college counseling centers. Raven is a McNair Scholar alum and a 2018-2019 NBCC Minority Doctoral Fellow, awarded for her commitment to providing access to mental health services for members of underserved communities. Her research interests include experiences of giftedness among Black girls from lower-income families.