A Professor's Notes
Updated: Aug 3, 2019
Shortly before my emotional and physical downward spiral caused by my endometriosis, I talked to two professors (one biology professor, one religion professor) and an ADHD/ASD Coach who spent his PhD researching students who were going through a period of transition (e.g. Bachelor's to Masters, high school to post secondary).
There were a few common themes that I noticed through my conversations with each of them.
1. Self care is the first thing to slip.
This is critical, and I have noticed it in myself as well. It's very easy to just fall into a habit of wake up, eat, study, sleep, repeat. It wasn't until after my fourth year I took a break from school and remembered how much more enjoyable and manageable life is when you take just a few minutes to eat a decent breakfast, put on some mascara and wear something other than sweatpants.
There's no need to spend life looking like you're about to be on the cover of a magazine, but creating just two or three self care habits can make a huge difference in your self esteem and will help you feel more prepared to deal with anything the world can throw at you.
So, eat some vegetables, keep some lotion with you, and stretch a couple minutes a day even if you can't get to the gym.
2. There is a lack of work/life balance.
I'm sure almost every student today will relate to this. There are very few people that are able to go through school and just focus on school. Whether it be working an overwhelming number of hours because of financial stress, personal/family stress, health stress, domestic problems etc; there is too much going on in most students' lives for them to reach their full potential during their post secondary education.
Now some will argue that "this is life, learn to deal with these stresses now" ... and there is some truth to that (life isn't fair and there will always be something to deal with). That being said, school is supposed to be approached like a full time job, and there are many students that work full time or nearly full time while also carrying a full course load, and it is often these students that have the most pressing issues elsewhere in their life, and it's because of those issues that they're in the position they're in; just trying to get an education so they can improve their life.
Hopefully that wasn't too convoluted but in any case my points are: students are rarely just students anymore and post secondary institutions are not designed to allow for students to have much going on outside of their education. I speak from experience; even after going to my registrar to try to address the problems I encountered through the years as a result of my physical and/or mental health, the options tend to be limited.
Further, there are far TOO MANY HOOPS to jump through to get accommodated for the items that were missed or need to be deferred. Jumping through all these obstacles often costs money, it usually takes months to get an answer, and there's no guarantee that your problem will be solved regardless of the fact that a Verification of Illness was required to make a request to accommodate your situation anyway. In short, if you're too ill to get your work done or there's just too much going on in your life for you to be able to focus, try to drop your courses while you can still get a refund. If that isn't possible, try to drop them so they at least won't show up on your transcript (I just had to do that and it's financially devastating, but it's better than a failed class on my transcript).
3. The focus is just on getting the job/degree, no focus on personal growth.
After speaking to my 3 valuable contacts, it became clear that the stress and lack of balance in students' lives is a new trend. One of the professor's was at the University of Rochester in the early 2000s and said that his classmates did not have nearly as much to balance as students now which I found surprising, as really this was only 10-15 years ago.
As a result of the lack of balance and increased stress, there is often a sense of urgency to complete a degree just to get that sheet of paper. As a result, students just become robots trained to regurgitate information, instead of think critically, solve problems, or deal with real life situations.
In short, universities seem to be filled with distraught caffeine addicted robots and this trend appears to be fairly new. Based on my experiences and conversations, this is largely induced by significant pressures to get a degree and get it quickly, combined with a constant voice repeating "school comes first" when in fact, there are many situations in which school can't come first.
My advice to anyone that's feeling super overwhelmed, do what YOU need to do. If you absolutely cannot get through your classes without risking your health, and you can't cut off anything else than take a semester off to re-group. Will people judge? maybe, but most probably won't and there's no point in risking your health for a class that you can retake next semester.
School will always be there, your health may not be if you don't take care of it.