Measuring Academic Success by how much we Rest

by Anna Blanch on December 16, 2009

One of the most viewed posts on Goannatree is the post I wrote last year on measuring Academic success. I thought it was time we revisited this topic from a slightly different angle. This time I thought i’d focus on rest as an ingredient to “academic success.”

This great post from ProtoScholar reflects on summers and what constitutes a break as a grad student or early career Professor. Productive sabbaticals are certainly one thing, but what about the way we structure the “holidays” and those moments during and around the work week. In common parlance these might be known as week nights and weekends.

During my first year of graduate school a professor mentioned that we should make sure we stopped for at least an hour to eat Thanksgiving dinner before getting back to work on the papers we had due on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving weekend. At that point Thanksgiving was a foreign holiday but even I was a little confused by the notion that I would spend almost all of a “holiday” working on seminar papers.

Through the course of other, almost inhuman deadlines, I realised that the way we set deadlines can make or break how much we, and our students, are able to rest. For example, setting a deadline of Midnight on Sunday (or Saturday) night seems wholly inconsistent with my desire for students to be encouraged to take Sunday (or Saturday) as a day of rest. Indeed, academic freedom aside, it seems prudent to me for faith-based colleges to suggest to their faculty that such deadlines do little to encourage the mental health, let alone the spiritual practice of their students.

This semester I’ve set myself some major deadlines just prior to activities I wanted to feel completely free to enjoy: for me that involves travel, rugby matches (spend anytime on Goannatree and you’ll figure out that I love Sport), and gatherings of people and food! But i’ve been struggling with the adjustment to a less structured work week and the balance of “work” to rest.

Taking breaks as an academic
In moving from a situation where I was working 80-100 hours a week to meet my commitment to having limited time based commitments since i arrived in Scotland I have been forced to reflect on how best I work. For the last couple of years I have been working to deadlines constantly meaning that I worked in less than ideal conditions and wrote no matter how exhausted (mentally and physically) I was.

Thankfully, now i have the opportunity to relearn the most ideal conditions for me. I am reminded that I write and do difficult cognitive thinking and analysing best in the mornings, do my best unstructured creative thinking in the afternoons, and occasionally write and read at night. I’ve been realising that I am much more creative when i am not sitting at a desk 8 hours a day; when i “rest” either by exercising or running errands or writing about other things, or sitting with friends and discussing something entirely different, that’s when ideas are reframed and connections made.

Setting clear definable goals helps keep me on track as I rejoice in being content with the lack of stress and the lack of responsibility. Prioritizing my mental and spiritual health as a given rather than a luxury is an aspect I am learning to appreciate and enjoy.

What does it mean for you to rest? how do you think rest relates to success and its measurement?

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