Handling Burnout in STEM

June 21, 2018

I am sure you have felt “burnt out,” but what does that really mean, and is it even a real thing? With summer classes and summer jobs, we all must be feeling a little burnt out. However, when I looked into this, I shockingly found that burnout is actually classified as a psychological condition. Hear that? Those bags under your eyes are indicative of a very real, very dangerous health disorder. Mayo clinic classifies this ailment as job burnout, but the definition can extend to encompass burnout from educational endeavors and other life stressors.



Signs of burnout include change in appetite and sleep patterns, substance abuse, cynicism, temper, indolence, and loss of drive. What causes this? Imbalances in life, a major that isn’t a perfect fit, a poor support system, a major that is a perfect fit but that you are overly active in, or even dysfunctional work dynamics. Burnout has a lot of consequences, such as depression, anxiety, obesity, heart disease, substance abuse, and stroke. Now those extra hours of feeling frazzled may turn into perilous health problems. And guess what STEM majors? You’re especially at risk for these symptoms.


According to USA today, while the interest in scientific fields has increased in recent years, retention in STEM majors has not improved. Approximately 40% of those entering into science, technology, engineering, or math will leave those programs within four years. The reason for this  lack of fulfillment within these majors is a result of omnipresent burnout. STEM classes are structured with the intention of weeding students out. Professors actually want you to struggle and contemplate whether or not you want to stay on the path you’ve chosen. This method may be maddening, but it does serve the purpose of making sure you are qualified for your future position and ensuring that you won’t let the struggle break you.


Need tips on how to handle the burnout? Start off with prevention. I know that in a competitive major, it can be difficult to distance yourself from the bloodthirsty attitude of your peers, but take time to make light of your situation. University is not brain surgery, but one day it might be! Right now, during your studies, you are allowed to let yourself fail, so take advantage of that gift. Find friends in all different majors so you don’t become jaded and jealous. What if you find yourself past preventative measures and are experiencing major burnout? Take a break, but keep a schedule. That schedule should include bubble baths, workouts, and lots of sleep! Lastly, remember what made you start the thing that’s burning you out. Is it worth it? Is this what you love and can see yourself doing every day? Take time to remember what makes you happy and go after it!


Any tips for preventing or healing burnout? Let us know below!


Keri Watters is a twenty year old junior at Concord University majoring in Pre-professional Biology. Before medical school she aspires to join the Peace Corps or further her education with a masters degree. Keri is a passionate volunteer worker and vegetarian who hopes to inspire change through a multitude of mediums. She hails from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and spends her free time shopping, drinking coffee, and watching old movies.


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