Surviving Grad School: Tips for preventing graduate school burnout

preventing graduate school burnout

Graduate school is an exciting time filled with fantastic research opportunities and enthusiastic colleagues, but it can also be a period of great stress. Even the most passionate and dedicated students may feel the pressure of mounting work, research deadlines and readings. While a certain level of stress is expected and even normal, if left unchecked, students run the risk of wearing down and succumbing to one of the biggest enemies of a successful graduate school career: burnout.

Fortunately, it's possible to spot potential signs of burnout. In fact, if you notice your flame is flickering early enough, it's possible to take steps to alleviate some of the stress and reignite your passion for your graduate studies.

How to Spot Grad School Burn Out

Every single graduate student experiences the stress and pressure associated with pursuing a higher education degree. However, just because you're feeling stressed or frazzled doesn't mean that you're burning out. It's important to note that while some degree of stress is normal, the markers of burnout are not. If you find yourself regularly experiencing some of these signs pointed out by the University of California, Santa Barbara, it may mean that you should take steps to reduce your stress levels.

  • Sleeplessness or difficulty sleeping
  • Frequent illness
  • Depression
  • Increased irritability
  • Forgetfulness or absent-mindedness
  • Chronic fatigue - constantly feeling tired or worn out even when little or no work has been done
  • Apathy and loss of interest, especially in study-related concerns

How to Combat Grad Student Burnout

If you find yourself feeling increasingly worn down and exhibiting some of the above warning signs, you may be concerned that you're being besieged by burnout. Fortunately, as Linda Curci of the Caltech Counseling Center told EzineArticles, burnout is a gradual process that takes time to fully set in. When you start noticing these red flags, it's possible to reverse the effects and keep yourself from losing steam with a few simple methods.


As soon as fatigue and exhaustion set in, sleep is often the first thing to be affected. Considered a minor inconvenience by many who experience disrupted sleep, the fact is that sleep loss and insomnia can have serious consequences if left unchecked. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classified poor sleep as a public health epidemic. As UCSB noted, those who work physically or mentally taxing jobs - such as graduate students - are especially susceptible to cognitive disruptions as a result of losing sleep. According to their statistics, one week of losing just one hour of sleep a night can have the same effect on your cognitive function as having a blood-alcohol concentration of .10 - above the legal limit to drive.


When you're mired in research and textbooks, taking time every week or even every day to exercise may seem like the last thing on your mind. But before you brush it off, keep in mind that your body and your mind are simply two sides of the same coin, and allowing the former to slide can have a direct impact on the latter. Not only can exercise help you sleep better, according to The New York Times, but it also can release endorphins - your brain's feel-good chemicals. And of course, a healthy body is less likely to get sick.

Take breaks

As counterintuitive as it may sound, letting yourself take breaks is essential to keeping your pace while working. UCSB reported that taking even a five- to 10-minute break every hour can keep you focused, rather than trying to marathon an eight-hour work session.

Recognize your triggers

Self-monitoring is perhaps one of the most important components of fighting burnout. As noted, knowing which situations are likely to cause you the most stress and planning your work and schedule accordingly can make it so you can avoid much of your stress in the first place.

About the Author: Laura Morrison earned an MBA from the Rutgers School of Business in 2010.

Find Schools