Dealing With Academic Burnout: My Experience as a STEM Major

They say college is no walk in the park. But for someone like me, it’s a marathon with almost no breaks, so “burning out” during the school year is pretty much inevitable. In my experience, the concept of having a full semester off does not exist. You might ask: “Don’t you take the summer semester off?” The answer to that is a hard no. 

I’m a materials science and engineering major, and that long name gives a good hint that it’s not an easy major. At the end of Spring semester this year, I was still pre-med, and I realized I wanted a doctorate instead. To make matters even more difficult, I have both depression and anxiety, and that certainly makes taking classes harder for me. Now, I’m a third-year and I can’t take a fall or spring off because my major is so small, we only offer classes once a year. That means that if I miss one class, I’m behind a year. My continual time on the semester treadmill has lead to a huge burnout. Burning out can be a huge detriment to one’s psyche.

During a full semester, there is no personal time. You need time to yourself, without any stresses and worries, and my lack of personal time has accrued over the last three years. However, here are some things I have realized about my experience in my major — and some ways to balance the course load.

1. Be strategic about your class choices — take something for fun if you can

It’s one thing to have to go on as long as I have out of choice, but then it’s another thing if you are forced to in order to stay on track for your major. I had to take an engineering mechanics class, and I needed to have it done by the end of this summer so that I wouldn’t be kicked out of my program. I had to retake an engineering core class and another that was a prerequisite for a class I’m taking right now. I took a required electrical engineering class that was at least easier in the summer. I also took a gardening class for fun, too. Having that one class as a breather from my other daunting core classes may have made my semester just a little more enjoyable.

2. Consider the consequences before taking a gap semester

Instead of piling on so many classes in the summer, I wished I would’ve taken a semester off and go behind schedule on purpose. I was scared to do so, but I realize now it would’ve been better for my overall mental health. In recent experience, I’ve heard about the benefits of taking a semester off and they always came to mind whenever I have a hard time dealing with the rigor of all of my classes. I need time for myself, which is why I’m going to suffer (but pull through) two more semesters and refrain from taking any classes during Summer 2019. If you’re in a position like me, do not feel bad about wanting a break. If others shame you for falling behind or look down upon you for doing so—screw them. You will know what’s best for you when it comes to your life choices. 

Some people may not want to take a semester off because the alternative is worse. Commonly, this alternative is staying at home and having nothing to do in comparison to all the activities, opportunities and experiences you have available while in classes and on campus. I wish I had the option of taking my time, but I’m almost done, and I lost that opportunity. I hope my experience can help you make the necessary decisions for your academic future. In my traditional fashion, I always try my best to help others avoid the mistakes I’ve made in the past. So if you start to burn out, please take care of yourself.

3. Study what you love 

Despite the challenges, I don’t want to be in any other major because this truly is my passion. 

Start doing more of the things that you love so to remind yourself that your entire life is not just centered on the stress of school. Even when you hit those lows in life, therapeutically doing the things you love makes your journey more meaningful. That is what you’ll remember the most– your recovery. From there, you can reinvent yourself and learn from your mistakes. After burning out, you can only become stronger.

While it can be hard sometimes, have faith that you will be able to overcome any adversity because you totally can. If you burn out, think of it as an experience that should not bring you down because you are not your flaws, but only what you want to be.