6 August 2019

A recent workshop with Charlie Cannon provided top tips for acknowledging and overcoming the common difficulties of academic life.
Mountain climbers

Being an academic is challenging. Expectations are high. Rejections are commonplace. Bouncing back is difficult. On 26 July, Charlie Cannon visited the University of Edinburgh Business School to discuss the difficulties of academic life with a group of over 30 researchers and professional services staff. For the last fifteen years, Charlie has worked and coached at the interface of leadership, performance, and wellbeing. For his visit to the Business School, he focused on resilience in academic life.

With Charlie's guidance, the group undertook several activities where they talked to strangers in the room about stressful situations they'd been in, and where they learned to identify their triggers for negative situations. Through changing partners regularly, participants were able to reach others with a wide range of experiences, and conduct a frank discussion of the difficulties of academic life.

Getting Out Of 'The Box'

The group discussed the feeling of being trapped in a box, stuck in one place while feeling stressed, resentful, or overwhelmed. Being able to break out of that place would allow participants to feel more in control, energised, and balanced.

In groups, techniques for breaking out of that mindset were discussed. The first step is awareness of being stuck in the box. Strategies for breaking out of the mindset in the moment included breathing techniques, taking a walk outside, or consciously asking yourself how important this current worry might be.

Identify Your Triggers

In pairs, the group examined recent situations at work that had caused them stress. They discussed how the situation had made them feel, what it had made them think, and how it had impacted their behaviour and even their physiology. By being able to identify the situations that caused this kind of stress, participants would be able to recognise when those situations arose again in the future.

Sleep, Eat, and Recover

As well as the social and psychological factors in boosting resilience, the workshop also examined physical contributors. They started with a sleep debt questionnaire, which looked at factors that can contribute to a lack of sleep. With the majority of adults requiring 7.5 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night, it was estimated that many people at the workshop would be operating with sleep debt.

Healthy eating was also emphasised, along with giving oneself space to recover from setbacks. The workshop recommended scheduling regular breaks, both within the working day itself and within the full year, to ensure that the mind and body have time to recover.

Remember the Positives

After spending the workshop focusing on the setbacks of academic life, the afternoon ended with a discussion, in pairs, of positive experiences. While academic life can include difficult experiences that require a high level of resilience, the participants in the workshop could also name dozens of positive experiences that they'd had, from having papers accepted and giving powerful presentations, to mentoring other academics and successfully receiving funding awards.

Academic life can have its positives and negatives, and Charlie's workshop was a great way of identifying coping strategies for the challenges that may arise. The workshop had excellent feedback and the attendees very much enjoyed it.