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The repeating cycle of overwork in academia: a first-person account

I have written several times here (on my blog) about how overworking almost has taken me to the actual tomb. What disappoints me and angers me (and yes I’m disappointed and angry with myself) is that it’s July of 2022 and I am writing about it yet again. As a good friend on Twitter responded to my thread discussing my health situation: “it’s a lesson I need to learn and re-learn over and over”.

I’m not happy about it.

Parksville's amazing weather

I sat down with my Mom last night and had a terrifying but important conversation. Despite repeated negative COVID tests, I’ve had 3 waves of respiratory illnesses and two bouts of gastrointestinal sickness in 5 weeks.

This means my last healthy day was May 27th, 2022.

These illnesses and their permanence track (quite logically) with 2 months of absolute insanity in terms of work. I’ve managed to finish every commitment I had for May and June by working while sick in some way or another. This is, of course, not something I am happy about nor something I advocate for. On the contrary, anybody who has followed me on Twitter or read my blog for any length of time will know that I am an ardent advocate of self-care and avoiding overwork.

I know that everyone at some point works while being ill. It’s one of the biggest issues I think in current society and especially in academia. We have made overworking and/or working while sick a badge of honor. The problem with working while sick, in my case, (or while slowly improving) is that my body is super sensitive to any external negative forces. So, what a mild cold normally do to me (take me out 2 days) takes me instead out 2 weeks. TWO WEEKS.

And then there’s the “feels like COVID even if I tested negative” series of symptoms that showed up in my body this past week.

Parksville at dusk

I want to be 100% clear about this: neither my institution nor my department have put this kind of pressure to work while sick on me. The fact that FLACSO Mexico and their leadership are so incredibly kind and generous is one of the key things that attracted me to it. On the contrary, I have received all sorts of positive encouragement to not push myself, to take care of myself and to wait everything out until I’m healthy again. The current state of affairs is one of my own doing. It’s all on me.


This time I am taking the time to rest and heal without committing to anything else other than, well, resting and healing. But it’s brutal for me to see me making the same mistakes I made years ago and swore to never make ever again.

You should be your first priority always.

So if you have seen me organize a workshop, teach a class, teach a workshop, know that I did all that while sick. This is not something to replicate in your own life, on the contrary. I’m sharing because I know I should have just cancelled everything and take time to get well.

Most times I share what I see as my best practices in academic life. I’m now sharing a reflection of what I did wrong and what’s I plan to NOT do ever again. I really think I learned the lesson this time.

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One Response

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  1. Marit says

    Hi Raul,
    As someone who frequently finds themselves in this situation, how would you go about taking time to get well? We agreed to doing those reviews weeks ago, the milestone report is still due, and you’ve put off reading your student’s paper for too long already….
    Best wishes, and I hope you feel better now.

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