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There’s no place for struggle-porn in academia

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Ever spent a night sleeping under your desk? 

I have. 

I was proud of it. It was something to boast about the next day. People admired me because of the amount of work I was putting into my PhD. They admire my work ethic. They said I'd one day make a great professor. 
And that’s the problem. 

We’ve become increasingly accustomed to thinking that we are only succeeding in our PhD programmes if we are working constantly. Our society seemingly rewards the 'do-ers', doesn't recognise success unless it has come off of the back of absurd amounts of effort personal sacrifice and seems to lust over the notion that treading water and struggling to survive is good. 

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Each day we send a short, thought-provoking email that will make you think differently about what it means to be a PhD student. It is designed to be read in thirty seconds and thought about all day. 
It’s got a weird name. Struggle porn. It's the fetishisation of over-exertion and irrational levels of effort or, to put it more crudely, the sense that beating your head against the wall is worthwhile. 

You’ve likely seen it yourself: the late nights in the library, the ‘publish or perish’ attitude, the disbelief that you didn’t spend Sunday morning working on your literature review, or the emails sent out at 3am on a Sunday. 
But it’s a lie. This notion of struggling being good and equalling success has bled into academic from the private sector and it has no place in either. 

All that sleeping under the desk did to me was make me unproductive the next day and made me realise how unsustainable my lifestyle had become. 

You don’t need to put in 80 hours a week. You don’t need to ‘hack’ your life to squeeze out every inch of productivity (and push out every inch of joy). You don’t even need to work seven days a week. 

Sure, you’ve got deadlines and word counts and everything else that comes with a PhD. But you’ve also got to realise that productivity is a finite resource. You can’t keep maintaining it for long hours. Eventually you’ll get tired. Even if your body isn’t, your brain will be. 

Sure, you’ll have done 80 hours, but they’ll be crappy hours. You’re better off having fewer, more productive hours. You’ll be better off using productivity tools to make sure that the 40 hours you spend at the office are as productive or more so than the 80 you feel like you have to.

So you need to work smarter not harder. Take breaks. Go do something non-academic. Heck, even do nothing at all. 

Do what you wish but don’t do it all the time. Find balance, pace yourself and, whatever you do, don’t sleep under your desk. 

What's the most extreme example of struggle porn in academia you've seen? Leave a comment below. 

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Dr. Max Lemprière is the founder of The PhD Proofreaders. He is an expert in presenting PhD research in the best possible way and maximising students' chances of success.