Burnout is inevitable for students in progressing years, and College must address it

Community, or the lack of it due to the pandemic, is at the core of student burnout

We’re all sick of being reminded about the obliteration of the social aspects of college thanks to coronavirus. The social moments that segmented our lives have been robbed from us. The dreary familiarity and banality of the everyday demotivates and demoralises even the most bubbly and enthusiastic students. That’s not to say that first and final years won’t ever experience burnout, but the recognition of where they are in the span of their college lifetimes can help to reassure the good times ahead and those gone by. First and final years roughly have the same amount of work cut out for them: first years are clueless and are starting from scratch, figuring out how to get by, socially and academically. For final years the work can seem insurmountable. Burnout is certainly possible for both classes of students but they can anticipate that they either don’t have to worry about grades or that they’re moving on to a different chapter of their lives. 

“The failure of this medium of learning is that it completely overlooks the essence of student life by trying to rectify the disappointing reality of all work with essentially no social life.”

But what about those in progressing years? Arguably, they are the most overlooked and vulnerable category of students. They have more savoir-faire than first years, but not nearly as much sophistication as final year students. The middle years of college are for growth, both academically and socially. Conceivably, those in progressing years acquire more responsibilities as they go, but also a steadily increasing workload with either no motivation to do it or ability to recognise the value of doing it. Trinity’s expectation and culture of individual and independent learning is tough even at the best of times, but learning online has created an expectation of even more student autonomy. The failure of this medium of learning is that it completely overlooks the essence of student life.  It’s all work with essentially no social life — it’s through no fault of College’s own, but of the global health crisis facing us that has forced students to burn out.

Burnout is more than an inability to do anything or general “laziness”. It is the disconnect of self, mentally and physically, and a state of being completely overwhelmed by our collective responsibilities as students. In addition to this, there are the responsibilities of other roles that we play in our lives: the helpful sibling and family member, the politically engaged citizen, the good student. Without social distraction, these roles eventually take their toll. Burnout is not necessarily a binary state either. You don’t wake up one day and feel burnt out. It’s a steady and gradual descent into the rabbit hole of responsibility. The creeping onset of stress related to these responsibilities is what inevitably leads to overextension, disengagement and, eventually, full burnout.

“Some might think that’s unnecessary but sometimes all it takes is a simple and individual conversation between a faculty and its students to get a genuine insight to what is going on.”

The loss of the Trinity community, of extra-curricular life and even the socialisation of the classroom means that there is nothing to stop this descent. Students are hiding behind their phones and screens sending faux-apathetic texts to each other, promising that they’re fine, because they know that there are people that have it much worse than them and these are “just the times we are living in”. But the reality is that burnout is a collective problem: if we haven’t experienced it already, we will at some point of our lives. Conversely, the onus of preventing burnout is put on students individually. This notion was once again emphasised in a recent email from the Senior Lecturer, reminding students of the basics they can do to prepare themselves for the forthcoming term: go to lectures, create a routine, engage with societies and events, and use College supports. While this is all well and good, there is nothing really pushing students to do any of these things. I do wish there was more of a check-in from tutors, TAs and lecturers. Some might think that’s unnecessary but sometimes all it takes is a simple and individual conversation between a faculty and its students to get a genuine insight to what is going on. The pandemic has created this feeling that every day is the same, and time doesn’t feel real. A quick check-in could really be effective to allow students to voice any concerns they may have and try to get back on track with work they might have fallen behind on, before the backlog becomes too overwhelming.

As a final year, it’s difficult to imagine where I’ll end up next or what I’ll do. Whatever I decide, I can take comfort in the certainty that I will be finished college. Honestly, it is those in the years behind me who I worry about the most. This turn towards online learning has left us all quite drained. While the vaccine is in sight and giving everyone a glimmer of hope, it’s not necessarily a ticket back to the way things were before the pandemic. There’s no knowing of when Coronavirus mutations will stop. The resumption of normality may yet be far off. So it piques my concern that those in progressive years will live the rest of their college lives deteriorating behind screens.

BNOCs, Trinity W*nkers, social climbers: whether you love them, are one of them, or hate them and laugh at them, they are at the heart of the Trinity community. As long as the drought of social life continues on campus and as online learning becomes the norm, College needs to step up and realise that it is their duty to prioritise the wellbeing of their students. This can be as simple as encouraging student-staff conversations and check-ins, but it is certainly more than an email informing students “how to prepare” for semester two. Fundamentally, it is the everyday cycles of college life that prevent students from burning out. College must realise that the community of students cannot be replicated online. There is more to student life than sitting behind a screen for hours at a time.

Dearbháil Kent

Dearbháil Kent is the Comment Editor of Trinity News, and a Senior Sophister student of Latin.