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Are we Ignoring a Serious, Preventable, Occupational Health Risk Among Life Scientists in Academia?

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Type: Journal Article
Author: Malcolm, McCallum
Journal: Life: The Excitement of Biology
Volume: 5
Page(s): 77-114
Date: 2017
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/10315
Sector: Social Organization
Region: North America
Subject(s): health
Abstract: "Academic burnout is an occupational health syndrome with both psychological and physiological symptoms. It manifests as a debilitating and sometimes life-threatening condition when the extremely educated are under excessive social and occupational stress. Recent studies demonstrate that societal and economic changes have induced metamorphosis of the professoriate from a low stress to a high-stress occupation. Our knowledge about the nature and incidence of burnout among professors in the United States comes largely from studies confined to specific institutions, medical schools, and research universities. Publication is probably the most obvious and obtainable signal of reduced research productivity, and it is closely connected with academic burnout. I shed light on the potential incidence of academic burnout in university faculty by examining the productivity of 612 tenured life science faculty members from non-doctoral granting departments at 76 regional state universities and liberal arts colleges distributed among 13 randomly selected states. Anything claimed to be a publication on a faculty member’s CV or webpage, or via a Google Scholar query was accepted. This definition inflated publication counts making unpublished faculty more difficult to identify. Despite this, about 37% of tenured faculty went unpublished from 2008-2012. State jurisdictions averaged from 19% to 52% of faculty without publications. Departments awarding masters degrees had more published faculty than non-masters awarding departments. The large numbers of unpublished faculty during this five year window constitutes a smoking gun suggesting that academic burnout (a.k.a., adrenal exhaustion) may be a widespread problem in American regional state universities and public liberal arts colleges. However, supporting psychological and physiological tests are needed to rule out or support definitively the role of academic burnout in the revealed publication patterns of faculty at these mid-tier schools. Institutions with low faculty publication rates should screen faculty to evaluate the degree to which burnout is present, regardless of teaching load. These results beg to question if immediate need exists for strategic implementation of college-wide, self help programs to reduce the occurrence of stress-related disorders like academic burnout which may threaten the stature of American higher education."

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