Workload, Wellbeing, and Wallpaper

| Niels ter Meer

Niels ter Meer (23) is a fourth-year student of Mechanical Engineering. Besides his studies, he occupies himself with his obscure music and plant collections. Every other week, he writes about his thoughts on life at the university.


Apparently ‘tis the season to discuss wellbeing. Walking into the Horst I’m confronted with a video about drinking coffee with a friend, and stacks of – at that point – empty fruit boxes. I walk past, too busy to figure out what’s going on exactly. Once I sit down, I read about yet more problems teachers experience. And now, while I myself am also drowning in tests, assignments, and more, it’s my turn to take the dais and talk about the problems from our perspective.

Wellbeing has been a theme at the UT for as long as I can remember. For this column, I looked up that video I had walked past. It’s not wrong per se, but it doesn’t sit right either. Don’t get me wrong: the sentiment is nice, and these are real problems. But just as my parents threatened to paste me behind the wallpaper when I was bothering them, this video papers over some real systemic issues. (Not to say I was a systemic issue; I think I was a really nice kid.)

One of them is of course our workload. It can make you feel isolated and alone, because you don’t have time for anything else (or are just too tired), or making you feel depressed because you couldn’t finish everything you wanted to. But these are just the waves on the surface of this ocean – and it’s a deep one.

For one, being busy leads you to focus on ‘low value’ tasks. Who can relate to doing house chores, which you hated when you were younger, just to avoid studying? Semi-productive soggen! Furthermore, studies have also shown that working under time pressure can even temporarily lower your IQ. All in all not so great for a university student, is it? My poor three braincells.

But back to those systemic issues. I read an opinion piece a while back about psychiatry and how it tends to focus on ‘fixing’ the individual over the larger surrounding problems. The parallels with the wellbeing weeks don’t escape me. Why is it up to us to take a step back and breathe? Shouldn’t the university, and society at large, also take a step back and think? Do we really need or want 42+ hours per week to study; wouldn’t fewer give our minds some rest, time to process everything we’ve just learned, and space to develop ourselves properly?

The actual fix should be clear at this point: the workload itself should be reduced; for both the students and the teachers. Away with the band-aids – or wallpaper rather. But in our case as students, implementing this is even harder than with the teachers. I can’t hire my way out of this – another me just doesn’t exist. We probably have to wait for larger societal change before our workload reduces and that might take a while.

I mean, I’d love to have a relaxing coffee with a friend, but often I just don’t have the time. So in the meantime, I will just keep on riding the waves of the workload ocean on my wallpaper raft.

Stay tuned

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