October 14, 2021

BRENNER | Take a Break

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Here’s a hot take for all of you Cornell students: Stop working hard. 

Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly the crux of my argument but it makes for good clickbait. At the same time though, I stand by the sentiment. Seriously, some of you all need to stop working so damn hard. 

The relentless pursuit of academic perfection has been weighing heavily on my mind since we returned from fall break. My Fall Break was  spent in the Adirondacks without touching or even thinking about the piles of schoolwork I could’ve been doing. After all, it was Fall Break, so I took a break. 

Conversely, I know way too many people who did the opposite. People who put their heads down and worked through Fall Break without registering the extra time off. Now, my break from my studies has taken  a toll on my week, but at the same time was I not accomplishing the goal of a “break”? I took time off, put work aside and for the first time in a month and a half didn’t think about school. What about those who kept pulling late nights at Olin? I only ask because Cornell is a university where Rest & Relaxation can be hard to come by and the culture of working through your designated breaks certainly can’t be helping that.

Maybe it is a little gratuitous of me to say “stop working.” To be fair, I am a sophomore government major and I’d imagine many of those who kept up on their studies over Fall Break are not. But even engineers and chemistry majors need to take time off though. Contrary to popular belief, studying twenty-four-seven isn’t guaranteed to produce better results. It is, however, guaranteed to induce burn-out at some point. There is no shame in putting down your calculators and shutting down your laptops every once in a while. In fact, it may even help you in the long run. The academic term is a marathon, not a sprint, and those who most efficiently budget time for work and  recovery are those who will make it out alive and well. 

I don’t think it’s fair to place the blame entirely on students, though. If I spent Fall Break banging on the windows of the Cocktail lounge telling everyone in there to get a life, the problem would persist. That’s because Cornell’s faculty are very much complicit in the “hard-working” epidemic. Seriously, what kind of psychopath thinks it’s a good idea to administer a prelim the day after break. Yet, on Thursday, Oct. 14th, forty exams were given campus-wide. That’s a large chunk of the student body whose breaks were probably far from carefree. 

And, yes, to all of the professors who want to distance themselves from the issue and blame The University for  poor timing, I understand the Office of the Registrar sets the examination schedule in advance. That being said, for God’s sake, how hard is it for The University as a whole to show a little empathy towards their students. At the bare minimum, if the faculty and administration were in agreement that students shouldn’t have to return from break to a test like lambs to slaughter, then maybe the pre-set exam schedule wouldn’t be a problem to begin with. 

On top of this, professors do control the due dates for major assignments. So, here is a thought, maybe don’t make a fifteen-page paper due the Thursday after Fall Break? At what point do our professors forget they were once students themselves? These ideas really aren’t that radical but they certainly would offer some relief to our embattled student body. 

So, I guess my argument isn’t exactly that students need to “stop working”. Persistence and grit certainly have their place both at the university level and in the adult world. At the same time though, a healthy work-life balance is essential for one’s well-being. Cornell, like most  higher education institutions, hardly ever grants designated breaks during the academic term and I’d say that taking a step back from school during these rare times falls within the purview of striking that balance. 

The issue of overworking requires a two-step solution though. Firstly, to my peers, you have got to put down your pencils. When the school gives you a break, take it. Secondly, both Cornell’s administration and professors need to be a little more empathetic. If student wellness really is an institutional focus, don’t set us up for failure. Let us take a break without the stress of exams and papers the second we get back. Breaks should be for resting, not cramming just to stay afloat academically.

Brenner Beard ‘24 is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached [email protected]. Agree to Disagree runs every other Friday this semester.