Your Mental Health Is More Important than Your Résumé

Your Mental Health Is More Important than Your Resume. By PRA Stephanie.By Stephanie Schofield, Peer Research Ambassador

One of the most beautiful things about UConn is the endless opportunities that await you. Whether it’s research, the astronomy club, a dance team, a club sport, or perhaps learning a language on your own time, there are a million different ways to fill your time when you’re not in the classroom. With so many avenues for your extracurricular interests, why not indulge in every single one?

Well, unfortunately, there isn’t enough time in the world to do everything your heart desires in college, if only there was! My biggest word of caution: you DO NOT want to learn the art of time-management the hard way!

Take it from me, an over-achiever at heart. I was never a big extracurriculars person growing up, but when I got to high school, it was no longer grades that solely mattered. In addition to good grades, you had to be involved in something for fear of not getting accepted into college with that perfect resume. In high school, I gradually increased my load, going from joining a pet-lovers club after school to juggling a part-time retail job with drama club productions and still maintaining good grades. Luckily, my hard work paid off, but my ambition to get involved only grew.

In my first semester at UConn, I joined the Bagchi Lab and began working on my first research project. I was so excited to get started on data collection and learn even more about the specific work my lab was doing. At that time, research was my only primary extracurricular, so it worked for me and my schedule. Unfortunately, the pandemic hit soon after and I was left feeling disconnected from campus and I missed my on-campus life with my research and class schedules. During the pandemic, I doubled my involvement, beginning to tutor online in two subjects, becoming a Peer Research Ambassador, and joining my current lab, the Mok Lab, full-time. Online it was all very manageable for me, but little did I know that underestimating the transition back to in-person campus life would be a mistake.

Fast forward to this past fall semester, my over-ambition reached its ugly peak. It had been a dream of mine to take a German language course and I decided, much against my better judgement, that I was going to take this course on top of a heavy course load of Microbiology, Organic Chemistry, and Statistics. I remember being excited that the University had approved me to take 22 credits that semester. I was thrilled to be fitting in everything that I had wanted to take and do! How awesome was it going to be to challenge myself with things I was super passionate about?!

Well, as I soon found out, the challenges of my 22-credit course load ended up outweighing my once gleaming passion to learn. My schedule was so heavy that I barely had time to take a breath and my lab days in the Mok Lab became extremely stressful for me. After a full week of 22-credits worth of courses and commitments, I would skip meals frequently, get less than 7 hours of sleep, and by the time I finally got to my Friday lab days, I was so burnt out from the previous week that my experiments were yielding weak results. But it didn’t stop there…

I also tutor for Biology 1107 and while I once looked forward to tutoring students, I was barely even preparing for my sessions with them. As the new Secretary for the UConn Astronomy Association, even something as simple as posting on the club’s social media stressed me out immensely. This extreme stress and overwhelmed feeling hurt my academics as well.

Soon enough, my first organic chemistry exam rolled around. With little time to effectively study, I took this first exam and got a C on it. I follow along with the saying of “as long as you did your best, that’s all that matters”, but I most certainly did not put forth my best. Why? Because my “best” was being split amongst numerous other courses and commitments. These lower than usual grades that I was earning set me into a deep pit of stress and despair, and I quickly became consumed in my own cloud of anxiety.

It wasn’t until I started having near panic-attack episodes that I finally decided to withdraw from the German class I had enrolled in. I was devastated and mortified by the first ‘W’ appearing on my transcript solely because I let my ambition overtake my mental health. Now that I had eliminated a 4-credit course, it was all calm and over, right?

Unfortunately, I had overwhelmed myself so much that I was beyond burnt out. The rest of the semester was an intense struggle, my lack of motivation and mental tiredness taking a toll on my overall grades. After starting on the wrong foot, I was never able to recover my poor grades in the organic chemistry class. It was the first time in my life that I had ever received a B in a class.

Although the last semester was insanely difficult for me, I wanted to highlight a key story from it. The B in my organic chemistry course is simultaneously a grade that I am ashamed of and proudest of. I never stopped fighting for my academics, and towards the end, I never stopped fighting for me. For the last exam, I began meditating prior to studying and re-affirmed my own worth to myself. I forgave myself for all the wrongs I did against myself early on. With a newfound confidence and will to fight on, I ended up going from Cs on all my exams to an A on the last exam of the course.

I am still recovering from the extreme burnout that I accumulated last semester, and sometimes I still feel extremely mentally tired, but now I am a lot kinder to myself. I’ve given myself more time to decompress and I have also learnt how to say no.

This university has so many amazing opportunities for you to pursue and to follow, but as we say in OUR, embrace quality over quantity. At the end of the day, you must take care of yourself!  So, the next time you are thinking of adding something else on to your schedule, think about it a little more deeply. Why are you getting involved or adding this event/class? What will it do for you? Can you handle it?

Most of all be true to you and be kind to yourself. You can do absolutely anything you put your mind to, but make sure nothing you do is ever at a cost to yourself.

Thank you for reading and please have a restful and productive semester!

Stephanie is a junior majoring in Molecular & Cell Biology, and minoring in Chemistry and Psychological Sciences. Click here to learn more about Stephanie.