Are we working too hard?

Students frequently utter comments like “I have so much work. I think I’m going to have to pull an all-nighter,” and “Oh well, I haven’t gone out for like a month because I’ve been studying all weekend.”

Across campus, students gripe about the intensity of their workloads and the resulting stress, concluding that there is simply too much work and

too little time in which to get it all done.

But not everyone is convinced that that’s the case.

“I don’t think students are working as hard as they think they are,” said Carnegie Mellon psychology professor Kenneth Kotovsky.

Kotovsky cited a study conducted in February 1999 by the Center for Innovation in Learning, in which 70 Carnegie Mellon first-years and juniors were asked to record how they spent their time. Surprisingly, he said, researchers found that students’ academic work, including classes, took up less time than recreation, and that on average, students participating in the study got about 8.5 hours of sleep per night.

On Oct. 16, the university announced that researchers from Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh received a $426,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the effectiveness of a watch-like device that measures psychological stress during the course of the subject’s daily life.

The study will be led by Thomas Kamathe University of Pittsburgh.

The device itself, called the “eWatch,” was developed by Daniel Siewiorek, director of the Human Computer Interaction Institute in the School of Computer Science, and Asim Smailagic, research professor in the Carnegie Institute of Technology.

The aim of the study is to gauge the stress that each participant feels that he or she is under at random times of the day.

But stress in itself is a very subjective concept.

“Stress is a feeling based on perception and personal evaluation of the situation,” said Carnegie Mellon psychology professor Sheldon Cohen. “While one person may feel stress while conducting a certain task, another person may not.”

In addition, a variety of other factors besides the cause of the stress itself can influence students’ levels of anxiety, Cohen said.

“The subject’s environment can have a significant effect on perceived amount of stress,” Cohen said. “People with strong social networks don’t often complain of large amounts of stress.”

If students don’t have those networks in place, they should take advantage of university programs designed to aid students with their workload, said senior biology major Piyush Gupta.

“People just don’t know how to or don’t try hard enough to manage their time,” Gupta said. Gupta is the director for Carnegie Mellon EMS and the community advisor for Boss and McGill Houses. “There is a vast array of resources that the university offers, not only for academic but also for emotional help, and students should take advantage of these resources.”
Kotovsky proposed another solution to alleviate stress associated with schoolwork.

“Students tend to involve in recreational activity without finishing off their homework. It is my personal belief that this weighs on their mind constantly, even when they are not studying, thus making them more stressed,” he said. “The best students are the ones that spent time between classes doing homework and time in the evening relaxing.”
However, some students have difficulty with this method in practice.

“It is hard to motivate yourself to finish homework as soon as it is assigned, especially when you have the ability to get it done later on. But I don’t think that makes me stressed,” said Rachael Harding, a first-year electrical and computer engineering major.

“I try my best to finish off work a long time before it’s due. This gives me the chance to try new things and be more spontaneous with my decision making,” said Lionel Merone, a first-year ethics, history, and public policy major.

But according to Cohen, stress is not just about demands, but about each individual’s perceived ability to deal with those demands.

“It is imperative for students to realize that everyone does not have the same talents, and some people simply deal better with more work,” Cohen said.
So are students’ stress levels truly higher at Carnegie Mellon than at other universities?

“Highly competitive environments such as Carnegie Mellon tend to test students’ confidence and willpower,” Kotovsky said. “However, this is not an exclusive phenomenon.”
Cohen suggested a method of success that will help all students, regardless of which university they attend.

“The most important thing is to set your priorities beforehand rather than complain about work,” Cohen said. “Setting reasonable targets at the start of the semester is another way to have greater control over your life.”