Work Smarter, Stress Less

for PhD’s & Postdocs

Working hard is the norm in the academic world. Competition and publication pressure cause high working pressure. The career stage and position of early career academics is particularly precarious. Often, this is their first job where they have to prove themselves in a very short period in a highly competitive working environment where help is not always easily offered or asked for. A dangerous recipe for issues with mental wellbeing and a healthy work/life balance. Against this background, the SoFoKleS Lab awarded funding to TUDelft Career and Counseling Services and dr. Claartje van Sijl, to develop and offer the course Work Smarter, Stress Less in 2018-2019.

For whom?

  • you are in the second half of your PhD project or you are doing a Postdoc
  • you started your research with enthusiasm, but your joy is diminishing
  • you are very busy while putting most of your time and energy in your work. Or you feel guilty when you are not working
  • you find it increasingly hard to have the time to do what is really important. Or you sacrifice your private life to your research
  • you are open-minded, curious and prepared to invest time to experiment with different ways of working that you can apply directly, regaining time, energy, well-being, and a sense of purpose and fulfilment

Course description

Mental wellbeing and work-life balance are particularly precarious for early career academics like PhD’s and Postdocs. In this 3 month course you gain important insights in your personal stress factors and you learn to adapt your way of working to deal more effectively with stress and work pressure. This is a personal development course that aims to reduce experiences of stress and improve mental well-being, thereby strengthening resilience, performance, and satisfaction with work.

Course objectives

The course focusses on the following themes and learning objectives:

  • identifying and disarming stress factors (including a detailed analysis of the working relationship with supervisors and strategies to communicate more effectively)
  • mindfulness-based time management: how to take charge of your time in non-linear, creative research work
  • energy management: how does your battery operate? How to charge so you stay smart (energy balance)
  • how to navigate scary / difficult times: dealing with self-sabotage and improving your resilience through heart coherence (using biofeedback technology from HearthMath)
  • leaning into the future: doing what really matters by connecting with your values and dreams


Preceding the course each participant completes an online questionnaire on their energy compass and on their interaction styles, with particular focus on the working relationship with their advisors. They will also have a personal 30 minute intake call with the coach/trainer to clarify their personal learning goals. After the course participants will be required to complete the online Energy Compass questionnaire a second time to make visible the effects of the steps they have taken in the course.

The main course consists of 5 half day group training meetings interchanged with 5 mastermind sessions in smaller subgroups. The theme of each group training meeting will be introduced briefly and most of the meeting will be spent practising new strategies to deal effectively with experiences in the everyday working situations of participants as well as exchanging experiences and perspectives with peers. A detailed instruction for the mastermind sessions will be provided at the first group training. In each group meeting a concrete focus question will be provided for the mastermind sessions.

Running parallel to these live meetings continuous e-coaching will be provided through a private discussion platform in Brightspace. You can ask your questions directly as they occur in your working situation. The coach / trainer will be active multiple times a week and input from fellow participants is encouraged and valuable.

Participants who engage actively with the course (i.e. attend all 5 group meetings and at least 2 mastermind sessions) will be rewarded with a private, individual, live coaching session (60 minutes) at the end of the course to look deeper into a personal learning and coaching question.

Experiences of participants

I took Claartje’s Work Smarter, Stress Less course as part of my Graduate School training. I expected this would be just another corporate wellness course, but I could not have been more wrong! Instead of an obsession with discipline and optimising people to be the perfect workers, Claartje focused on a well-rounded humanist approach which creates happier and more satisfied people inside and outside of work. It helped me think more organically in how I allocate my time and what I do to recharge my batteries, which resulted in a natural increase in productivity and more fulfillment in my career. Claartje was the first person to tell me that what I lacked in life was not discipline, but energy and intuition. It was a powerful reframe of thinking that I believe everyone in burnout-prone fields such as academia needs to hear. What’s more, Claartje can offer important advice for life aspects outside of your career, so don’t hesitate to bring it up in the one-on-one meetings. In my case, she was able to recommend learning materials to make my creative endeavors flourish, so that I now live a more exciting and fulfilled life than I did before.