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Paul Klee`s Impressive Interpretation of the "Noxious Agents" of a Scholar.

"At the core of these pressures is the nature of the scientific endeavour itself. Getting a project off the ground and seeing it to completion requires hard work and dedication, analytical but also creative thinking, self-motivation and resilience. Researchers have to harden themselves to failure, but the pressure to obtain results and succeed, often while facing competition, can be stressful even for the most strong-willed scientist"-A PhD state of mind
Paul Klee, "Scholar" (1933) Oil on canvas. Private Collection, Bern, Switzerland.

The first time I encountered the painting Scholar (1933) by Paul Klee, I happened to be in the middle of writing my Master`s thesis, hounded by a flaming flag of an impending deadline. I was a zombified! Starring at the painting was akin to staring at my own reflection in the mirror; distant, sleep-deprived eyes, frown lines resulting from cerebral fatigue; the result of a protracted overload.


Klee`s Scholar appears to be plagued with what Hans Seyle refers to as "noxious agents".

Noxious agents was the phrase used to describe stress and it does sound like a more appropriate phrase for the condition. "Stress" doesn't quite cut the mustard.


The encounter with Klee`s Scholar was an awakening, I didn't want to go around wearing the drained scholar look. It is utterly unfashionable! "Do not descend into a burn out" I was told quite often. I wanted change my ways, you know, turn a new leaf and work towards being one of those refreshed healthy looking, no-furrowing-eyebrows scholars.


This awakening lasted but for a while. I landed in Brazil ( This time as an anthropologist) and drowned in my old ways until my body began to revolt. The noxious agents arrested me.


Sister: "What happened to your voice? Are you okay?"
"My right eye is swollen shut and hurts terribly, I feel like I have pins in my throat" I said coughing viciously in-between words.

What is happening to me? A 39-degree fever accompanied with its rashes, Nossa Senhora! Did I do anything inappropriate in one of the terreiros I have been visiting? ( a ridiculous thing to think, but who is rational in such situations?). It got worse and a homeopathic doctor said it was some kind of bronchitis and my body was experiencing excessive stress. huh? Bronchitis? Isn't that one of those diseases from the middle ages?


I thought back to the week before in the metro when I was sneezed at twice and coughed at while disembarking, Ausgespielt! I had a feeling I was done for from that point. Then again I had attended three Candomblé ceremonies within a period of 8 days. I worked through the night writing and reading up several essays, eating horribly ( a few pasteis here and there). I was also working every day of the week ( most weekends were spent in terreiros)


There was once again and apparition of Paul Klee`s Scholar, this time on my computer screen. I had clicked on a wrong folder. This time, I looked much worse, the image looked better

I scribble a list of activities to combat these noxious agents:


1. Hydrate. Hydrate Hydrate !!!

Water can be delicious too!

2. Eat well!

Making out time to cook is also therapeutic. ( Time consuming but therapeutic)

Still need to learn how to sit in the moment and eat enjoyably without having to think of different tasks between mouthfuls.

3. Time Management!

I struggle with this one especially in the field where events just pop up. "How is it Friday when it was just Monday a few hours ago?? ( yes, that`s me)


Planning your day with a do to list does help in some cases.

4. Exercise


A 30 minute workout each day is somewhat sufficient. Exercise helps with mental alertness ( we need that!) and wakes up the endorphins needed for a good sleep. Two birds with a stone!


5. Relax, breathe....

So far, I am still restless with any activity that makes me sit still ( besides reading). Sampling music works while I tend to plants or just reading any literature that is far removed from my field. Last week I caught myself reading something about 180 wild potato species from a publication by the international potato center, not quite the literature ...but we are getting there.


Should I manage to maintain these 5 points, Paul Klee`s Scholar would cease to haunt me for good!

“A PhD State of Mind.” Nature Cell Biology 20, no. 4 (April 1, 2018): 363–363. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41556-018-0085-4.


#PhD #Paulklee #academicstress

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