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The Self Shelf: Don’t be buried by the Brandeis Disease

Published: April 29, 2011
Section: Opinions


Class had started 10 minutes ago and I was unable to walk. The run had been overly long and full of hardship due to lack of sleep and a lack of direction. My legs were pulsing with pain to the point where I couldn’t stay in the same position for more than 20 seconds. I was feeling nauseated and I knew I was severely dehydrated. I asked a friend to bring me a bottle of water because I didn’t have any in my room and I wasn’t making it to the C-Store any time soon. I sent an e-mail to my professor about my situation, drank some water provided by my friend and promptly passed out for a few hours.

This scenario took place a month ago but it feels as if I have been involved in similar situations throughout the semester. The reason my day was so miserable on that cold April afternoon was due to the overlapping of several schedule conflicts. I had to run 20 miles during the day in order to keep up with my running schedule and thus not die when I ran my marathon (which is actually now three days away). Additionally, I had to attend a three-hour seminar in the afternoon. Yet the preceeding week had been hellish. It had involved a 15-page paper, an eight-page paper and two exams. My sleep deficit was running higher than the national debt. Thus my plan was to complete my run in two and a half hours, shower and run off to class. As you know, this plan did not work out very well.

The truly interesting facet of the situation, however, was the response my rather sad apology for missing my professor’s class received. He told me to consider cutting some of my classes and activities in the name of sleep. When I received the message, I laughed and asked a friend near me exactly what the word sleep meant. After I wrote the professor back about considering dropping one of my minors next semester, he told me about something he called the Brandeis Disease. The Brandeis Disease is a psychological condition endemic to Brandeis students in which the victims are convinced that they need to triple major, triple minor and be president of four clubs to get into a good graduate school. These students often overwork themselves to the point of exhaustion and reach stress levels higher than a Red Bull-drinking squirrel, all in the name of getting that extra edge in the future application process. An important qualification is that there are people who legitimately do a million things because they love all of them but a great many people participate in many classes and clubs for the sole purpose of putting it on their resume someday—these are the victims I am referring to.

The professor went on to say that this was one of the most irrational mindsets he had ever seen. Indeed, having been afflicted with this disease myself, I came to realize that a good part of my commitments were completely unnecessary. I was asking the wrong questions about my activities. Whereas before I had asked whether a class, major or activity might benefit my graduate school application, I realized that the correct question was whether the future facet of my life interested me. The prime example of this for most of the people afflicted with this condition is taking classes to fulfill an extraneous major or minor. How many times have you heard someone say: “I don’t really want to take this class but I only need two more classes for the minor.” Something that no one ever told me and that I never really realized is that the extra minor isn’t going to matter. That second major is not going to affect your chances of getting into law school. In the end, you will be evaluated based on your GPA and LSATs along with everyone else.

Yet the real problem with the Brandeis Disease is not that people have this misconception that this overcrowding of classes and clubs helps them but instead the valuable time and peace of mind they lose by it. This semester, there were countless times when I wanted a break to sleep, to spend some time with a friend or simply to have some fun, only to find that I was bound by one of my commitments. My commitments included five classes, three clubs, two jobs and a running schedule. The running schedule may seem to be the most extraneous facet of this schedule but honestly the endorphins from my runs were the best protection I had from a nervous breakdown. And indeed, there were several times when I nearly had a nervous breakdown. I often pondered taking a few days off from everything, regardless of the consequences. Due to insanity, caffeine and running, I was able to keep everything relatively under control. Yet the amount of fun, recreation and tranquility I missed out on is unquantifiable. This is bothersome because, underneath it all, college is not supposed to be a hellish death trudge. Many call it the best years of their lives and there’s little point in spending it engulfed in one extraneous pursuit after another. This wonderful experience we call Brandeis will be over before we know it—we may as well have a little fun. Unfortunately, this is the main part of your life that the Brandeis Disease attacks.

You may be wondering if I’m going to put my money where my mouth is, as it were. Inspired by this new outlook and a new goal of having an academically ambitious yet sane college life, I am indeed going to simplify my schedule next semester. I’m not exactly sure how I will do this yet but I have a few ideas that would make my life a lot easier. One of the most obvious ones is dropping a few of my many minors and thus the intensive, unappealing requirement classes I would have to take to complete them. Additionally, I will probably resign one of my leadership positions in my clubs and drop a job. Thus, next semester, with any luck, I will be looking at a healthier lifestyle that doesn’t involve constantly running from one obligation to the next in a never ending free for all.

I would advise you, dear reader, to take a look at your own busy schedule and ask yourself whether you’re living the life you want to live. If the answer is negative or uncertain, then perhaps you should consider a change. That extra line on your vitae isn’t going to get you into med school. Yet that lack of time you had to put into studying because of your million obligations very well may keep you out of it. Thus, if you get a moment, vet your priorities and make sure you’re not another victim of the Brandeis Disease.