I\’m Too Sexy for My Master\’s Thesis


eye strain and the grad student

Posted in tips by Rae on 8 June 2006

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Eye strain is a serious problem for… well, just about everyone who uses computers (not just grad students who may be spending hours and hours and hours staring at a computer screen hoping that the next word will come soon).

I started wearing glasses when I was a teenager, after the people around me noticed I was holding books awfully close to my face. I switched to contacts two years ago, and I think some of my eye strain may be due to my contacts. I wear the kind of contacts that can be left in overnight and up to a month. So, I only change my contacts once a month and that's certainly not the best thing for eye health. I'm planning on getting my glasses perscription updated so that I can do month on, month off with the contacts. I hate having stuff on my face, but my desire to be able to read for the rest of my life trumps the whole "stuff on my face" thing.

I don't have time or money to deal with the glasses thing right now, but I do want to take steps to reduce eye strain. Besides, as long as I use a computer, I'll need to be careful about my eye health.

I know I need to take more breaks, but I often (almost always) forget. I know of one tool, the USB Vision and Posture Reminder, that hooks up to any computer. There are also downloadable programs that remind you to take breaks. Some of these are not free (like Albion StopNow! and Chequers Software Break Reminder). However, I'm a poor grad student and like free options, like Workrave.
Reducing monitor glare is also important for relieving eye strain. Blinking, too. BiggestBook.com has lots of useful information, including the 20/20 rule:

It's never wise to constantly be staring at something for extended periods of time. When it comes to computers, you can relieve eyestrain by following this simple rule: every 20 minutes take your eyes off the monitor and look at an area 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

I'm going to make use of the 20/20 rule in just a moment, as I've been staring at this monitor for approximately two hours. I'm also going to try these eye exercises.You know you've been staring at the monitor for too long when your eyes start stinging and tearing uncontrollably.

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4 Responses to 'eye strain and the grad student'

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  1. Father Inch said,

    “…grad students who may be spending hours and hours and hours staring at a computer screen hoping that the next word will come soon.”

    Actually, this is a trick of the mind. What actually happens: Within 4 to 7 minutes, depending on various factors I won’t go into here, the eyes glaze over with a protective coating. (The alert student will notice that she is no longer seeing anything at all; unfortunately, the situation itself mitigates strongly against such alertness.) EEG’s have determined that it takes as little as another 13 seconds for all neural functions to cease completely. Eventually, an electrical charge triggered in the glandular system reboots the brain, the head jerks up, the glaze quickly sloughs off, and the student once again sees the screen. The sense of panic she feels at this point produces the false memory you describe.

    But it is true thast students working on their thesis or dissertation are especially prone to this phenomenon.

  2. Rachel said,

    Is there a name for this phenomenon?

  3. Linda said,

    Hi R.
    I find I must restrain myself from all the recreational surfing and blog reading I like to do in order to save my increasingly limited “sit and read on a screen” time. it gets harder and harder to do this kind of reading and writing for extended periods… trust me, I know from experience. If the eyes are holding up ok, the back will get tired, or some other such misery. Exercises and breaks are good things!

  4. Rachel said,

    Too true, Linda! Too much computer time can lead to all kinds of ailments. Some companies take that into consideration and work breaks and exercizes into their employees’ schedules. They realize that healthy employees are happier and more productive. When I worked for a state agency, 98% of my work involved staring at a computer. I was allowed two 15-minute breaks and an hour-long lunch break. I remember that most people (including me) would often spend those breaks surfing the internet. We considered them mental breaks and not health breaks. Even if we had considered them health breaks, it wouldn’t have been sufficient.

    Now, as a grad student, I have no one to tell me when to take breaks (even insufficient ones). I installed Workrave, which has already been a big help.


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