It’s Monday morning and you arrive in lab a little late. No worries, you drop your tissue culture media into the warming bath, turn on the hood, and head down the hall while things ‘warm up.’
Next stop is the -80 freezer. You dig through the drifting piles of frost and snow, around the boxes of samples with labels that wore off ages ago, and find your quarry. You throw your weight into the door, and manage to get it latched – just barely – and head to the lab.
Once there, you dump yesterday’s gel buffer down the drain and start measuring out agarose and ethidium bromide for today’s experiments. With the gel poured, it’s finally time for coffee. Then maybe you’ll get around to splitting your cells.
It may be an easy morning for a cell biologist, but it was pretty rough on the planet. This week we explore some simple tweaks this busy scientist could make to be greener and more sustainable!
Graduate training has many milestones, but a few stand stronger in memory due to their importance.
You may remember the day you passed your comprehensive exams, officially becoming a ‘PhD Candidate.’ Or maybe you’ll remember the day you saw a paper you co-authored published in your favorite journal.
And of course, every PhD remembers their defense – presenting years worth of work to an audience and receiving the committees’ blessing to graduate.
After each event, it’s important to take a moment to celebrate the achievement before pushing toward the next goal. Maybe that means gathering with friends, popping a bottle of bubbly, and remembering the road that brought you to this point.
Well, at least that’s what we do with a milestone. This week, we celebrate 100 Episodes of Hello PhD with a few of the friends we’ve met along the way.
The best thing about the Hello PhD podcast is our amazing audience of grad students, postdocs, and career scientists. We get emails, tweets, and website comments full of thoughtful questions and insightful observations.
And though we try to read and respond to each message, not every question makes it into the show. Sometimes, we can reply with just a few words of encouragement, or a link to a prior episode.
But this week, we wanted to dig into the mailbag and offer a rapid-fire response to some of the burning questions you’ve sent over the last few months.
Susanna was experiencing insomnia that began to interfere with her work and life. She visited the campus health clinic, and they referred her to mental health resources on campus.
There, the doctor recommended medication for depression and anxiety, and therapy to work through the issues that were interfering with her sleep.
“We’re actually really worried that you’re severely depressed,” the doctor explained. Susanna’s reply: “No, I’m just in grad school!”
There’s no question that graduate training is stressful. Rotations, qualifying exams, committee meetings, and the constant struggle to make experiments work can push every student toward the boiling point.
But lurking under Susanna’s protest is a dangerous assumption many of us share. We believe that anxiety, depression, sleeplessness and other symptoms of mental illness are a required and normal side effect of graduate training.
And we’re not wrong. A recent study published in Nature Biotechnology (summary here) found roughly 40% of graduate trainees measured in the ‘moderate to severe’ range for depression and anxiety. The authors surveyed over 2,200 trainees in 26 countries, in fields ranging from the humanities to the biological and physical sciences.
In contrast, moderate-to-severe depression affects just 6% of the general population when measured with the same inventory.
“Our results show that graduate students are more than six times as likely to experience depression and anxiety as compared to the general population,” the study says.
These alarming numbers reveal a latent mental health crisis brewing in our classrooms, labs and libraries. But what can we do about it?
Turning over the last page of the calendar seems to naturally invite some reflection on the previous 365 days. When you look back at 2017, what went well? And what do you wish you could change in the coming year?
This week, we take the opportunity to reflect back much farther – to our days in graduate and postdoctoral training! With years of hindsight, we offer advice and perspective to the scientists we were, and devise some resolutions you can adopt in your scientific training.