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.
Stress, anxiety, and depression are inevitable in your graduate training. At least they were for us!
At the same time, these painful emotions can be a valuable signal that it’s time to step back, take stock of your situation, and ask for help. There are resources on, and off, campus to help you through the hard times.
By thinking ahead, you’ll meet your training challenges with a tactical plan and a team of supporters to help you through. It does get better, we promise!
The Check is in the Mail
Science in the News brings us the story of a New York court’s $15 million judgement against Sci Hub, the online research paper pirate ship. We explore the legal and moral implications of the action, and make bold predictions about the future of scientific publishing.
We also celebrate the beginning of summer by breaking our IPA fast. We’re drinking the Nectar IPA from Humboldt Brewing Company. This golden beauty has a sweet start and a bitter finish, sort of like my first marriage!*
(*Yes, this is a total lie, but the setup was perfect and impossible to resist. Sort of like my first marriage!**)