We asked our Editors to write about their experiences of grad school and advice they'd give to grad students on resources and getting help.
This is one of their responses here:
Starting grad school, wherever and in whichever program you choose, can be daunting. We’ve all seen the statistics; that there are higher rates of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses in grad students and academics than in the general population. We all see the Instagram posts reminding us that burnout is very real and that self-care and taking breaks are paramount to our long-term sustainability in research. We see the emails from our university’s ‘wellbeing’ teams and leaders reminding us to take our annual leave and to take personal leave regularly to ensure our mental (and physical) health is kept in tip-top shape.
But the reality of academia means that sometimes this isn’t possible. Many students have PIs and department leaders that think breaks are for the weak-minded. That long hours and little time off is part of the job, and if you can’t hack it you shouldn’t be there. That chronic illness has no place in academia, and their lab is for the crème de la crème of students, who are ‘lucky’ to be there. That the ‘publish or perish’ attitude is just part and parcel of the industry, and if you aren’t okay with this then research ain’t for you. That they are ‘going out on a limb for you’ and if you can’t deal with just a few days off a year, you can kiss goodbye to your visa. What then?
Luckily, there are resources available, both within universities and externally. If you’re in one of the unfortunate (and extreme) positions I cited above, reaching out to support services within your institute is an important first step. Whilst horrible bosses are common, they are not acceptable, and you are well within your right to use the resources available to you to support things such as leave requests, fair working hours and even moving labs if it comes to it. Reach out to student services. Reach out to HR. Don’t settle for a bad experience, thinking it’s a rite of passage or something you need to put up with or just get through in order to make it to the next level.
Many universities also offer subsidised (or free) psychologist and counselling sessions to staff and students, a service that few of us take full advantage of. As well as this, it is often possible to get a mental health care plan from your GP, which includes multiple free sessions with a psychologist or other appropriate specialist each year (depending on where you live).
Outside of your university, there are myriad resources available online and in the community to take advantage of. If you’re reading this, you’re off to a good start, as this is exactly what PhD Balance was founded for! Our Discord is full of people just like you, sharing stories and advice on everything from how to deal with problem colleagues, work-life balance (does anyone really have that figured out, though?), resources for international students, and even a channel dedicated to complaining about R.
We aren't the only organisation around, though - there’s a whole community of grad students on Instagram that you can connect with, and even organisations dedicated to BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities in grad school, which may have specific resources that are valuable to your personal circumstances.
There are many resources available to grad students and early career researchers, both internal and external to universities, and it is vital that we take advantage of these. Together, we can change the narrative that academia is ‘just like this’ and we need to put up with it.
Thank you so much to our editors for their responses! Grad School can sometimes feel isolating, especially if you've moved a long distance to attend and COVID did not help.
If you're looking for a virtual community of fellow grad student, join our Discord server.