It’s no surprise that graduate students are disgruntled. Long hours and low pay could make anyone question their current life situation. That is on top of the grueling demands to publish and produce significant data while navigating the waters of academia. Another added layer? Trying to figure out life as a mid-twenty year old while also not letting your personal life interfere with your work life.
A 2018 study called the situation a
“…Mental health crisis in graduate education.”Nature Biotechnology volume 36, pages 282–284 (2018)
The study found a (not so?) shockingly high percentage of graduate students in the biosciences cited depression and anxiety as a personal struggle. 41% of students surveyed cited moderate to severe anxiety and 39% of students cited moderate to severe depression.
The rates for the general public?
I knew going into school that it would be a long, arduous process. I saw the graduate students at my undergrad institution and suffering just seemed to be part the experience.
When I first started struggling, I remained quiet. I suffered alone and as a result, thought I was the only one struggling. I would go home and advocate for adoptees and how important it is to share your story and connect with others.
Why could I not apply that same mentality to graduate school?
I was ashamed. I signed up for this.
One day, I tested the waters and reached out to my friend. We were on hour four of studying for an upcoming exam while simultaneously stressing about presenting at upcoming meetings.
“Sometimes, I question if I’m cut out for this,” I whispered looking down in shame. She looked back and replied she thought the same thing…. and then continued by saying every graduate student she’s talked to said this is normal. Graduate school will make you question all of your life choices and push you harder than ever before. But, you’re growing in the process.
Struggling is okay. Isolating yourself in shame isn’t. My lowest points were a direct result of not speaking up and thinking I was a fraud. I’d look around and see everyone putting on happy faces, and I questioned what they had that I didn’t.
In reality, we were in the same position.
I started speaking up more with my close-knit friends. We’d take a break from benchwork and meet up for lunch to decompress and encourage each other to keep going. Knowing I wasn’t in this alone made the process much less scary.
It can be terrifying signing yourself up for graduate school. My PhD program is 5-6 years of intense work and multiple hurdles you must get through. Know that the people in your program are going through the exact same thing. There are mental health resources on campus that you can seek out. Not all departments advertise this. Find it for yourself. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap I did. Your situation doesn’t have to be permanent.
There is no shame in finding the help to keep you healthy and safe.