Monthly Archives: April 2019

Mental health and work-life balance among grad students

Work-life balance is a concept known by everyone; however, a few people can say that they are 100% successful in practicing a work-life balance. Every person I have asked about this says that work-life balance is important but that they are not the best example of this practice.

All of us know that a grad student has a big amount of workload and many people to please and that sometimes we don’t have the time to rest, relax, and practice the activities we enjoyed the most outside of academia.

Among graduate students, there are more vulnerable groups. For example, a few months ago, I read an article about a big rate of suicides among veterinarians, that struck me. This study was based on information from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in January 2019. Some of the reasons they found for this rise are high levels of occupational stress related to long working hours, client expectations, unexpected outcomes, communicating bad news, poor work-life balance, high workloads, rising veterinary care costs, professional isolation, student debt, and lack of senior support.

In view of this reality, some Veterinary Schools have started to offer special counseling and stress management services to veterinary students, in order to provide more effective ways for improving their mental health and train them towards healthy stress management behaviors. Researchers have identified that there is a need for special programs for veterinary students, due to the differences between veterinary programs and other educational programs.

Many mental health disorders like depression and anxiety can affect our lives. A poor work-life balance can lead us to a mental health disorder. Even the impostor syndrome can take a toll on grad students if students do their best to impress and don’t find ways to manage their stress to improve in their performance.

We all need to be aware of these issues and try to find the solutions that fit better for each individually. We should try to practice the simple activities that provide us enjoyment and happiness. I chose to write about this topic because I think is something that we need to discuss among grad students. I would like to know your thoughts about work-life balance and your strategy to achieve it.

Do you work during the weekends or after 5pm during weekdays? Should Virginia Tech improve their mental health services and social activities for graduate students? Do you think that we as students seek help when we need it, or we isolate ourselves?

 

References:

  1. Tomasi, S.E. et.al., (2019). Suicide among veterinarians in the United States from 1979 through 2015. JAVMA, Vol. 254, No.1. https://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/pdf/10.2460/javma.254.1.104
  2. Kim, R.W. et.al., (2017). Toward an evidence-based approach to stress management for veterinarians and veterinary students. JAVMA, Vol. 251, No.9.
  3. Gelberg, H. and Gelberg, S. (2005). Stress Management Interventions for Veterinary Students. JVME 32(2).

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The Future of Professors and Inclusion in Higher Education

Virginia Tech is working to be a more diverse and inclusive university. It is trying to attract students that represent all the diversity that exists in the society, while at the same time is trying to retain students that represent minorities in the Hokie community.

I have seen that some departments are also investing to have a more diverse faculty team. However, there is still a considerable difference between the number of white and non-white faculty. According to the Office of Institutional Research & Effectiveness, Virginia Tech has a total of 1,496 tenure and tenure-track faculty. From that total, 72.7% are white and the rest is divided as follows: 14.3% Asian, 3.4% Hispanics, 3.2 Black or African American, 0.5% of two or more races, 0.4% American Indian or Alaska Native, 0.1% Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, and 5.3% are categorized as nonresident aliens.

In this sense, and because the background and experiences of every professor are different, I think that faculty should receive workshops on diversity and inclusion topics. These workshops should be in person and obligatory for all because an online course won’t be enough to transfer this sensitive information. Professors are important to advance in inclusion inside a university because they interact with students, are in charge of the future of education, and select the next generation of faculty. If Virginia Tech prepares its human resources to be more open and inclusive, the atmosphere and the students’ experiences will improve in the long term.

Diversity and inclusion are complex topics, so, every training opportunity will help to expand the faculty knowledge. This training could improve the experience of minority groups in their insertion to the Virginia Tech community.

References:

  1. Office of Institutional Research & Effectiveness, Virginia Tech. https://www.ir.vt.edu/data/facultyStaff.html

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Scientists and social media

Social media has become an important platform to access and share information globally. In academia, social media also has become a new way to publish research and share personal opinions. While some universities and departments require that their faculty members have a profile in social media and encourage them to have an active role, in general, is a personal choice to have a public profile. However, in an era of technology and social media, if research faculty wants to keep up with new research trends and have a broad audience for their research, they must have a public profile and contact with the public and other researchers.

Many researchers with a public profile in social media, have become famous and have a big number of followers. There are evidences that researchers with abundant followers will have more citations, maybe because they are reaching a bigger audience, or maybe because the public assumes that they are experts in a subject, without digging in their list of publications and achievements. The question is whether these researchers are famous for their research or just for their comments on social media?

I found an interesting 2014 article published in the journal Genome Biology, a peer-reviewed and open access journal of medicine. In that publication, the author’s argument is that some scientists have a big audience in social media, which does not mean they are the experts or authorities in a specific topic or field. He proposed a new metric “The Kardashian Index” to measure the real performance of scientists on social media as compared with their research achievements. While the author expressed that the study was done just for fun, it is interesting to see that the academic performance of a famous scientist could be due to his active participation in Twitter or they could have a mediocre research career. Indeed, the author compares these researchers with celebrity Kim Kardashian.

I will leave the link of this publication below in case if you want to read it (it is only 2 ½ pages long).

References:

  1. Hall: The Kardashian index: a measure of discrepant social media profile for scientists. Genome Biology 2014 15:424. (doi:10.1186/s13059-014-0424-0) https://genomebiology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13059-014-0424-0?utm_source=Other_website&utm_medium=Website_links&utm_content=DaiDen-BMC-Genome_Biology-Biology-China&utm_campaign=BMCF_USG_BSCN_DD_GB_Index

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