Graduate school taking a toll on health

The number one question that pops up in every grad student’s mind at some stage in their grad school is “Is this all worth it? Do I need to compromise on my physical and mental health to win the game of Ph.D.?” Often, many graduate students are seen unhappy spending hours and hours in the lab struggling to solve complex questions in their research projects. In the process, they often end up neglecting their well-being. Weird sleeping times, irregular eating habits, and disrupted work-life balance are reported to be the most common lifestyle changes experienced by most, if not all grad students. Increased stress levels, feelings of anxiety, and constant pressure to publish are added nightmares to this. Ph.D. is a long journey that takes an average of about five years to complete and five years is a reasonable period that can impact a person’s career and personal life, for the better or worse.

So, what measures can we adopt at the level of a) the student, b) his/her academic advisor, and c) the university to help decrease the rate of depression and stress in students? As a student, it is important to identify early on that everyone’s journey in grad school is different, and no matter what, nobody gets it easy. What works for one person may not necessarily work for the other, and it is better to stop comparing ourselves with others and get demotivated. Besides, it is also crucial to have well-planned and clear goals from day 1 of grad school to get over stress. Next, the advisor’s role in promoting student welfare includes transparency with their students in terms of funding (to support the student and the project), and a clear dialogue about their “realistic” expectations (project-related or graduation-related) on a regular basis. They can further support their students by fostering a positive and vibrant environment in the workplace, and by offering flexibility to the student in maintaining a good work-life balance. Finally, at the university level, keeping a systematic check on the counseling centers and well-trained counselors can greatly improve the well-being of the graduate students.

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