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Mental Health of PhD Students

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How are you today?

In daily life, communication on the work floor is often initiated by “how are you?” but very seldom this question has the intent of triggering a comprehensive and honest answer. Equally part of daily practice is to answer with a simple “I’m fine thanks” or a description of what one is doing instead of one’s state of (well)being. This latter seems especially true for PhD students, who frequently describe their state of wellbeing in terms of the state of their PhD progress. But what if we were to get a comprehensive and honest answer?

While writing a PhD is a unique life opportunity and most PhD students start off their journey with great passion for science and the aim of making a difference, the road towards a successful PhD might be very bumpy. Whether or not these bumps will turn into opportunities for growth does not only depend on the PhD student but also on his/her work environment: in order to flourish, researchers need healthy and supportive work environments.

In recent years, more and more concerns are voiced about the academic work environment and its potential negative impact on PhD student’s wellbeing and mental health. On social media, more and more PhD students and other academics are providing testimonies of chronic stress, depression, anxiety, addiction, burnout and suicidal ideation. The testimonies come from around the world. According to some, there is a ”mental health crisis in academia”. Is this kind of framing warranted? What does the empirical evidence base reveal?

In this talk I will present data on the academic work environment and mental health status of the PhD student population in Flanders, Belgium. Data was gathered in 2013 and again in 2018.

This talk is part of the Cavendish Inspiring Women Talks series.

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