Here is yet another article pointing to the larger issue in academia of increasing competitiveness and a focus and glorification of an unhealthy lifestyle. While social scientists continue to correlate mental well-being and balanced time spent with loved ones with creativity and productivity, our culture continues to push us away from these things. How long before we realize that this is going to have repercussions at the systemic level?
People have compared choosing a mentor and project to a marriage, even if it’s only one that lasts less time (though sometimes PhDs can be long, and marriages short…). For a long time now, people have been using sites like match.com that use different algorithms to match people based on compatibility. It seems like academia might get a similar networking tool for pairing mentors and trainees. It would be interesting to see how some of the features on dating sites are tweaked to fit the mentor/mentee culture. Check out the small article in nature here.
In our continued fight against lab bullying and harassment, it is a welcome sight to see that others are pointing out the discrepancy between the incidence, reporting, and effective dealing with instances of harassment (sexual or not) and bullying in academia. We can only hope that through our combined efforts and other grassroots movements and organizations, such as the 1752 group, we can collectively begin to dismantle the culture of abuse that is all too prevalent in many institutes.
The Guardian Higher Education section is constantly publishing interesting and well-written articles about the issues surrounding academic life. In one of their particular sections, titled Academics Anonymous, different academics give their opinions and perspectives on what can sometimes be quite a frustrating topic, especially for those who feel unable to voice their feelings or trapped in cycles of unhappiness.
I recently stumbled on one of their older articles, written by someone about to leave the academic scene after a stressful time in their Postdoc. The author gives a more negative view on the entire academic process and career progression, but in doing so brings insight into some of the more pertinent issues.
Like Academics Anonymous, we continue encouraging the sharing of personal stories anonymously as a powerful tool for discussing important issues and bringing about cultural change.
Dr. Thrishantha Nanayakkara of King’s College is an incredibly successful researcher who runs a great lab. He also happens to practice Buddhism too. In this incredibly insightful blog post for PhD students, he explains how the philosophies of equanimity and responsibility can be applied to a PhD (or any academic career) and therefore find peace within oneself despite the incredible amount of external pressure creating stress and inner turmoil.
In the post, he describes the difference between achievement and accomplishment as applied to publication in a journal, and how one can use rejection from a journal for learning, growth, and ultimately, satisfaction and peace.
We at Labmosphere tip our hats to Dr. Nanayakkara, who, despite the pressures of being an academic, finds the time to work on his inner growth and peace and strives to help students do the same.
Two of us on the Labmosphere team recently attended an event here at Oxford University titled, “Overcoming a Sense of Academic Failure.” It was a great discussion with graduates from many fields discussing their feelings of inadequacy and/or failure with highly successful academics at Oxford who, believe it or not, have also experienced these same feelings. Notes were gathered and compiled by Emily Troscianko, who organized the event, and are available for download here. Hopefully some of the thoughts, quotes, and resources that came out of the discussion can be useful to those who couldn’t attend the event, both within and outside of the Oxford graduate community.
Two different people have recently pointed out this article on the Atlantic to us, adding to our growing list of articles addressing problems in the environments graduate students and academics need to survive in. Burnout, mental health issues, and toxic relationships are but a few of these problems:
“Many students are convinced the doctoral experience sets them up to fail.”
As we develop a new generation of faculty and trainers, as well as department heads, we should ask ourselves: Is this really the type of environment we want to develop our brightest minds in? Is the goal of a university ultimately its research and the funds that it attracts, or to train people to develop the capacity to question and perform successful and independent research?
This week, I’m grateful to have been sent an article recently published in Science on a topic that some of us have been discussing quite a lot. Coincidentally, HelloPhD’s podcast for today speaks to the same topic:
Is it too late for me to change labs?
In both situations, the women involved felt burnt-out and unhappy by around the third-year mark of their PhD, a time when more than a few PhD students hit their slumps. Both took the road less traveled: they decided to switch lab environments. And both, believe it or not, are currently successful in their academic careers. More importantly though, they are satisfied and happy.
So for those of you struggling and feeling trapped, know that there’s an alternative to leaving your PhD or sticking it out in a problem lab. Seek out advice and help in switching labs, and don’t think of the years you’ve already spent in your PhD as lost or wasted time, but rather as time you’ve spent training your skills and realizing the things you most certainly don’t want. The age-old cliche of better late than never seems to ring true in this case; if your gut tells you it’s time to seek greener pastures, switching labs to a place that will support your personal and career growth will make all the difference.
Yet another article which talks about mental health issues in graduate school. It’s good to see other people spreading the word and trying to get across that just because things are the norm, they should not be accepted as such. Always remember that whatever you’re going through, you’re not alone. Seek help and solidarity.
A recent blog article in Nature raises some good points regarding the age old question of whether or not we as scientists can have a work/life balance, and just what needs to be sacrificed while balancing that equation. While some of the tips author Elisa Lazzari gives might seem like common sense, they are good to keep in mind.
It’s important to address the issue of work/life balance at the cultural level, not just at the individual. Grant agencies and individual group heads must move towards an understanding that investing in happy, well-rested and balanced individuals leads to better science as well. So what do you think: can successful scientists really have a work/life balance? And if so, what are you doing to promote these values at your institute?