How to Safeguard Your Mental Health from the Hidden Costs of a PhD
November 25, 2015
In the right circumstances, earning a PhD can be an amazing undertaking. It gives you the opportunity to grow as an intellectual and a thinker. Writing a dissertation lets you conduct independent research that can make a positive contribution to society. Graduate school is a place where you get to meet interesting people while devoting your time to intellectually challenging pursuits.
Often, however, the PhD—and particularly the dissertation-writing process—can be harrowing and extraordinarily difficult. As a recent article in Quartz demonstrated, many PhD students don’t have the support that they need to thrive in their programs. Quite the contrary: a high percentage of graduate students report suffering from depression and anxiety. Many feel that they aren’t receiving the mentoring that they need to be successful in their research and writing. They struggle to find dissertation help. And many fear the future: as tenure-track teaching opportunities dwindle, their financial well-being and their academic futures look uncertain.
While working toward a PhD can be extremely rewarding, the solitary nature of academic work and the tenuous future that many graduate students face often contribute to impostor syndrome and depression. Many students feel that they’re alone in this struggle, and few ask for help: they’re afraid to look weak to their peers and mentors.
Here are some strategies for safeguarding your mental health and well-being if you’re pursuing a PhD.
Take advantage of resources on your campus
Universities and colleges often offer low- or no-cost counseling and mental health services. Take advantage of these. If you are suffering, asking for help shouldn’t be a source of shame. These service providers have a mandate to keep your conversations and concerns confidential. They can provide a valuable third-party perspective on a range of issues that graduate students face, from dysfunctional relationships with your advisor to lack of confidence, anxiety, and stress. Some campus mental health centers offer graduate student peer support groups, and these can be another great source of dissertation help.
It’s an unfortunate truth that there are fewer and fewer full-time, permanent faculty positions available today. Instead of letting this reality plunge you into despair, think about alternative career options while you’re still in graduate school – it’s never too early. Schedule a meeting with a career counselor. Make a list of your transferable skills. Contact people you know who have interesting jobs and ask them about their career paths. Taking small, concrete steps like this can help you feel empowered about your future And feeling prepared and empowered can make dissertation writing easier.
Keep in touch with your non-academic friends
It’s all too easy to disappear into a dissertation-writing bubble and lose touch with friends and family. Do whatever you can to stop this from happening! Schedule regular phone calls or coffee dates with friends or family. Make time to be around people who care about you. In addition to providing you with a support network to help you get through your dissertation, this network could help you after graduation if you choose to seek non-academic work.
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