Why your voice matters: Welcome to Voices of Academia

In the last several years, issues relating to mental health and well-being in academia have attracted increasing attention from researchers and in the popular press. Although scholars have long recognised that academia can be a stressful and demanding profession, it has been argued that the current situation is so serious that it should be described as a “crisis”.  Both university staff and students are reporting high levels of stress and burnout, both of which can have serious consequences for mental health and well-being.  In a recent review of the scholarly literature, work by Guthrie et al. (2017)  found that “proportions of both university staff and postgraduate students with a risk of having or developing a mental health problem, based on self-reported evidence, were generally higher than for other working populations.”

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The Long-lasting Effects of Cultural Misconceptions by Irina Anna Rose

Content warning: Alienation, trauma, suicidal ideation

Every visitor’s or expat’s culture shock is different. For me, once a graduate student from Russia, now an American permanent resident and immigrant, it’s the dreaded and inevitable question: “Where are you from?” Such unintentional, seemingly benign, casual, yet annoying moments can, and do, provoke a deep feeling of alienation. followed by a fearful thought that I will always be an alien here, no matter the circumstances.. 

The truth is, I cannot in good conscience answer that question. In my experience, the intention behind it is small talk, pseudo-connection, a shortcut to shared experiences and therefore relatability. Putting aside the fact that (in my experience) it is invasive, too personal, and most of the times completely unwarranted, it is also highly triggering and utterly empty.

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Down The Rabbit Hole: My Journey with Anxiety, Alcohol and Benzodiazepine Use by Anon

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

In this blog, I want to share my experience using various drugs, namely alcohol and different prescription medications, throughout my academic career. I also want to acknowledge that people use drugs—both legal and illegal—for many different reasons, often at the same time. Sometimes they just want to enjoy themselves. Sometimes they want to relax. Sometimes they do those around them are engaging in drug use. And sometimes, drugs are used as a coping mechanism in the context of mental illness, which is my experience. Looking back, I believe that my substance use was appropriate during some periods, and clearly problematic during others. I believe that problematic substance use is a hidden and largely taboo topic in academia, and that we need to acknowledge that it exists.

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Coping with Trauma from Research Content: Conducting Genocide Research by Melanie O’Brien

TW: Sexual violence, assault, domestic violence, sexual harassment, genocide

I am a genocide, international criminal law and human rights scholar. My passion for this field of study started way back in high school, when I studied the highest levels of modern and ancient history, and then went through to university to study history and law. Learning about the horrors of the Holocaust, World War II, the Vietnam War and Communist China led me to ask the age-old question of ‘how can people do that to other people?’. Learning about all this injustice and atrocity led me to develop a strong sense of social justice. I always wanted to be a lawyer, and I love history; the natural combination of these two fields is international criminal law, which prosecutes perpetrators of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, requiring an understanding of history. Within all this, as I learnt more about gender inequality, I became more focused on women’s rights and sexual and gender-based violence against women, seeking to focus my research in this way with the aim of hopefully somehow making a change to the world that prioritises men in so many ways. I furthered my study of human rights and international law to specialise in the field, studying a Masters in Sweden and my PhD in England. Internships and clerkships at the UN and the International Criminal Court heightened my passion for working in this area. I ended up slipping into academia after my PhD, cementing my love of research, although I took some time out to work as a volunteer Human Rights Legal Officer in Samoa. Thinking back to those studies that motivated me towards this field, I have since gone on, as an academic, to write on Communist China, and the Holocaust, and on war crimes cases out of World War II and the Vietnam War.

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Never Good Enough: The Untangling of Shame by Andy Harrod

It didn’t begin here, but here is an environment that provokes my deep-seated feeling of never being good enough. There was a particularly tough day early on when I was considering the direction of my PhD and reviewing the literature where I wanted to crawl under my desk, wrap my arms around my knees and sob. I remember being the last to leave and running home, turning a four-mile journey into ten, part wanting to get something from the day, part punishment. I just left myself exhausted. I remember feeling isolated, alone. I can feel the tears prickle as I write. And all this wasn’t because I didn’t get what I was doing (and that is tough to own, as a voice sneaks in ‘big headed’), but because that voice, in the midst of others, was snarling ‘you are getting it wrong, you are behind, failing’, leaving a sense of just not being good enough and not belonging. 

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Writing, Compulsivity and Valuing Time by Kirsty Alexander

Our details are important. Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn’t matter.

Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones 

One of the hallmarks of being a scholar is the ability to communicate through writing and usually to communicate research and teaching ideas through writing. Most people who go through doctoral training are aware that to be employable and to maintain employment contracts in academia, writing and publishing are desirable. Most are aware of the expectation that we should publish our doctoral research in some form during or after the PhD years. I completed my PhD in 2010 and I’ve yet to publish research from it. I write ‘yet’ because I’ve been invited to submit a chapter based on it for an edited collection this summer. I have a quiet confidence I’ll write, edit and submit. The details of this matter. In this blog I will share insights about how severe anxiety and compulsivity affected me and my writing throughout my PhD (and afterwards), and how I’ve managed to arrive at a place of gratitude and acceptance.

 

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A PhD, BPD & Me by Emma Corbin

When I originally set out to write this blog, I was going to tell a beautiful story of a PhD student who struggled at first and rose to greatness. That wouldn’t have been truthful, because mental health recovery isn’t linear. It is a wild rollercoaster ride. So, here is the brutally honest story of my PhD so far. 

Everything was going pretty well for quite a while. It was the most at peace I had been with myself for a long time. That is, until I tested positive for COVID-19 in October 2020. Spoiler alert: I still haven’t recovered. After my 2-week isolation time, I returned to work. Despite colleagues telling me to take it easy, I jumped straight back in. Classic academia: presenteeism at its finest. The pressure I felt from losing all that lab time in 2020 was weighing on me, so I just pushed on through. Well, instead of recovering I got worse. It was miserable. Every experiment physically hurt. I was running myself into the ground. Publish or perish is not meant to be taken literally… right?

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Academia in Pain: What I’ve Lost and What I’ve Gained by Sara Villa

When I learnt about Voices of Academia, I first thought: What an amazing idea! My second thought was: Who would want to hear about me, a postdoc suffering from chronic pain, who is still finding her way through it? But then I realized that often the first slide in my talks shows the percentage of people suffering from chronic pain: 1 in 5! And we still feel ashamed, lost and voiceless in life, never mind in academia. 

So here I am, thinking that since academia is already hard as it is, my experience might resonate with someone, and help in some way if you’re dealing with chronic pain. I am a big believer in people’s own paths and mistakes, but I also believe that you feel less bad about it when shared and understood. I will share here my path in academia, focusing on the good and bad things that a life with pain has given me. Yes, there are some good ones. 

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When it all Falls Down: PhDing with Learning Disabilities and ADHD, in a Culturally Insensitive Society by Lara Bertholdo Jimenez (She/Ela)

I have a distinct memory from when I was in first or second grade of my mother kindly erasing my homework because my handwriting needed to be bonitinho. Even as a child, homework was unacceptable if it was messy. Growing up in Brazil, her schooling was the opposite of mine, and her expectations sometimes felt unrealistic or too harsh. Although her always correcting me helped my success in the long run, I always felt defeated when I couldn’t explain how I loved school but could never get excellent grades – something had always felt off. How could my classmates seem to get straight A’s effortlessly, and my hard work could only pull off B’s and C’s? I always thought I had a learning disability, but my mother (through no fault of her own) didn’t entertain the possibility: you just have to try harder. After years of jumping through hoops of not being able to afford the services to be tested, at age 25 I was diagnosed with adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and at 26, I was diagnosed with learning disabilities and slow processing speed. 

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Voices of Academia: One Year On by Dr Marissa Kate Edwards and Dr Zoë Ayres

We are thrilled to announce that Voices of Academia is now one year old! When we started out we wondered if we would even be able to find bloggers, yet here we are with over 50 blogs now available for you to view, written by the amazing #AcademicMentalHealth community, and many more waiting to be published. It would not have been possible without you – our contributors and our readers – so thank you. 

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Publish or Perish… But What About When You Are Not A Native Speaker? by Amilton Barbosa Botelho Junior

Writing Papers… What’s The Problem?

One of the most important activities in an academic career is to publish your work. We all know it is the numbers that matter; the most valuable part of your CV is the number and quality of manuscripts published in scientific journals, defined by your H-Index. It is rule #1. Publish or you will perish in academia, and writing a scientific paper is held on a pedestal. It’s not the same as writing a tweet, a report, or a blog post (sorry, but it is true, even for me, since it is my first time!).

Every beginner or senior researcher knows this. After meeting and talking with different graduate students worldwide (from Sao Paulo, Vancouver, to Brisbane), all of us complain about the difficulties of writing. But if an English native speaker has problems, what about a non-native speaker? As a Brazilian (and we speak Portuguese, and not Brazilian or Spanish), I know how hard it is. This kind of pressure can make even the strongest researcher suffer.

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