Voices of Academia, Two Years On: Where do we go from here? by Dr Marissa Kate Edwards and Dr Zoë Ayres

We are thrilled to announce that Voices of Academia is now two years old! We are so thankful for you, our community, and proud that we are now over 15,000 followers strong.  

Although Voices of Academia was conceived during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it still feels as relevant as ever. Numerous #AcademicMentalHealth tweets as well as published research reveal that academics continue to struggle with the demands of working in a busy and competitive work environment. Many academics report feeling anxious, burnt out and increasingly despondent about the future. Students experienced considerable distress during the upheaval of COVID-19 and now appear to be more disengaged than ever before. Furthermore, we are sure that many of our readers will have seen the constant discussions about going “alt-ac” and pursuing a career outside of the traditional faculty position. After the last two years, many academics have nothing left to give—and they are looking for an exit strategy.

Given the current situation, the mental health of staff and students should be an urgent priority for universities, but we know that this is not necessarily the case. Indeed, many of our blog authors have shared how the culture of overwork in academia has contributed to their mental ill-health and in some cases hindered their recovery. Others have shared how the stigma of mental illness in the academy has discouraged them from speaking up and seeking help. We agree with Professor June Gruber, who argued last year that higher education needs to do more to address mental health issues:    

“Despite growing awareness of a mental health crisis among undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty, much of higher education has remained silent or complicit in perpetuating stigma towards mental illness. I’ve seen this first-hand, even in my own field of clinical psychology. A reckoning with how we handle mental health in daily life in higher education is long overdue.”

We hope that initiatives such as Voices of Academia can help to reduce some of the stigma and – along with many other important efforts – contribute to cultural change in universities over time.  

What Have We Achieved Together?

To date, we are thrilled to report that we have published 87 blogs in total, covering topics from self-care, to supporting family members with mental illness, to bullying and harassment in academia. It is also notable that most of these accounts are from individuals who have decided to come forward with their own stories with their names attached. We believe that this is an important step in normalizing experiences of struggle and mental ill-health and reducing the stigma around mental health in academia. Our podcast has reached over 5000 downloads, being listened to in a range of countries around the world. This would not be possible without our community! A big thank you to our superstar podcast host Emily King as well as Dan Ranson for all their incredibly hard work!

A review of the blog topics reveals that our authors have discussed a wide range of issues over the last two years. Some of our most popular posts highlight challenges that all academics are likely to face, including stress and burnout, the culture of overwork, and managing the student-supervisor relationship. Other authors have written about how they navigated specific experiences while working in academia, such as living with a chronic illness, experiencing isolation and abuse, managing chronic pain, quitting their PhD, and returning to work after maternity leave. The blog has also provided a platform for authors to share their lived experience of mental illness, including BPD, Dissociative Identity Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, PMDD, and many others. Our authors have also offered stories about building resilience, practicing self-care, how to define success on your own terms, resisting the urge to compare ourselves to others, and finding a friend in failure. Overall, we feel that the blogs collectively offer important lessons to readers: We are all human, we all face challenges and failure, and yet we can survive (and sometimes even thrive) despite these. More importantly, our struggles connect us with each other and show us that we are not alone.

Looking to the Future

For the next year we have some ambitious plans:

1. Payment for authors

One of the things we see as a major challenge in academia is diversity and inclusion work not being recognised for what it is – work. As a result, a lot of this work (and associated emotional labour) goes unpaid. At Voices of Academia, we are hoping to change this! From the 1st of July 2022, we will be trialling (over the course of a year) paying all our bloggers £25 GBP per accepted blog (or given the opportunity for the money to be donated to a charity of their choice). If you would like to contribute to our cause, please DONATE HERE.

2. Blogs every two weeks

Given we will be paying our bloggers, we will be moving away from posting a blog every week, to posting every two weeks. This will enable us to finance all submissions.

3. Introducing “VoA Chats

At intervals throughout the year, we will be trialling “VoA chats” on Twitter hosting discussions, as well as looking at hosting some Twitter Space conversations. Please keep an eye out for more information.

4.Voices of Academia” the book!

We are exploring the idea of “Voices of Academia” the book, where we will chronicle the experiences of a range of academics, from early career to professor. More details coming soon!

We are excited about the future of the blog and look forward to continuing our work. We will be taking a short break between now and July to organise our future blog posts and recruit new submissions. During this time we are accepting blog pitches, and we encourage you to contact us if you would like to share your story. On a related note, one of our ongoing aims at Voices of Academia is to increase the diversity of submissions, and we hope to hear from a wider range of voices in future. While we know that speaking up about mental health issues can be very challenging (and this can be even more difficult when coming from a historically marginalised group), we are nonetheless committed to providing a space for those who want to share their experiences. If you have an idea for a blog, please let us know!

Here’s to a better, more inclusive, supportive academia!

From all the VoA Team.