Fighting Sexual Harassment and Power Abuse in Academia by Marta Oliveira

TW: This blog discusses sexual harassment and sexual assault

Jane and I started our PhD journeys at the same time and I remember back then thinking she was really cool. As is often the case, with time and work, we diverged, and I stopped hearing from her. Our campus is very fragmented and as there is so much to do in Berlin, the PhD community is not very cohesive and it’s easy to lose touch with each other.

Three years later I was swamped in my PhD, going through my own battles, with no idea where to go and what to do with myself since my research was not particularly successful, and I couldn’t see the end in sight. At that point, Jane came to see me. She told me she had been sexually harassed by the postdoc she was working with. She had asked for help from the Graduate Office, the HR department, and her group leader. Nothing. It turned out that the postdoc was one of the group leader’s favourite scientists, and that seemed to matter more than the sexual harassment.

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Building Resilience by Zoë J. Ayres

When we are at the frontier of research, the foray into the unknown can be exciting. What will we discover? What contributions can we make to our field? What unique perspective can we bring? This thirst for knowledge can, however, come at a cost. Approximately 1 in 2 researchers embarking on their PhD will experience mental health concerns during their PhD, with pre-existing issues often compounded, as well as people experiencing mental health difficulties for the first time. The causes of this rise in mental health issues are varied, from impostor syndrome, to lack of support, through to abuse of power and discrimination. Unfortunately, the mental health toll does not stop there, with precarity of postdoc contracts, the competitive nature of academic positions, institutional racism, and ‘work overload’ as researchers progress up the academic ladder. In order to ‘make it’ in academia, individuals have to overcome a complex set of hurdles, and many will never be able to make the jump.

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Taking Care of the Caregiver: Coping with Loss Before and During COVID-19

This blog is part of a special issue, released for World Mental Health Day. At Voices of Academia (VOA) we strive to make sure your voice and experience is heard. Dealing with loss is complex and an additional strain on our mental health during the academic process. The blog was recorded as part of a conversation between our guest, Jemima Thompson and Marissa Edwards (one of the VoA team) earlier this year. This is the second part of the interview.

Part 4: Identity and the Value of Past Experience

M: And you said also that you felt anxiety and imposter syndrome. Do you think that’s a result of what you went through with your husband? Or do you think that’s more just the PhD environment?

J: I think it’s six of one, half dozen of the other. I think again you have that feeling of, “I really am the imposter. Everyone else’s imposter syndrome isn’t real but mine is” and it’s that weird cognitive dissonance, isn’t it? Like, “I know that it’s a syndrome and that’s more a perception, not a real thing so I’m not really an imposter but I definitely am.

M: Yes, absolutely.

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Taking Care of the Caregiver: Coping with Loss Before and During COVID-19 by Jemima Thompson

This blog is part of a special issue, released for World Mental Health Day. At Voices of Academia (VOA) we strive to make sure your voice and experience is heard. Dealing with loss is complex and an additional strain on our mental health during the academic process. The blog was recorded as part of a conversation between our guest, Jemima Thompson and Marissa Edwards (one of the VoA team) earlier this year. The blog is in two parts, and there is a link to the second part at the end of this post.

From Jemima: Since this interview was recorded in April, I sadly lost my father to COVID-19 the following month. In light of this devastating turn of events I wish to dedicate this interview to him and his memory, and to all of those who have experienced the loss of a loved one during one of the most challenging times in living memory.

Part 1: The Start of the Journey

Jemima (J): I’ll start in the beginning and how I  ended up in academia because I think that’s an important part of the story for me. So, I’m 32 now. I came to academia quite late. It wasn’t like I went from 18 went through the Bachelors, the Masters, and a lot of people have taken that route where they’ve just stayed in academia the whole time. I’ve been in and out and done all kinds of weird stuff.

The reason that I ended up where I am now is partly because of what happened previously in my life. My PhD is in medical education looking specifically at doctor-patient communications and patient-centred care.  The thing that made me feel that this is so important and why I want to do this was that my husband had multiple sclerosis. He was diagnosed when he was about 24 and he died about five years ago. During that journey and all of those hospital appointments, I learnt about all of the multidisciplinary stuff that’s going on and the complex, complicated connections between healthcare professionals and the community and hospitals and even inpatients/outpatients.

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At Breaking Point: Burnout and its Consequences Post-PhD by Marissa Edwards

As I leaned against the wall of my apartment, tears running down my face, one thought kept circling around and around in my head: “This shouldn’t be happening.”

Indeed, from all outside appearances, my life was pretty good.  I had completed my PhD with no major difficulties, I had a supportive family and a wonderful circle of friends, I had no major health problems, I had a job that I loved and knew I was a strong candidate for a tenure-track position in the near future, and had no significant financial difficulties. I was incredibly privileged and still recognize how lucky I was. So why was I crying so hard, and why couldn’t I leave my apartment?

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The Words We Say by Julia Maristany

“What language do you dream in?” is in all honesty a really cute question that I sometimes get asked when one of my friends wonders what it is like being bilingual. I do not really remember the language of my dreams, but I do certainly know which language I learn in.  

In this blog, I wanted to discuss one particular aspect that, in my opinion, is sometimes overlooked in the conversation of mental health, inclusion, and accessibility in academia: language. I want to talk about how the linguistic monopoly that English has in academia affects the mental wellbeing of a large part of the student body. From feelings of isolation from your community, to increased exhaustion from studying and working all day in a language that it is not your own, language has a silent but strong effect on the daily life of many students.

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Navigating Caregiving, Grief and Living Bereavement in Academia by Ryan Linn Brown

Imagine only breathing through a straw. Now imagine only breathing through a straw while running up stadium stairs – that’s what it’s like to breathe with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a progressive inflammatory disease of the airway that causes shortness of breath. My dad was diagnosed with COPD in 1998 when I was 4 years old and my brother had just been born. My dad’s parents often smoked in the car with the windows up, filling his childhood with secondhand smoke. He started smoking cigarettes when he was 15 and had tried to quit for decades before smoking his last cigarette in August 1996. In 2005, he got bad pneumonia for the first time, which lasted half the year and stopped him from ever being able to exercise again. I was just 11.

My path to graduate school and science began with my dad. We both loved reading, learning, and trying to understand the world. We often spent our time together coming up with grand theories of the world while watching the birds. Our shared love of learning fuels me to this day, even in the most intimidating moments of graduate school.

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The Power of Peer-to-Peer Coaching by Stefano Zucca

In the run up to my postdoc, I was aware that studies into PhD students’ mental health were appearing frequently, but I felt that not enough was being done to promote the discussion in academia. This pushed me to start researching the topic myself, collecting different information, and led me to present on “The PhD students’ mental health crisis” to my institute.  It was the reception to this talk that made me realise how much researchers seek a place where they can share and discuss daily common issues they are facing in academia – my journey as a mental health advocate had begun.

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Why so shocked? I’m Neurodiverse, not Unintelligent by Linda Corcoran

You did really good on that test, didn’t you?’. A voice of surprise, shock, perhaps even disbelief coming from a university lecturer who is aware that I have a learning disability. I’d like to say that it was an isolated incident in my life, but it’s something I’ve become accustomed to, especially since I was diagnosed with dyslexia, ADHD, and autistic-like traits in my late teenage years, the latter of which has currently come under review once again by my mental health team. I’ve been told by many people that I should be grateful that I was never ‘officially’ diagnosed with autism – an ableist point of view I wish people would retire.

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Confronting the Culture of Overwork: Less is More by Brittany Uhlorn

We’ve created a culture of overwork in academia.

It’s expected that techs, professors and graduate students eat, sleep and breathe their work. Slept more than four hours last night? You could have been replying to emails. Took an hour lunch break? Chug down an energy drink while you analyze data and eat a bag of chips on the way to class instead. Only worked 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. today? Don’t expect to get tenure any time soon. This dangerous and pervasive narrative, fuelled by a combination of impostor syndrome and the “publish or perish” mentality, causes many academics to feel compelled to spend every waking hour reading the literature, refining lectures and perfecting their ideas so that they can keep their careers afloat.

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