Is success worth more than my life? By Norah Koch

Note: Norah Koch is a pen name. The Voices of Academia team have worked with the blogger to ensure they have a support network in place. 

[Trigger Warning: Suicide, Suicidal Ideation]

I was seven years old when I read about a student who committed suicide because he failed his high school exams.

Back then, I used to read the newspaper daily. I was exposed to all kinds of information in the newspaper. I did not dwell much on thinking about the student. I didn’t know the person, and I did not feel any sadness. Newspapers usually have more bad news than good news anyway. I didn’t even understand what it meant. Someone died because he got bad grades. That was it.

I didn’t even bother to question why someone would commit suicide over bad grades. Let’s say that I was young when I read the news. Then again, I didn’t ask this question myself until I was a Masters student. Until I faced mental health issues because of academic pressure, I didn’t care about suicide. Now it sits in my thoughts. 

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How to be a Productive Tortoise: Neurodivergence and Asking for Academic Adjustments by Vicky Bowskill

Asking for reasonable adjustments can be hard, especially for hidden disabilities like autism. It took me over three decades to learn how to do it and I’ve finally made it to graduate school. Writing about it is also hard but I’m sharing part of my story here in the hope that this will encourage anyone who is struggling with asking for academic help to speak up. And give a glimpse into why seemingly minor adjustments can be so important. Oh, and I’ll explain about the tortoise…

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Managing Isolation as a Field Biologist by Partha Sarathi

Growing up, I moved around places because of my father’s job and I never found a sense of belonging with any one place. Losing connections with friends every time was painful and it has always been difficult for me to let go. Knowing that I would inevitably move again and knowing that I would have to let people go again, I kept on making more friends. However, it wasn’t until I experienced an unspeakable tragedy when I lost friends and someone special to a terrorist attack that my first experience with depression occurred. At the time I had no idea that I was even suffering from a mental illness. Things changed in that moment for me forever. According to my therapist, I have never been able to completely recover from that tragedy in 2008.

The reason I started with that paragraph instead of directly jumping into a discussion of academia is for everyone to know that academia did not triggermy mental illness; I had experienced it before following a tragedy. We are human beings, and we bring previous life experiences with us to our academic studies. However, there are certainly elements of academia that affected my mental health, including the narrative that sometimes we can only be academics and cannot have lives outside of our work. I hope that sharing my story here will help others to feel less alone.

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Empowering Early Career Researchers: Improving Culture in Academia by Kartik Aiyer

While science is exciting and interesting, many aspects of the scientific practise are difficult and stressful. Navigating research can be a huge challenge for early career researchers, particularly if the academic hierarchies are not structured well. It is crucial to discuss systemic issues that plague the academic landscape. Talking openly about systemic racism, harassment, poor work-life balance and other issues may be uncomfortable, but it is very much necessary. In my blog, I want to talk about why many early career researchers feel overwhelmed and stressed, and what can be done to alleviate their problems. 

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Trying to be Superwoman by Hannah Roberts

When I was eight years old, I begged my Mum and Dad for a science kit for my birthday, shortly followed by a telescope and all the ‘how my body works’ books. After career day, I came home and announced, “I’m going to be a doctor.” I didn’t have the vocab back them for “making a difference – helping others.” There was also a status attached to wanting to be a doctor and naturally my parents reaffirmed my decision.

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Bullying Can Come From Any Direction but So Can Support by Anonymous

TW: Bullying, suicide 

There is a narrative in academia that administrative (admin) and academic staff are two different camps/classes, with a ‘them vs us’ attitude across the sector. There are stories of academics shouting at admin and admin stifling academics with bureaucratic processes. But there are also different stories, which show that while bad behaviour can come from any direction, so too can support. I am writing about one of the support stories. I am an admin, writing this so that others don’t feel alone, to raise awareness of this dynamic, and to thank my academic colleagues. 

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Learning to Accept Your Own Mental Illness by Lucy Arkinstall

For as long as I can remember I have always been a worrier; however, when I left the family home in the summer of 2012 to go to university, I do not think anybody (including myself) realised quite how difficult it would be. I suddenly went from being surrounded by a large support network whom I had shared all my worries with to being alone and bottling-up all my thoughts. This, alongside a doubt about whether I was good enough to be at university, led me to obsessively throw myself into my studies, an obsession which soon became out of control. Family members became increasingly concerned and eventually convinced me to reach out for help from the University Wellbeing Service.

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Surviving Isolation as a Grad Student by Nancy Yuan

It’s 5am, the sky still shrouded by darkness. I feel the cool, crisp air and smell the damp earth beneath my feet. A few cars pass by underneath the overpass. A block ahead, glowing in perpetual wakefulness, the building where I work stands calmly. I always trust its light to guide me through the last stretch of an otherwise dimly lit walk. Still, I carry pepper spray in hand. It’s unwise to assume that every shadow is harmless at this hour. 

I reach the building and put on a hand sewn mask that Ma had made for me. Ma and Ba live several states and two time zones away. It’s already past dawn there, and Ma must be preparing breakfast. I press the handicap door opener to avoid touching the door handle, walk into a spotless foyer littered with colorful ergonomic chairs. My shoes echo through the silent halls. Motion sensor lights pave the way to the elevators. I scan my badge to the fourth floor. Time to start another day working alone

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Mental Health and Irritable Bowel Syndrome by Aniqa Khaliq

I’ve been working in Higher Education as a lecturer for 13 years now, and have thoroughly enjoyed every part of my journey from class teacher, to senior lecturer and senior fellow of the HEA. My love of mathematics, and researching the effectiveness of how mathematics was being taught in secondary schools, made me question how much of an impact I could make as a classroom teacher or as a Head of Department, and so when the opportunity arose I decided to move into teacher education and training. 

I have suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS-D) for just over 10 years now, which is a condition that affects the digestive system, causing stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea (IBS-D) and constipation (IBS-C). Despite this being a lifelong condition there is no cure and the exact cause of IBS is still unknown (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs/). The two main triggers of IBS are food and stress, and for me the trigger was being trapped in a failing marriage with an abusive partner, and then moving abroad where things only became worse.

Nine months after the move abroad, I managed to return home, and thankfully had started working again as a university lecturer so found some solace in that. However, trying to keep my marriage from falling apart, and being in denial about the situation I had ended up in, took its toll on my health and my symptoms worsened. Foods had started to became triggers too, and I decided it was time to consult with my GP and find out what was going on, who immediately referred me to a specialist as my quality of life had deteriorated significantly.

As time went on I learnt what my trigger foods were, and managed to reduce the frequency of my IBS-D symptoms, I had separated and subsequently divorced by then too, and I finally felt in control of myself and my life again.

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