International Isolation: An Unconventional Journey by Kat Kennedy

In 2018 I decided to take a leap of faith. Unhappy in my job and recently out of a difficult five-year relationship, I had finally mustered up the courage to reach out to a leading sleep scientist whose work I had been following for a while. I dreamt (no pun intended!) of pursuing a PhD in his lab, though my unconventional background almost stopped me from trying. I had a Bachelor’s degree in marine biology and terrestrial ecology and had just spent 6 years working as a microbiologist, while cultivating a side hustle writing about science and health news. I knew I wanted to change course to physiology, and the necessary steps to get there, but I had crippling fear that no one would take me seriously, due to my lack of a prescribed path.

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Eating Disorders and Academia: A Fight for Control by Emily Ennis

TW: This blog discusses eating disorders

Academia has a way of making you feel like it is the only important thing in the world. It makes you expect to treat yourself and others badly because it’s ‘just part of the journey’ from student to tenured professor. Yes, an enriching home life, strong family bonds and living near your place of work are all vital components to mental wellness and personal fulfilment, but are they more important than student essays? Than your first book? Than doing whatever you can to keep your foothold in a notoriously cruel and unfair environment? At some point I answered those questions for myself. Academia had to come first – I was taught that excellence should be the outcome at all costs. 

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My Queer Impostor Syndrome

I am bisexual. This means that I am attracted to my own gender and other genders. I also describe myself as queer. Lately, I have been learning more and considering using the term polyamorous as well. The last one is still pretty scary for me and I am still trying to navigate what that means for me and how I interact in my social and work spaces. However, even being bisexual comes with its own issues. There is an invisibility that comes with it. I grew up being told by my mother that “Bi people didn’t exist” and where “gay” was used in a negative way. If I tried to put out my feelers by saying someone I knew was bisexual, she would reply “They are just saying that for attention.” I hated attention, and felt that if this was true, then I couldn’t be myself. I needed to be invisible. This, obviously, had a heavy impact on my mental health. I didn’t date anyone for a while, so hiding my sexuality was an easy thing to do.

However, ignoring this part of my identity never felt quite right and led to lots of questioning and confusion and hiding. And isolation. It wasn’t until college when I met others who were queer that I felt remotely comfortable. Yet, I still didn’t know that many people who were bisexual. This made me feel like an outlier, even within a safe space to divulge, so instead of claiming my identity, I continued to ignore it and threw myself into supporting my friends.

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Managing Your Student-Supervisor Relationship to Support Well-Being by Christiane Whitehouse

Academia is undergoing a cultural shift. Research highlighting the “evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education”1 is demanding we re-examine how mental health and wellness are prioritized in academia. Although this cultural shift is occurring slowly and needs to be adopted by those in positions of power (faculty, universities, scientific societies), graduate students can still take meaningful steps to care for their own mental health and wellness by “managing upward”.

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Dealing with Your PhD When Life Happens by Jelena O’Reilly

It took me personally 6 years to finish my PhD because during that period several major life events happened in my life (probably more than during any previous period of my life) which resulted in me taking three leaves of absence from my studies and one extension. I am living proof that you can still get your PhD despite many hurdles.  In this blog I will talk briefly about  my PhD journey, followed by some of the things that helped me deal with the surprising life events that came my way, and ultimately go on to finish my PhD. 

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I Will No Longer Suffer in Silence by Joy Ismail

In the first semester of my PhD, I often found myself locked up in a bathroom stall, between classes, having a breakdown. I was overwhelmed, to say the least. I was shocked by the nonchalant way in which information and tasks were dumped on us, without the slightest regard for whether we would cope. I already knew I had anxiety and a small tendency to experience episodes of depression, but add the stress I was feeling from the PhD and you got the perfect concoction for a severe blow to my mental health. Suffice to say, I had to pick myself up and deal with it alone. By the next semester, I had adapted, developed slightly thicker skin, and could better handle the immense pressure and blatant disregard for mental health.

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Return of the Mummy: The trials and triumphs of a life post-maternity leave by Jennifer Z. Paxton

There are frequent conversations focused on the impact that having children can have on a woman’s career progression, especially in academia. That is not what this blog post is about. On the other hand, there is also much positive discussion claiming that women can ‘have it all’ and that children should not, and are not, a barrier to women ‘making it’ in their career. This is also not what this blog post is about. Instead, this post is about me and my own personal battles with motherhood, my career and my own sometimes destructive mind. Some of this may be applicable to others and some of it may not, but I hope at the very least that it helps to open the doors of communication for anyone who ever felt like I did and to let them know that things can, and do, get better.

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Adjusting to (Academic) Life with a Chronic Illness by Stephanie Zihms

First up – I have never been one to play along in the competitiveness of academia.  Maybe this is because I worked in industry before starting my PhD, or maybe it’s because I enjoy my spare time. Who knows? I want to start by saying that adjustments for me weren’t around cutting hours or starting to not work on weekends, as I already did that before my diagnosis.

Before my diagnosis

After my PhD (which I completed in 2013) I moved to England to start an open-ended position as a research geoscientist at the British Geological Society. But after 14 months I decided that it wasn’t quite the right fit and I moved back into academia as a postdoc. I joined Heriot-Watt University – first on a 3-month contract trying to validate models with some lab data and then I secured a 3-year postdoc in the geomechanics group. Three years seemed long enough to figure out what I wanted to do career-wise and start laying some foundations. Little did I know that life would throw me a massive curve ball a few years later.

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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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