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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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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