To Quit or Not to Quit: Pursuing a PhD During the Pandemic as an International Scholar by Athira Unni 

It is a special kind of passion (or masochism) that makes one apply for a PhD during a pandemic. While it is well-known that doctoral studies can be isolating compared to other student experiences, it is especially isolating to undertake this journey today and study in a foreign country. In this blog post, I will reflect on my experiences as an international student from India pursuing her doctoral studies in Leeds during the COVID-19 pandemic and how this has impacted my mental health struggles. 

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It Gets Lonely Out Here: On Self-Disclosure of Lived Experience in the Social Work Field by Teresa Theophano, LCSW

As a queer femme doctoral student in social work and a practicing mental health clinician who is also a recipient of mental health care services, I tend to be out, loud, and–if not exactly proud–consistently working on alleviating my own internalized shame. After all, homophobia, misogyny, and stereotyping mean that someone like me is not entirely unlikely to be branded the c-word: crazy.

In this blog, I will discuss the importance of acknowledging lived-experience practitioners in the social work field, and how disclosure and support can strengthen both academia and practice settings.

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What Does Self-Care Really Mean? By Jessie Shepherd

We all know that doing a PhD is hard: there are mental challenges, physical exhaustion, and self-doubt that must be overcome to successfully navigate this path. How do we last on this very long journey without allowing the weight of it all to overwhelm us? What does it really mean to take care of ourselves while still managing all that we do? 

Five years ago, I was teaching a group of psychology graduate students, talking about their self-care while working in mental health settings and one said, “We can’t do self-care, most days I don’t have time to poop.” 

While I understand the feeling, and time pressure; I do think we often have a misunderstanding of what self-care really means. Often, we view it as weekend trips to the spa with our friends or nights spent drinking and socialising. And sometimes people disguise self-destructive behaviours as self-care. This perception of self-care is that it is an activity that must be planned, takes a large amount of time, often involves expense, and can lead to more physical strain (hangovers are not great for concentration or academic writing). But as a therapist and current PhD student on my own journey with mental health, I want to challenge that notion and make clear what self-care is (and is not).

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When Universities Listen to Sexual Harassment Survivors by Anonymous

TW: Sexual harassment and indecent assault

When you hear about allegations of abuse and mistreatment in higher education, so many of the stories are from people who feel that the systems failed them, their experiences were “swept under the carpet”, and administrators failed to investigate and/or act on the allegations. My story, thankfully, is different. While I will explain in detail the adverse impact that the harassment and indeed the investigation itself had on my mental health, I believe that my story is also one of hope: it shows that in some cases universities do act appropriately following student complaints, and people are brought to justice. While I appreciate that not everyone will feel safe speaking up about their experiences, I want to highlight that sometimes institutions do the right thing and survivors can ultimately prevail.

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Finding a Friend In Failure by Victor Mosconi

Failure: IT’S OVER.

That’s how we often see it.

Failure is so often seen as the end of something. And not the end in a good way, but in a disappointing, tragic way, often ending in anguish, and sometimes with tears. 

“Failure” is a powerful word that creates all sorts of negative thoughts in the mind. Even just seeing the word creates anxiety and stress in some people. And if you experience the imposter phenomenon as I do, then not only do you worry about failing, but you internalize it as well and you see yourself as a failure. The imposter phenomenon, also known as imposter syndrome, is the inability to recognize internalized successes and achievements. It’s the constant fear of being seen a fraud for not being good enough. With my imposter phenomenon mindset, I saw myself as someone who always made mistakes and could never truly succeed. I not only failed in all I did and worked on, but in who I was as a person. The problem we often run into with the word “failure” is that we only look at the end result. And if that end result is not what you or others expected, then it’s deemed a failure. You didn’t achieve your goal, so it is determined to be a poor result, a mistake, and problem, maybe even a tragic end.  With the imposter phenomenon, you also see yourself as having not achieved what others expected, wanted or desired in a you. So, you see yourself as a failure.

In academia, there is often a lot of undefined end goals and you are continually adjusting as you go. Failure can seem like a weekly occurrence. You can be given a particular end goal in your first phase of a project or writing assignment, and once you’ve achieved it, your professor then will tell you how you need to change the focus of your project based on the first phase developments. But you also have to go back and change what was written in the first phase to align better with the new end goal. Being continually informed you have more changes and more alterations to make creates ever-growing thoughts that you’re failing at writing this project. You have the thoughts, if you weren’t failing at each step, you wouldn’t have all these changes. Working on my PhD dissertation has been exactly like this. I completed the first step, was told it was good, but I had to make all the changes. Okay, in my imposter mindset my first thought was, “so then it wasn’t good.” I’d rewrite it, turn it in, and she liked the changes, but, now I need to make these new alterations and drop this one variable, but maybe add this new variable. Each step there’s more changes, the end goal is not in sight. I’m not even sure what the end goal is besides earning my degree. And honestly, after the third rewrite, my imposter thought was “Oh, wow, I’m so bad at this, I’m going to fail out of my PhD.” 

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I Don’t Want to Dance in the Dark: Disclosing Mental Illness and Neurodiversity in the Ableist Academy by Marco Miguel Valero Sanchez

When I saw the call from Voices of Academia on Twitter actively seeking contributors to share their stories on mental health and well-being in academia, I thought: Wouldn’t a blog be a great way to share your own experiences with depression and ADHD in academia? Wouldn’t it also be an excellent opportunity to raise awareness about mental illness and neurodiversity in general? Why shouldn’t you give it a try? As usual, I was very tired that day. I had a sleepless and restless night, an unexpected panic attack in the morning, and a stronger depressive phase overall – perhaps because I already had a few days of holiday. I find such days off always give you the ‘opportunity’ to think intensively and continuously about yourself, your body, and your mind – whether you like it or not.

Perhaps my mental state was also the reason why my initial enthusiasm was immediately overtaken by self-doubt and pessimism, asking myself: Why would anyone care what you, of all people, have to say about the challenges and difficulties of managing mental health and well-being in academia? Who exactly would care about your personal story? And above all: Why would it make any difference and to whom? In fact, I cannot say whether anyone will read my personal story, care about it, or whether it will make any difference at all. But maybe these are the wrong questions and expectations to begin with. What I can say with absolute certainty, however, is that every voice matters with regard to mental health and well-being – in academia and beyond – and that every voice helps to shed light on a still taboo and mostly invisible topic. And in this respect, I am confident that my voice matters as well.

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Feelings of an Imposter Through the Lens of a South Asian Woman of Colour by Kelly Trivedy

“You seem to be doing so much, how do you fit it in?”

Story of my life. Since my early teens, I have been very aware of the fact that I packed out my time ‘doing’ and not much time relaxing and unwinding. Not until I hit age 29.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

There are varying degrees of imposter syndrome and it is defined in many ways depending on which article, book, podcast or video you watch. The definition that resonates with me is by Amy Cuddy who refers to it as the ‘general feeling that we don’t not belong.’

The term ‘Imposter Syndrome’ was introduced by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Ament Imet in 1978

I want to talk about Imposter Syndrome as a South Asian woman of colour. It has been great to see emerging stories on this topic in the arts and I wanted to discuss my experiences to draw the lens closer to educators within this community. 

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The Second-Year Slump by Lea Martin

In October of my second year of my PhD program I found myself waiting in an exam room at the student health center wondering if I was being melodramatic about how terrible everything felt. I was, objectively, a successful second year psychology graduate student. I had proposed my Masters, taught an undergraduate lab, and secured funding for the next three years via a supplemental grant, but I had never in my life felt worse about myself or my future. I had lost any motivation to work in the area I was studying or academia in general and wanted to quit nearly every day. I struggled to communicate my needs with my advisor, who was so enthusiastic about his work that he didn’t seem to notice my struggling. I was increasingly having trouble getting out of bed because of the dread I felt about what my day held – even on weekends. I had started avoiding my roommates, whom I loved, and instead I was spending hours not really watching TV on my laptop alone. I had started going home every day and getting into bed and hoping I’d fall asleep until my alarm went off the next day.

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