Believing in Better by Meshach Pierre

Mental illness has been a part of my life for a long time. My very first article on anxiety, written for one of Guyana’s (my home country’s) newspapers, Stabroek News, spoke about my first run-in with mental illness, or rather, potentially, the outcome of untreated mental illness(s) – the loss of my close friend to suicide. Obviously, this sets up the seriousness of where it all came from for me. Personally, this is my one reason for carrying on: so that no one around me would have to ever feel that way. It was also me sharing with quite a bit of vulnerability, trying to get people to pay attention to a problem: Guyana, my home country, had the highest suicide rate in the world in 2014, and I felt first-hand a lot of the reasons why that might be the case. That very same year, I came down with the worst bout of what I thought was only anxiety but was also a full depressive episode, fuelled by my untreated attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder – combined presentation (ADHD-C). In the course of having to navigate getting help for the very first time, I felt the stigma and the difficulty in accessing care – and I was determined to have no one else feel the same way.

In this blog, I want to discuss the importance of having good mentors in academia and how they can make a difference in a student’s life. I also share my personal experience with mental illness and how I have become an advocate for change. I also wish to stress the importance of recognizing that one cannot help others when one needs help oneself, and that stepping away from important things can be as helpful for yourself as it can be for others. 

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On My First Job in Academia: The Challenges, Mental Health, and Coping Mechanisms by Ritika Mahajan

As far as I remember, I always wanted to be a teacher. Initially, for some years, I wanted to run a dance school, but soon I shifted to a safer ‘dream’ of being a teacher. Growing up in the 1990s in India, economic security was essential for a middle-class family. One could dream of breaking the norms but within boundaries, as contradictory as it sounds!

I was told that I was a good student because I followed all the instructions and scored the highest in examinations. A student who came on time, obeyed without asking questions, learned things by heart, and gave the expected answers was the best student. When I look back, I realise the message was clear – compliance is excellence. So, my most significant learning after years of education was neither analytical ability nor innovative thinking; it was compliant behaviour. With this conditioning, I entered the world of academia, only to realise that I had no training for this field.

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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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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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Fighting Uncertainty: Lessons Learned from Lockdown by Maddy Bleasdale

“You should leave Germany as soon as possible– words I never imagined I’d hear in the final few weeks of my PhD. Yet, I soon found myself packing my life into boxes and boarding a flight to the UK. 

The coronavirus pandemic has caused mass disruption. For me, it brought my PhD journey in Germany to an abrupt end – there was no obligatory thesis “hand-in photo” or celebratory drinks with my colleagues and friends. But while the coronavirus has introduced a high degree of uncertainty into all of our lives, for many academics uncertainty is the norm. 

But what is behind this uncertainty? 

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