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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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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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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At Breaking Point: Burnout and its Consequences Post-PhD by Marissa Edwards

As I leaned against the wall of my apartment, tears running down my face, one thought kept circling around and around in my head: “This shouldn’t be happening.”

Indeed, from all outside appearances, my life was pretty good.  I had completed my PhD with no major difficulties, I had a supportive family and a wonderful circle of friends, I had no major health problems, I had a job that I loved and knew I was a strong candidate for a tenure-track position in the near future, and had no significant financial difficulties. I was incredibly privileged and still recognize how lucky I was. So why was I crying so hard, and why couldn’t I leave my apartment?

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Suffering is not my Standard by Ioana Weber

This blog has been adapted from an essay appearing in the March 2020 issue, with permission from the author, from the student magazine CNS Newsletter. Check it out here.

When I started my PhD, I treated my project as my ‘baby’ and enthusiastically embarked onto working long days and equally long nights. I distinctly remember cycling home from the lab at 3am on Unter den Linden, intoxicated by the sweet perfume of the linden trees and a rush I could not explain at that time. I had a feeling that I was finally doing the right thing in order to succeed—the thing which was presented to me as a necessity and hence expected of me. Now, results were bound to follow. This meant that nobody, not even my self-distrusting mind, could say I wasn’t putting enough effort in, should the results not roll in. I continued doing this for about half a year, across pilot experiments and until I fully delineated my research plan for my PhD project, and, after few months off for a break, where I felt inexplicably lacking in energy, I continued to do this for three more years.

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