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Mental health challenges for early career physicists

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In the past few years, more studies about poor mental health in academia have been conducted and found that PhD students are almost 3 times as likely to develop mental health problems than then general population. While studies have not been conducted yet on postdoctoral researchers, anecdotal evidence has shown similar concern about mental health on blogs such as Chronically Academic, and others. Topics often linked with poor mental health are work-life balance, job demands, long work hours, supervisor’s leadership, and financial concerns. Many of these these stressors are often exacerbated for those with an underrepresented identity with the addition of factors such as stereotype threat, imposter syndrome, or microaggressions. I will discuss the challenges that lead to poor mental health for early career physicists as well as some possible solutions that can be implemented by individuals and the community.

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Mental health challenges for early career physicists

  1. 1. MENTAL HEALTH CHALLENGES FOR EARLY CAREER PHYSICISTS Dr. Andrea J. Welsh (She/her/hers) awelsh8@gatech.edu
  2. 2. OUTLINE • Terminology • Research conducted on graduate student mental health • Topics often linked with poor mental health • How other identities can affect mental health • Ways to improve community and best practices for yourself Warning: Suicide discussion later in the talk
  3. 3. WHAT ARE WE TALKING ABOUT WHEN WE SAY “MENTAL HEALTH”?  Emotional, psychological, and social well-being  Ability to cope with stress  Ability to be productive  Ability to make a meaningful contribution to one‘s community  Ability to meet one’s potential
  4. 4. WHAT DOES POOR MENTAL HEALTH LOOK LIKE?  Eating or sleeping too much or too little  Pulling away from people and usual activities  Having low or no energy  Feeling numb or like nothing matters  Having unexplained aches and pains  Feeling helpless or hopeless  Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships  Thinking of harming yourself or others  Inability to perform daily tasks
  5. 5. Depression Anxiety Bipolar Disorder PTSD Borderline Personality Disorder OCD Insomnia Dissociative Identity Disorder Mania Seasonal Affective Disorder Autism Schizophrenia Psychosis Eating Disorders Panic Disorder Suicide Phobia YOU MAY HAVE HEARD WORDS LIKE: But, you don’t need to be diagnosed with an illness to have poor mental health and take an active role to have good mental health!
  6. 6. NATIONAL STATISTICS 19.1% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2018 (47.6 million people) 4.6% of U.S. adults experienced serious mental illness in 2018 (11.4 million people) 16.5% of U.S. youth aged 6-17 experienced a mental health disorder in 2016 (7.7 million people) Annual prevalence of mental illness among U.S. adults, by demographic group:  Non-Hispanic Asian: 14.7%  Non-Hispanic white: 20.4%  Non-Hispanic black or African-American: 16.2%  Non-Hispanic mixed/multiracial: 26.8%  Hispanic or Latino: 16.9%  Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual: 37.4% National Alliance of Mental Illness 2018, https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers
  7. 7. STATISTICS ON SUICIDE  2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34 in the U.S.  10th leading cause of death in the U.S.  The overall suicide rate in the U.S. has increased by 31% since 2001  46% of people who die by suicide had a diagnosed mental health condition  Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are 4x more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth  75% of people who die by suicide are male  Transgender adults are nearly 12x more likely to attempt suicide than the general population  Annual prevalence of serious thoughts of suicide, by U.S. demographic group:  4.3% of all adults  11.0% of young adults aged 18-25  17.2% of high school students  47.7% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual high school students If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) National Alliance of Mental Illness 2018, https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers
  8. 8. HOW IT CAN AFFECT YOUR LIFE AS AN ACADEMIC  Not being able to concentrate while working  Social anxiety causing difficulties networking at conferences/working in groups  Missing classes for large periods of time due to mental illness  Missing opportunities because you feel you aren’t worth it/good enough, you are too exhausted to finish applications in time or attend events  Not being able to connect with others because of stigma talking about your situation  Not having a professors or research advisor who understands what you might need to care for yourself while being productive
  9. 9. PREVALENCE IN GRADUATE SCHOOL Symptom Prevalence (%) Felt under constant strain 41 Unhappy and depressed 30 Lost sleep over worry 28 Lost confidence in self 24 Felt worthless 16 Could not make decisions 15 Reported at least two symptoms 51 Reported at least four symptoms 32 Data from 3700 Ph.D. students surveyed in Belgium K. Levecque et al., Research Policy 46, 868, 2017 • Of those who sought assistance, only 35% said that they found helpful resources at their own institution. • Nearly 20% said they tried to find help at their home institution but didn't feel supported. • “There are so many cultural and financial barriers to seeking help,” 2.5 times more likely than highly educated people in the general population to be at risk of depression and other common psychiatric disorders
  10. 10.  41% of grad students scored as having moderate to severe anxiety compared to 6% of general population  39% of grad students scored as having moderate to severe depression as compared to 6% general population  Transgender/GNC and women more likely to have poor mental health Data from 2279 grad students surveyed from 26 countries, 234 institutions Evans et al Nature Biotechnology 36, 282-284, 2018 ANOTHER STUDY….
  11. 11. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CAUSES? Correlation between Anxiety/depression among graduate students and lack of support for their academic mentor/advisor Data from 2279 grad students surveyed from 26 countries, 234 institutions Evans et al Nature Biotechnology 36, 282-284, 2018
  12. 12. MENTAL HEALTH AND ADVISOR LEADERSHIP Inspirational leadership style – better mental health Autocratic leadership style – no significant mental health problems Laissez-faire leadership style – risk of experiencing psychological distress significantly increased Data from 3700 Ph.D. students surveyed in Belgium K. Levecque et al., Research Policy 46, 868, 2017
  13. 13. COMMENTS ABOUT ADVISING  “My adviser is not useful as a mentor and doesn't really help much with my project, but that is typical for advisers and if you expect otherwise, you didn't have realistic expectations for graduate school.”  “My advisor doesn't respond to e-mails … I feel lost in my progress. I came to graduate school with a very clear research project, full of confidence and inspiration, and now all of that has fallen apart. … It isn't all completely dismal—I like a lot of the people in my program, and there are some people on my committee who have taken time for me and seem to genuinely care.”  “Many faculty are utterly unaware of the current academic job market and of the precarious financial situation graduate students find themselves in.”  “I feel that professors should be required to take courses on mentorship and management.” “Advisors need training in how to be better mentors!”  “A less supportive adviser or department culture would significantly impact my well-being. For example, I am aware of grad students who are afraid to discuss their weekend activities freely because their advisor frowns on the idea that they wouldn't be in the lab working. A situation like that is outrageous, the GA should fight that kind of culture at every opportunity.” Graduate Student Happiness & Well- Being Report The Graduate Assembly (2014) University of California, Berkeley Graduate Assembly
  14. 14. WHY IS IT SO HIGH IN ACADEMIA?  Poor work-life balance:  Long work hours - 60-80 hours/week  Little time for social activities  Family management & 2 body problem  Student or employee? When to work  Lack of community  Work related to funding  “Publish or Perish”  Writing grants→ less science  # people increase, awards available the same  Principal Investigation/student relationship  No “real” mentorship  Students don’t feel valued  Lack of clear expectations— “What is success?”  Lack of career development  Jobs outside of academia?  Skills developed during PhD not as helpful  Often no networking  Interview prep?  How do you get lab management skills?
  15. 15. AN UNSUPPORTIVE FACULTY ADVISOR (AN EXTREME BY NOT SINGULAR CASE) “….I need to keep track of your progress. You are to be in your office from 9am to 8pm, unless you have lectures or teaching… irrespective of your health, mood or state. Your past does not concern our work. I would like you to discontinue the therapy/psychiatry treatment you are undergoing. You must condition yourself to believe that work is the best therapy…” (email from advisor to student, posted with permission)
  16. 16. WORK, WORK, WORK, WORK, WORK…. “We have received some questions about how many hours a graduate student is expected to work. There is no easy answer, as what matters is your productivity, particularly in the form of good scientific papers. However, if you informally canvass the faculty (those people for whose jobs you came here to train), most will tell you that they worked 80-100 hours/week in graduate school. No one told us to work those hours, but we enjoyed what we were doing enough to want to do so. We were almost always at the office, including at night and on weekends.” http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2012/10/10/hey-physics-astronomy- professors-this-is-not-okay/
  17. 17. DISCREPANCY BETWEEN PHDS & ACADEMIC JOBS  Proportion people completely PhD Doubled but # academic jobs stay around the same  “My adviser looks down on non- academic jobs and thinks they're only suitable for people who aren't very motivated”  Around 30% disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that their supervisor has useful advice for non-academic careers Maher & Anfres, Nature 538 7626 2016
  18. 18. DEMOGRAPHICS AND MENTAL HEALTH • Students of “other” race/ethnicity report lower well-being • African-American and Native American/Alaska Native students feel they are less likely to feel valued and included in their departments and less likely to feel that their cultures are valued and respected • Lesbian, gay and bisexual grad students report lower well-being • But feel just as valued and included in their departments as their heterosexual or straight peers • less likely to feel that their culture is valued and respected. • Older students report lower well being • There is no well-being gap by gender or U.S. citizenship status. Graduate Student Happiness & Well-Being Report The Graduate Assembly (2014) University of California, Berkeley Graduate Assembly 54% female, had an average and median age of 28, was 48% White, 30% Asian/Pacific Islander, 11% Hispanic, 4% African- American, 1% Native American, and 6% of other race/ethnicity. About 11% identify as LGBQ, 35% are married, 13% are parents and 33% are non-U.S. citizens
  19. 19. Posted 2015. Image of LGBT+ Posters ripped down at CERN https://twitter.com/J ayHowarthHTGAP/stat us/602949157347799 040/photo/1
  20. 20. WHY IS IT SO HIGH IN ACADEMIA?  Poor work-life balance:  Long work hours - 60-80 hours/week  Little time for social activities  Family management & 2 body problem  Student or employee? When to work  Work related to funding  “Publish or Perish”  Writing grants→ less science  # people increase, awards available the same  Principal Investigation/student relationship  No “real” mentorship  Students don’t feel valued  Lack of clear expectations— “What is success?”  Lack of career development  Jobs outside of academia?  Skills developed during PhD not as helpful  Often no networking  Interview prep?  How do you get lab management skills?
  21. 21. INDIVIDUAL DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM AND MUTUAL EXPECTATIONS IDP - A structured planning tool designed to: Identify long-term career goals Make a plan for improving your skills Set goals for the coming year to improve efficiency and productivity Structure productive conversations with your mentor(s) about career plans and developments Mutual Expectations Document What students/researchers expect from their advisor/PI (respect, clear communication, guidance on career, guidance on research) What advisors/PI expect from their students/researchers (respect, clear communication, commitment & productivity, responsibility, teamwork) http://myidp.sciencecareers.org/ http://catalog.gatech.edu/academics/graduate/expectations/
  22. 22. INDIVIDUAL DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM Graduate Students & Postdocs Faculty Advisors & Mentors Step 1 Conduct a self-assessment and identify areas for progress towards long- and short-term goals. Share your self-assessment and draft goals with your advisor/mentor Review student/postdoc’s self-assessment and draft goals, and identify resources and opportunities to support their goals Step 2 Meet to discuss self-assessment, goals, resources, and opportunities Step 3 Write/revise goals for upcoming year and share with advisor Review your student/postdoc’s goals for the year and provide feedback in the for of comments/suggestions—ideally by way of a face-to face meeting Step 4 Schedule mid-year check ins (ideally every two months through out the year) so that you can meet to discuss progress toward goals, and to revise as necessary http://myidp.sciencecareers.org/
  23. 23. TAKE AWAY: ADVISORS & MENTORS  Be scheduled, but flexible  Have semi-regular check-ins, meetings, and/or assessments  Make goals reasonable and clear  But–reassess goal posts regularly, recognize work schedules may be different  Find resources  Career development  Conference, national organizations, local  Encourage non-research activities  Conferences help develop presentation skills  Leadership positions in organizations lead to career development  Make sure there are scheduled breaks for students and postdocs  Encourage no working on weekends/after hours  Encourage students/postdocs to leave the office for lunch/coffee  Destigmatize failure, Celebrate Success  Develop “Mutual Expectations” document (eg. http://catalog.gatech.edu/academics/graduate/expectations/) Adapted from J. Chem. Educ. 2018, 95, 11, 1939-1946 and Peterse et al. doi: 10.5281/zenodo.1402423
  24. 24. TAKE AWAY: ADMIN & DEPARTMENTS  Department hiring include plan for mentoring/advising of students and postdocs  Plan social events for grad students & postdocs  May have to encourage some advisors to allow their members to attend  Events specifically for postdocs  coffee hours, feature a theme, such as Chinese New Year, Pride Week, Earth Day, and Meet the Faculty  Modify PhD programs, include structure for postdocs  Annual evaluation from advisors  Mandatory meetings with committee  Provide resources to new postdocs when hired (Digital & physical library of resources)  Update policies to minimize abuse from advisors  Provide training for faculty for mentoring students, managing a lab/research group  Monitoring the performance of PhD supervisors/PIs  Make clear what expectations for students/postdocs are (hours, goals, etc)  Allocate budget for these social events Adapted from J. Chem. Educ. 2018, 95, 11, 1939-1946 and Peterse et al. doi: 10.5281/zenodo.1402423
  25. 25. TAKE AWAY: SELF  Seek professional help when needed  Therapist, counselor, psychiatrist  Grad advisor, ombudsperson, Title XI, HR  Form a support community in and out of academia  Be a part of social/professional organizations  Create an IDP to help stay on task long term  Know your limits, but don’t limit yourself  Know when to say no  Make a “stop time” for work/checking emails  Creating boundaries with advisors may be hard/may need to get department help  Remind yourself that failure is okay  Schedule fun activities and hobbies  Ask for help
  26. 26. WHAT KIND OF RESOURCES ARE AVAILABLE?  Therapy (on or off campus)  Individual  Group  Couples  Teletherapy (Betterhelp, etc)  Workshops (Managing Stress, Perfectionism, etc)  Medication (Prescribed from a Psychiatrist)  Anti-anxiety  Anti-depressants (SSNRIs, SSRIs, MAOIs, tricyclics  Mood stabilizers  University Office of Disability Services  Accommodations can vary  Apps  Medication Tracking  Mood Tracking (AnxietyCoach, Happify, MoodTools, etc)  Sleep Tracking (Google Fit, Sleep as Android, Sleep Better with Runtastic)  Exercise/Meal Tracking  Online Communities  Reveal to Heal: A Mental Health Series for Women of Color in STEM  The Mighty  Chronically Academic  Other social media services  Friends, an advocate, a mentor  Emotional Support/Service Animals
  27. 27. MENTAL HEALTH IN PHYSICS GOOGLE GROUP & SLACK  Online community for those in the physics community  Hidden (people cannot find it if they search)  ~90 members (ugrads, grads, post docs, faculty, non-academic)  Sharing articles  Asking for advice  Planning a meet up at larger conferences  Some use gmail accounts that are anonymous  Email me (awelsh8@gatech.edu) to join
  28. 28. REMEMBER…
  29. 29. SOME RESOURCES  National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1 800 273 8255 (US) You can also text!  The Trevor Project: Suicide prevention for LGBTQIA+ Youth http://thetrevorproject.org/  National Alliance on Mental Illness https://www.nami.org  Mental Health America- Latino/Hispanic Communities And Mental Health https://www.mhanational.org/issues/latinohispanic-communities-and-mental-health  Ulifeline: online resource for college mental health http://www.ulifeline.org/  Campus counseling centers  Campus Office of Disability Services  The Mighty - https://themighty.com/  Anxiety and Depression Association of America - https://adaa.org/finding-help/mobile-apps  Chronically Academic - https://chronicallyacademic.org/  If You’re Reading This - http://www.ifyourereadingthis.org/  https://medium.com/@SolidarityWOC/filling-our-cups-4-ways-people-of-color-can-foster-mental- health-and-practice-restorative-healing-64e5e7584127
  30. 30. SOME ARTICLES ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH IN ACADEMIA  “Hey, Physics & Astronomy Professors? THIS IS NOT OKAY!” http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2012/10/10/hey-physics-astronomy-professors-this-is-not-okay/  “Point of View: A fair deal for PhD students and postdocs” Henry Bourne, Oct 2013, https://elifesciences.org/articles/01139  “Graduate Student Happiness & Well-Being Report” Berkeley Graduate Assembly, 2014 http://ga.berkeley.edu/wellbeingreport/  “LGBT Climate in Physics” APS Ad-hoc Committee on LGBT+ Issues, March 2015 https://www.aps.org/programs/lgbt/index.cfm  “Young Scientists under pressure: what the data shows” Brendan Maher & Miquel Sureda Anfres, Oct 2016 https://www.nature.com/news/young-scientists-under-pressure-what-the-data-show-1.20871  “Young, talented, and fed up” Kendall Powell, Oct 2016 https://www.nature.com/news/young-talented-and-fed-up-scientists-tell-their-stories-1.20872  Reveal to Heal: A Mental Health Series for Women of Color in STEM, Chrystelle Vilfranc, 2017-2018 https://conversations.vanguardstem.com/revealtoheal/home  “It’s Time for Physicists to talk about Mental Health” Andrea Welsh, May 2017, Physics Today http://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.3.20170531a/full/  “Commentary: Surviving scientist Burnout” by Luigi Delle Site - https://physicstoday.scitation.org/doi/full/10.1063/PT.3.3675  “Evidence for a mental health crisis in Graduate Education” Teresa Evans et. al, Nature Biotechnology, March 2018 https://www.nature.com/articles/nbt.4089
  31. 31. SOME ARTICLES ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH IN ACADEMIA  “My Invisible Battle” Physics World, March 2018 https://physicsworld.com/a/my-invisible-battle/  “Stress and Mental Health in Graduate School: How Student Empowerment Creates Lasting Change” Maral P. S. Mousavi, Journal of Chem Education, Aug 2018 https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/acs.jchemed.8b00188  “Addressing the mental health crisis among doctoral researchers” Peterse et al. Sept 2018 https://elephantinthelab.org/mental-health-crisis-doctoral-researchers/  “Mental Health in Academia: a question of support” Elsa Loissel, eLife ,Oct 2018 https://elifesciences.org/articles/52881  “Reimbursement policies make academia less inclusive” https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2019/02/reimbursement-policies-make-academia-less-inclusive  “Graduate student working conditions are worsening. To fight back, they’re unionizing” Kristifor Sunderic Oct 2019 https://massivesci.com/articles/graduate-student-unions-teachers-strike-mental-health/  ”Adapting to my Brain” Luis Batista, Feb 2020 Science https://science.sciencemag.org/content/367/6481/1050 The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) Contact Andrea Welsh awelsh8@gatech.edu to be added to Mental Health in Physics SLACK and Google Group

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