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Let's talk about mental health.

Today. Tomorrow. Every day. Because it requires attention year round.

And the start of the semester is an appropriate time to bring up this study by Levecque and co-authors, covered in Science, that focusses on graduate students. It quantifies the problem, but also identified consistent predictors of mental health issues:

  • work-life conflicts
  • high job demands
  • low job control

The story I come up with based on these results is that low job controls leads to (a perception of) high job demands, to work-life conflicts, to mental health symptoms. And what could be related to low job control and/or high job demands? Maybe supervisor style, which can either diminish the prevalence of mental health issues when it is perceived as inspirational, or increase when it is perceived as laissez-faire. This again stresses the crucial importance of the supervisor-graduate student relationship, one of the recurrent themes in these news items.

Another recurrent theme in these news items is the importance of reasonable job expectations, potentially non-academic ones. It is thus maybe not a coincidence that "Positive perception of career outside academia" has a strong positive effect on graduate mental health. If you know that all the hard work will eventually lead to a satisfying job that requires this education, and not necessarily a low probability faculty position after an endless series of postdocs, maybe that makes all the hard work worth it.

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