Being well as a graduate student

Hande Gur - 19 November 2021

Last night, I was talking with a friend of mine, a PhD student from the department of pharmacy, to plan ab outing. She said that she may not be able to come because she would probably be working in the lab until 11 PM. She said everyone in the lab is doing so. I do not know whether this information or her casual way of saying it was more startling. But it made me think.

I remember reading an article in Nature in 2017 where they conducted a survey among PhD studentsit showed that even though we love what we are doing, we are also suffering for it. They called this a love-hurt relationship and now, I understand where that name is coming from. Maybe it is a little concerning how well I understand it as a PhD student at the University of Alberta.

I think one of the most striking parts of that article was one suggestion saying that every university should have crying rooms for students. Or maybe some need sleeping pods—I honestly do not know.

Similarly, another survey carried by the University of California Berkeley states that over half of their graduate students are dealing with issues like depression or anxiety. There seems to be a variety of reasons behind this: sleep, career prospects, living conditions, academic progress, social support and feeling valued and included. 

It's not easy to start our journey as graduate students, but we are not alone! Most of us are experiencing the same issues from time to time whether we talk about it or not. I believe with the fast-approaching winter, we all need to be reminded that there could be ways to ease our burdens. 

What can we do right now?

I believe there are many systematic and institutional changes that need to happen. Looking at the recent surveys and dialogues that are started by universities, we may have more lasting solutions in the future. I am hopeful. But for now, it is crucial to remember that we are in this together and we could find support, if we start asking for it. 

To begin with, it is crucial to not ignore our basic needs like sleeping enough or eating well. It may not be easy to balance everything at once but when we start to build one healthy habit at a time and begin to put ourselves first, it will become easier. It is important to remember we have social needs as well. Use your informal support system, and call your family and friends just to chat. Or look for a community in the university that would love to have you like non-academic student cohorts in your residence or student organizations listed in the BearsDen

Also, there are many resources for graduate students who need a wellness boost and I think we can use them a lot more. It is okay to ask for help when we need it! For example, the Graduate Student Association provides services for mental wellness like their assistance program which includes but is not limited to services on health assessments, financial consultation, stress management and even parent support. There are many other communities and centres that could support our specific needs in the University of Alberta too, such as Peer Support Centre, International Student Services and First Peoples’ House.

And I hope just knowing that these options exist might be your first step to reach out! 

Interested in further strategies? Check out the university's Survival Guide to Graduate School