Every country wants to be a superpower, for that they need a large number of trained researchers in various disciplines. There is a recent trend across the globe in increased higher education enrollment and, ultimately, more Ph.D. students.
The word philosophy means ‘way of thinking,’ and yes, thinking involves continuous use of “BRAIN.”
Sometimes this continuous use of the brain puts doctorate students under extreme mental stress and other mentally unfavorable conditions.
A survey done by a ‘Nature research journal,’ which includes responses from more than 6000 Ph.D. students around the globe, can give a glimpse of the thinking of a young Ph.D. student.
(you can read the original survey article, here)
Among various questions asked in the survey, below are a few of them to just give you some idea,
36% of respondent have sought help for anxiety or depression caused by PhD studies. One-third of them sought help from places other than their institution, and 18% sought help at their institution but didn’t feel supported.–excerpt from Nature Ph.D. Survey 2019
We can see how satisfaction level had changed among the students, and it gets worse during the following years of Ph.D. Also, the survey reports 36% of students have sought help for anxiety or depression caused due to Ph.D.
The biggest question that now arises is how many Ph.D. students realize they need help for their mental health? You may find it strange that most of them don’t even realize that what they are going through is severe mental disorders that can harm their health, psychological, and physical.
So how can a Ph.D. student reduce this mental stress during his Ph.D. program?
Below, you will be reading some tips to manage the stress after starting your Ph.D., all though they are small things, they can be useful.
#1. Give yourself some time
The most significant mistake student do is not giving them enough time to relax. Do you think just sleeping would make you relax? NO. It will relax your brain physically and biochemically (flushing toxins from the brain and blah blah number of other functions which are also important).
But what about your mental state!! For that, you need some time to spend with your friends/family.
It would help if you spent some time daily, not thinking about your experiments. It helps your mind relax and will improve your work efficiency.
#2. Take a break
Are you stuck at a particular stage if experiments? Or your experiments are not working! In either case, you may get frustrated and start repeating them day and night. For some, it may help but not for all.
Take some break, have some tea/coffee along with your lab mates/friends while discussing your things on black/whiteboard (or whatever color you have ;)); this may sound old-school, but it helps. It deviates your mind from that frustration and enables you to think in a better way.
You may agree that most of the time, as Ph.D. students, we spend in time meeting deadlines for submitting various reports, etc. And we work day and night to finish on time. It costs your mental health indeed.
Do we need to work day and night for this?? NO. WHY?
Many deadlines are for scheduled annual reports, which we had to submit, but we mostly ignore them until the last date knocks our door. (Many of us do the same)
For this one can make a chart and stick to the working/sitting bench in the lab, so one can see it daily (believe me you won’t be able to ignore it daily)
Also, marking reminders on your tabletop calendar will help (If you are techie, then google calendar’s come handy).
All this can help you reduce the last moment rush, which costs your mental health, and you don’t even recognize it.
#4. Celebrates every small success
As a Ph.D. student, the ultimate goal we think of is to publish high impact research articles. But in this journey, we forget to acknowledge the small victories we achieve along the years of Ph.D.
Do you remember the first western blot you developed or the first RNA you isolated or that perfect tissue sections you stained? How did you feel about that? (I know you might be smiling unknowingly right now, don’t stop ☺)
YES, this is what you can celebrate daily; hang up your best microscopy images, western blots, and whatever you can print. Just put them on display at your desk. It will keep you motivated and help reduce your stress.
#5 Find support
As a Ph.D. student, you may be living away from your homes, and when things are not working fine around you, you might get disturbed with it.
You may need support, but you may be reluctant to ask for it. WHY???
We should openly talk about the problem we are facing with our friends/mentors.
Be open to making friends from other fields. It helps you to come out from your regular type of discussions, which for the time being, is frustrating you. And they may help you with their experience.
#6 Weekly off
This many times depends on individuals. But every Ph.D. student from day 1 of Ph.D. should take a weekly off.
The curiosity and excitement of research students start working on weekends. But remember, research is not a day job. It takes years for a researcher to reach conclusions before submitting your work.
One should take weekly off from day 1 of Ph.D. Else; you will be in guilt when you need it badly because, at that time, you may think – ‘I come on every weekend now how I can take off now, it will be bad.’
NO, my friends’ heaven will not fall if you take a weekly off. You can still be productive.
You can work on some review articles from home or learn to use new software (if you are in biology), which are not included in your current work but can be useful in the future.
#7. Life outside academia
You can’t change this, but what you can do is train yourself for a job outside academia. For this, you cant prepare yourself in one day. You need to make this from day 1.
Around 3% of doctorates have a chance to become a professor. Is it disturbing you?
NO! It should not.
You can’t change this, but what you can do is to train yourself for a job outside academia also. For this, you cant prepare yourself in one day. You need to prepare for this from day 1.
Remember the ‘weekly off’ we talked above? Yes, that will help you to learn new techniques to enhance your skillsets for jobs outside academia. If you are from the wet lab, you can learn some dry lab tech (bioinformatics kind of stuff).
Many things can be learned in this digital era of knowledge. Don’t restrict yourself.
#8. Money crisis
As a doctoral student, you might face a financial crisis sometime. The best way is to manage what is available with you.
Often, you may need software for your work and that you may have to purchase it yourself, and this might increase the financial burden on you.
Do you know many educational institutes provide much software to its students? But you may not be aware of this and end up purchasing costly those software.
It will help if you ask your administration or computational departments at your institution. If they need some letter/mail, ask your guide for help. If this works, you will inevitably end up saving some money.
#9 When was the last time you went for an outing?
Short weekend trips with friends and family will inevitably boost you mentally. It will increase your efficiency when you are back on Monday.
Remember, nature is the best remedy when it comes to reducing stress. It is also proven scientifically proven. (Read the article for nature pill, click here)
But don’t sacrifice your work for it ;).
#10. Consult for medical help if needed
Many a time, you may be unaware that you are having any mental issues like anxiety, depression, etc. And even if you know, you might be ignoring it. PLEASE don’t ignore it.
Remember! “To solve a problem, one should acknowledge its existence.”
Seek for medical help if needed at your institutions or other sources. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Living with such conditions will affect your health and social life in the long run.
Many studies are showing how stress can reduce life expectancy from years (read here). Reducing some stress during your doctorate will surely help reduce this damage, though. Take care of yourself and support others around you, who might need some help but are reluctant to ask for it.