From: ILPI Support <support**At_Symbol_Here**>
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] More than one-third of graduate students report being depressed
Date: Tue, 27 Mar 2018 22:08:07 -0400
Reply-To: ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**PRINCETON.EDU>
Message-ID: ECB04EC5-E0C3-4627-A9DD-7EC5E7C645E7**At_Symbol_Here**

Kali, I agree it is easy to empathize or see ourselves in these same situations.  And it's great to hear that your institution is being proactive (and I would wager it's not just at the graduate level). Certainly more can be done. These same issues affect every single other aspect of their lives whether at K12, college, grad school, church, employment, home, youth group, whatever.  Mental health does not check itself at the door and it's good to remind ourselves of it, which is why I believe Ralph raised the point in the first place.  And it's generating good discussion as it should.  That said, the following comments are meant to expand and educate so please do not take these with any ill intent as none is meant.

As a scientist, I have to say the paper is NOT scientifically valid.  No doubt, these findings will appear in mass media as "a blah-blah study has shown-" and everyone who references it from then on will be too lazy to look up the original work like I did and critically assess it.  This paper hasn't shown anything other than anecdotal evidence because the data (by the authors' own admission) are not reliable and therefore the conclusions are not supported.  As scientists, we must critically read and assess information.  We must challenge interpretations/conclusions and see if they hold up to scientific rigor, not simply accept what the author wrote.  Every developing scientist must learn the art of critically assessing the works of others. The literature is full of irreproducible studies and general junk.

Your statement "I can definitely believe-" indicates confirmation bias, i.e. that you are predisposed to believe the results without further inspection because they align with your own experience.  It's human nature and we all tend to do it, so I understand that. On top of that, when we tell stories, we tell the ones of adversity and challenge not "everything's going OK", so we hear more anecdotal evidence that reinforces our viewpoint that life is tough/hell/whatever in graduate school.  But none of that makes these statistics true and, again, they are presented in pretty much a vacuum, so calls along the lines off "we have to act now, this is a crisis" etc. are, at best, premature. Hastily enacted responses will do little to effect even a modicum of change unless we have actual facts on which to base those actions.

I hope I am clear that I am not in any way dismissing the potential scope of these issues.  When I was in graduate school I had many peers who dealt with such issues, including a close friend I will call X who was suicidal to the point that X had it all planned out (which chemicals and how). It took a very long time and a couple invocations of the "call me before you do anything" promise before I could convince this person to seek counseling.  In the end, everything turned out good, except that when this person applied for health insurance after graduation, X was denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition (e.g. having sought treatment for clinical depression).  Yep, penalized for doing the right thing for his/her health.  It's much less of an insurance risk if someone hides it well instead of treating it (roll eyes, insert sarcasm emojis here).  Something to think about if Congress brings up the idea of allowing that pre-existing condition BS again under the pretense of "affordable" plans and "choice".

Rob Toreki

Safety Emporium - Lab & Safety Supplies featuring brand names
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On Mar 27, 2018, at 5:41 PM, Kali Serrano <kaliserrano8**At_Symbol_Here**GMAIL.COM> wrote:

Hi All,

Although I agree that there is room for improvement in these studies, I can definitely believe the number from the Nature article. =46rom the perspective of someone in graduate school, many of my colleagues suffer from the exact issues that Margaret and Ralph have listed. In addition, part of the problem is also that faculty are hired to be good researchers, not necessarily managers. So, there are many avoidable stresses that are due simply to misunderstandings and unclear expectations. Or, sometimes these issues stem from (usually inadvertent) emotional abuse when advisors are trying to motivate their students to work harder..

It's refreshing to see that this is beginning to be a topic of conversation on many online platforms. Now that people are more comfortable acknowledging it, institutions just need to figure out the best way to address the problem and more research needs to be done.. These needs to be tackled by both (1) identifying systemic causes of depression that are institution-dependent and preventable and (2) providing easily-accessible resources for students. I am fortunate at my institution that our insurance covers at least initial screenings and therapy sessions should students need it. Our department sends out reminders twice each semester to point students to resources on campus for mental health education and counseling. In addition, we have annual department surveys and these topics are included in the last section along with a suggestions box. In my opinion, this should be the baseline for all institutions because even this has a lot of room for improvement.

When we talk about safety in chemistry-related programs, there is also mental health safety that has come up as a subset of this conversation in many institutions. I think it's good that Ralph brings this up on the listserv so that we can keep up with the changing times as a Division.


On Tue, Mar 27, 2018 at 3:49 PM, ILPI Support <info**At_Symbol_Here**> wrote:
I'll just toss into this mix:

1. Very early in the article it is stated "Although this is a convenience sample in which respondents who have had a history of anxiety or depression may have been more apt to respond to the survey, the data should prompt both academia and policy makers to consider intervention strategies."  NO, it should encourage a REAL study with REAL controls to replace this junk science. And some wonder why social sciences are called "soft science".

2. This "study" is apparently looking at graduate students without also looking at all students on the campus, so it is flawed by design. The word "undergraduate" does not even appear in it, the authors instead choosing to make comparisons to "the general population", a term which is not even defined in the paper and is a dubious cohort comparison.  The proposed "intervention strategies" may or may not be unique to the graduate population, and one could certainly devise better ones looking at the entire campus population to find the lowest hanging fruit (most impact for effort).  BTW, at our local University (primarily undergraduate) the student mental health services are so backed up they have a months-long waiting list and I hear this is not uncommon at other schools.

3. Is there any evidence this proportion has grown or decreased over time?  I would hypothesize that with greater recognition of diversity, equality, and fairness versus say, my peers who went to grad school in the 70's who have all sorts of horror stories/experiences that were ignored then but would today result in faculty censure/crucifixation, that the trend would be downward.  A trend would indicate possible strategies assuming a causative correlation could be established.

4. Conversely, if the trend is upward, is it possible that students are increasingly unprepared and unqualified to be in grad school?  We see this at the college freshman level where significant numbers of students require at least one remedial course (e.g. are not prepared for college), a trend that appears to be increasing: It would be interesting to know if this follows through to the graduate level AND if level or preparedness/ability correlates to the anxiety/depression.  If you're not capable and/or are suffering imposter syndrome, then anxiety and depression would logically follow.

The topic is very much worthwhile and important, but the work referenced here is NOT the way to study it.  If I were a reviewer I would have rejected this paper which seems to me to be presenting data not much better than a poll you'd find on Buzzfeed.

Rob "tell me how you really feel" Toreki

Safety Emporium - Lab & Safety Supplies featuring brand names
you know and trust.  Visit us at
Fax: (856) 553-6154, PO Box 1003, Blackwood, NJ 08012

On Mar 27, 2018, at 1:58 PM, Stuart, Ralph <Ralph.Stuart**At_Symbol_Here**KEENE.EDU> wrote:

It is the constant stress of trying to get your project to work, hitting one dead end after another, and having to 'compete' for your advisor's attention that I would think is causing a lot of the problems.

Related to this, I have read that one issue that many graduate students, particularly in biosciences, struggle with is that their research has become so specialized that they aren't sure that they are learning any transferable skills that will help in the non-academic job market. I can imagine that a lack of a clear career ladder would have a significant impact on morale.

I do think that there needs to be more acceptance and even promotion of college mental health services;

I agree that this is an important resource. According to people with experience in both sectors, one of the big differences between academic and industrial labs is that managers of industrial labs have significantly more training and focus on managing people and work groups than in academic labs. Mental health services are important support systems when academic research managers are over-stretched by teaching and service responsibilities as well as research oversight.

Interestingly, I have also read that the most depressed faculty members are those who have just received tenure. This is because at that point their teaching and service expectations are increased to help younger faculty who are being supported in their research work by the institutional investments. It's been my experience that academia is quite a complex culture to operate in, which is why it's so interesting on an ongoing basis.

- Ralph

Ralph Stuart, CIH, CCHO
Environmental Safety Manager
Keene State College
603 358-2859


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Kali A. Serrano
NSF Graduate Research Fellow
Braun Research Group
Department of Chemistry
3714 Beckman Institute, MC-251
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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