David D. Perrodin
My dear fellow applied linguistics researcher friends…
At the end of Episode 12, I asked you to stay tuned for the next episode when I would share with you the challenges of managing your mental health as a PhD student! So, here we go….
I must first apologize for the delay in this month’s blog. I wanted to wait until the orientation on 12 January for incoming PhD students in our Applied Linguistics program before submitting this month’s blog. I knew I would meet with my classmates (new & old) and talk about their challenges in maintaining their mental health as PhD students. I believed that they would have information to enrich this blog. And oh my goodness, I gained some great insight into mental health challenges associated with being a PhD student.
Here are some highlights of things we discussed…
“Being a PhD student is quite possibly one of the most demanding never-ending tasks I have ever undertaken.”
“I often feel depressed when dealing with my supervisor or when I hit a roadblock in my research. Many times I wanted just to quit.”
“I feel alone. I am unsure who to turn to when I feel stressed about my PhD research. I don’t want to bother the teachers, and I’m not sure which of my classmates have similar research interests.”
And the list of concerns goes on and on… The mental health challenges we discussed revolved around PhD supervisors, time management, self-doubt, and just utter dread. But, by far, the most common statement that came up in all our discussions was “I FEEL ALONE.”
Now you may ask yourself, how can someone feel alone when surrounded by classmates with similar education goals. Well, the answer is relatively straightforward. Regardless of a global pandemic that has devastated the world for over two years, every social group, or community of practice, needs someone to step up and encourage group cohesiveness. Like any other social group, everyone waits for someone else to step up and take the reins.
Sure, the PhD community within a university, faculty, or program have their own Facebook, LINE, or WhatsApp groups. And yes, the people within these groups tend to communicate only when needed. Casual conversation is often avoided because people worry about maintaining netiquette in these social media groups. Let me propose a solution that might go against the grain.
One of my closest PhD classmates, a lovely gentleman from the Philippines, suggested having a virtual PhD party. I asked, “What is a virtual party?” He said, “Well, you know. We all sign on to a ZOOM meeting, and we virtually share party food and drinks just like a face-to-face party.” Isn’t this just a fantastic idea! Everyone sits around sharing food and drinks and gossiping about their lectures and supervisors just like we did before COVID-19.
I thought this was one of the best ideas I’ve ever heard. For the past couple of years, I have attended more ZOOM meetings, conferences, seminars, and the like, than I care not to remember. Every time I attend one of these gatherings, everyone is stiff, and they tend to follow a schedule more than they did when we met face-to-face.
Wouldn’t it be nice just to catch up with your friends? No agenda. No time limit. Just people laughing and having fun. And if you want to have a private conversation with someone, just tell the host, and they can put you and whoever you want to speak with in a breakout room.
So, no more excuses for feeling alone. Send a silly GIF or meme to your social media groups. Make people smile. Help your classmates relax. But most of all, make sure you often let your classmates know that you are available for them.
Remember, treat people like you want to be treated. Reach out. Make the first move. You never know. One of your classmates might be thinking of giving up.
Stay tuned for the next episode of ‘From the Mind of a Developing Researcher,’ when I will share the challenges of managing cognitive and confirmation biases.
P.S. Give me a shout on social media if you need someone to talk with someone about your research or just need someone to generally encourage you about life. I can simply listen if that is what you want, or I can share a little bit of wisdom. Either way, we both win.