Recently I’ve been writing about career, making resources to help early career researchers in Switzerland find answers to their career questions. Before that, I’ve been writing about mental health in academia.

Is there a link?

While this career question is often addressed in studies looking at PhD students’ mental health, I particularly like the way Levecque et al. phrased it in their 2017 paper:

“Our findings also suggest that universities might benefit from offering PhD students clear and full information on job expectations and career prospects, both in and outside academia.”

In this study, they surveyed N=3659 PhD students in Belgium and found “that 32% of PhD students are at risk of having or developing a common psychiatric disorder, especially depression.” Trying to understand the factors influencing students’ mental health, they surveyed their perceptions of the academic environment, including questions about their career interests and perceptions. With no surprise to me, better mental health was found to be linked with students who had positive career perceptions, either when aspiring at an academic career or “who thought that a PhD sufficiently prepares them for a career outside of academia.”

In other words: the “inside versus outside academia” question does not matter. What matters is to inform. About both.

There are so many sources of information, in the maze of the internet, but also simply when talking with people all sharing different opinions. There are so many ways to make it into academia and there are so many different job types outside of academia. Truth is that one doesn’t even know where to search, where to start. As a result, while thinking and chatting a lot about it, students often procrastinate as long as they can to really take the time to address the career question for themselves.

If you’re a PI wondering what to do to help your PhD students, talking to them about careers might be one of the most concrete ways to do so. Sharing precise info, resources, websites, contacts, tips. Encouraging them to take the time they need to address this question. Again, both for academic and non-academic careers.

🇨🇭 Lucky for PhD students in Switzerland, I’ve started making such resources:

For more reading: Every two years Nature Career conduct an international Graduate Survey with questions both about mental health, students’ perception of the academic environment, and students’ career interests. The 2019 results have been published last week, showing very similar trends as in 2017 and 2015. The 2017 survey in particular clearly shows that work-life balance and career path are the top concerns of PhD students.

Thanks for reading today’s article :) I hope it motivates both students and supervisors to put together and share resources for everyone’s benefit 👍

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The thumbnail picture of this article is courtesy of my partner in life.