The importance of mental health support for graduate and medical trainees: You are not alone

By Kristin G. Anderson and Jennifer M. Stinson

When I started graduate school, a friend introduced me to the blog Hyperbole and a Half, a series created by comedian/artist/blogger Allie Brosh. Many of her posts are light-hearted, entertaining stories from various stages of her life:

Dog from Hyperbole and a Half blog Alot from Hyperbole and a Half blog Image from "This why I'll never be an adult"(Images above from: “Dog”, “The Alot is better than you at everything”, and “This is why I’ll never be an adult”)

For me, though, some of her most thought-provoking posts address issues related to mental health. Allie has a greater legacy than her cartoons: her readers feel like they are not alone.

Many of Allie’s stories reference, directly or indirectly, heavy topics, like burnout (“This is why I’ll never be an adult”), mood disorders (“Sneaky hate spiral”), social anxiety (“The awkward situation survival guide”), and depression (“Adventures in Depression” and “Depression Part Two”). She makes the subject matter relatable by weaving in humor. Her fans—including graduate school me—echo her experiences and thank her for reflecting their feelings.

Early and often, peers and mentors in graduate school consistently said “this is going to be hard.” I was prepared to feel tired, stressed, and overwhelmed from time to time, but I wasn’t prepared for anxiety, self-doubt, imposter syndrome, burnout, isolation, and depression. A new study from Nagy and colleagues (Nagy et. al. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 2019) found that 49.3% of biomedical graduate students met criteria for a mental health disorder in the past year, which is about twice the rate in the general population (Kessler et. al. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 2005). This reinforces what has been a growing concern in graduate studies: these issues are relatively widespread in biomedical graduate student education and are linked in part to people leaving graduate school. Continue reading

We Built an Active Learning Class to Teach Students How to Critically Evaluate Health Claims. Did it Work?

by Jeremy Whitson

Dr. Jeremy Whitson at the UW Teaching and Learning Symposium.

The Fall of 2017 was a tumultuous time for public discourse around science in the US. Phrases like “fake news” and “alternative facts” entered the mainstream vernacular as an administration that cared little for truth, accuracy, or ethics took control of the White House. Science deniers began heading key agencies, gag rules were put into place, and researchers across the country feared how their already diminishing funding might be reallocated. Meanwhile, the internet, once conceptualized as the ultimate tool for disseminating information, was proving itself to be the ultimate tool for misinformation. Long dormant diseases began making a resurgence and commercial brands were using the public’s ignorance to push misleading, or even straight up dangerous, products like raw water, anti-aging creams, and juice cleanses.  Continue reading

Every piece counts: Skills I gained from STEP helped my job search in unexpected ways

by Patrick Nygren

Like many who start PhD programs and go on to postdoc positions, I was focused on the academic world, and the big question for me was: teaching or research? As my projects in the lab progressed, I found myself much more interested in communicating with others about the background and implications of my research rather than doing the research itself. I applied for the STEP program, reasoning that if I enjoyed conveying information, teaching might be a good fit. But teaching is so much more than conveying information. In the first STEP meetings we learned about Bloom’s taxonomy of cognition and how to help facilitate deep engagement—rather than just receiving information—with concepts. When my group and I started developing and planning our course, I quickly found that creating curriculum involves thinking strategically about how to be clear and concise, yet leave space for deep insights and student engagement.

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Away from Home

By Parisa Hosseinzadeh

Science is majestic, beautiful, and inspiring. Yet, being a scientist has its hard moments: long hours of working in the lab, failed experiments, emotional distress, self-doubt, and many other difficult situations that scientists deal with, and have been dealing with, throughout history. Another difficulty remains hidden. It creeps into the lives of some scientists, cripples them at moments, depresses them at times, hits them hard … and that is “being away from home”. And you won’t know how hard it is unless you feel it in your bones.

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