Broke me. I lost it, lost myself, eventually lost a lot of health and the signs were obvious to everyone from my coworkers and my advisor to my friends and family members. I tried to be a man and pretend I was too proud for help but I was not. I completely crumbled. Nothing was offered to me by my advisor in terms of mental health support or encouraging words to finish my PhD.
Instead, I left, head down. They are what civilize us. No girlfriend. So i gotta ask……. Whatever happened to the girl? Her and I are still together.
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I often push her away and she sometimes tells me that I have no emotion. She also goes to counselling for her issues and she is the only reason I ever admitted that I should perhaps go forward with counselling. Feeling sad? Call your parents, talk to your friends, deal with your mental health by seeing a therapist. For that matter they rarely have real healthy relationships with male friends either.
Maybe a different environment when they were children, who knows. Good post Derek. As I heard it once described: everyone doing grad school hits it at some stage. It is what you do after you have hit it that determines what you do.
Whether you get out completely, climb over it, dig yourself under it, or bash your way through it with your head or whatever, that determines what you will be. I also love your description of the disaster and re-start.
Depression and Anxiety in Graduate School
I can vividly remember something similar. However, I would like to stress that this is not depression and I speak from experience, having had both a first heavy dose later in life and then a relapse later again. The main point is that at the time, you could take the decision to do the hard work and put a bigger batch on similar to what I did at a similar stage. But generally speaking with depression, that decision is not a possibility, since the workings of depression cut far, far deeper.
That said, I would like to stress that I am not disputing that depression is a significant problem in grad school. My heartfelt hope is that more people would talk about how they are feeling earlier, so that they can be given tools which can help not always enough, but a damn good start. Absolutely right — a depressed person would not have been able to get out of bed the next morning, most likely!
With the addition of infinitely soft walls, ceilings and floors. Nothing to push against, nothing matters, nothing except the big black hole where the feeling and emotion spirals into. One thing that was kinda wierd happened after my relapse. After discussions with my actually really, really good psychiatrist, I changed medications. Being both a patient, a chemist and a nerd, it meant that as concentrations of the one drug decreased and the other started to increase, I could feel very clear changes in my brain on the way.
Graduate school has fundamentally changed since I went over twenty years ago. On the one hand, much has gotten easier: searching for information, writing, references, graphics, all are a hundred times easier. Industry jobs have been gutted. Some specialties like organic chemistry are much worse than others.
Have you considered dentistry?
But the days when a PhD could be counted upon for a career are dead and gone. I have to agree! To make matters worse except for the coasts, the chances of reemployment are even worse.
Hidden Depression Among Us
Look at what has been happening! New graduates are competing with the hundreds of people who have been let go in the ever occurring 3 year reorganizations. Those who do find positions are often in much more expensive cities to live or have their salaries cut or even worse become contractors with virtually no benefits. I think that academics who take on students need to think about the student needs a lot more and reflect on the future of chemistry.
I survived and got that paper only by my wits. I think what really helped me is that you have to choose to be happy.
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PhDs are for people with the determination and stamina for it. We knew what we signed up for! Good luck to everyone struggling! You have to have a certain amount of fortitude to make it through. You also have to be willing to work hard. I guarantee I was not the smartest guy in my group, but I worked harder than most and that is what got me through. Being smart will only get you so far.
Twenty plus years post-PhD and a fairly successful career, I Iook back at those long days and longer nights in the lab with a great deal of fondness. The exponential jump my knowledge of my craft took has never been repeated in my life. It was hard, but in retrospect it was fun, definitely worth it, and I have zero regrets. There can be no reasonable doubt: the ancient mystery is solved at last.
Yet, oh God, there were so many stars you could have used. What was the need to give these people to the fire, that the symbol of their passing might shine above Bethlehem? I was probably depressed in grad school and certainly depressed during my post-doc. It took me a long time to go see a doctor. Being scientifically-minded, I would periodically check my symptoms against the DSM IV criteria for major depressive disorder and other mood disorders.
But did you go somewhere else afterwards?
Then you follow up however you need to. I ended up going through my PCP instead of the campus health center, myself—and did get a prescription.
Depression Survival Guide
Good topic and one that hits home for me in retrospect. While I loved working in the lab, had a great PI, and supportive colleagues, I was a wreck outside of the lab. It really took me almost 5 years afterwards to really pull myself together and get my personal life back on track as well as confront my drinking issue, despite having a good career in industry established.
I now look back with regret at missed opportunities and the sacrifices I made to my life outside the lab as well as my own well being. There are many other fulfilling careers awaiting you besides academia or the lab bench. That completing a step synthesis is the only worthy achievement in life? I always find that balance helps. I still have very bad days in the hood as I did in during natural product synthesis in graduate days, but when I get home I might set a PR running or cycling, catch a nice fish with my fly rod that offsets that glum feeling.
Sounds trivial but for me after a tough day the next day was always better when I had cleaned up allowing fresh start in the morning with the failure washed away. I was extraordinary lucky in having graduate school advisors who never made life stressful for me. There were always moments, like when my mother passed away suddenly, when both depression and anxiety were very real.
What got me through that time was the support of friends and family and — to some extent even more importantly since friends and family could not be around all the time — my own hobbies of reading and writing. In fact I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have a hobby, something that you can call your own and which you are good at, a world in which you can retreat into, as a fallback.
Because when your advisor is being a tyrant, when your experiment tries to beat you into despair, when family or friends are busy with their own lives, about the only thing that can be your friend all the time is your hobbies. One aspect not touched upon here is the issue of ritual hazing — a common aspect of top programs when I was in grad school. I recall a colleague on the edge of the abyss: he had one set of reaction kinetics experiments to obtain — a difficult gauntlet of experiments involving easy-to-break, often-shattered equipment.
He began laying out equipment in ritualistic fashion and leaving for a couple of days, before returning and shattering something anew.
130 comments on “Depression and Anxiety in Graduate School”
He blamed some of it on birds that were waking him up in the morning, and began carrying a cap pistol to work allegedly used at home to scare the birds. As he braced himself for another attempt, he would stand at the window of the lab, looking out at the birds in the surrounding trees.
After several months of this, he got his data, wrote up, successfully defended and left for a job. Sometimes I think about him as I watch people in the workplace, and I have skills now to recognize the beginnings of serious stress and intervene. I wonder if that is true in grad schools today. Our PI was a saint, but no psychologist.
Why Serotonin Can Cause Depression And Anxiety
I kept a blackboard list of experiments easy and hard and tried to just focus on crossing them off in some semblance of order and sanity. The latter was relative. I received the nickname I use here due to the fact that I worked with fairly large quantities of air and water sensitive reagents, and would celebrate the end of a day fraught with peril with hands intact, by setting off several small explosions of one sort or another perfectly controlled, of course………….
Everyone should know [named reaction]! Failure that you feel you can pick yourself up from and re-attempt is nowhere near as soul crushing as a failure which seems insurmountable and intrinsic. Which is rarely the case! Science is good, but studying it is not all.