Translate to multiple languages

Subscribe to my Email updates
Enjoy what you've read, make sure you subscribe to my Email Updates

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Graduate School Should Be Challenging, Not Traumatic | Advice - The Chronicle of Higher Education

No, doctoral students complaining about a toxic adviser aren’t just whining about the workload, according to Kathryn R. Wedemeyer-Strombel, Ph.D. candidate in environmental science at the University of Texas at El Paso, and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow.
Photo: iStock
As a doctoral student, I have at times found the culture of graduate school to be toxic. When I’ve mentioned that — in conversations in person or on Twitter — some professors and fellow students rush to contradict me. "You’re just complaining because you don’t want to work hard," they say. Or, somewhat more politely, "a Ph.D. should be challenging."

Yes, graduate school should be challenging — but it shouldn’t be traumatizing. There is a difference.

I recently created a Twitter thread to share my views on the difference between intellectually demanding hard work and a toxic or hostile work environment. The response was astounding: In 24 hours there were more than 1,000 likes and 300 retweets. Even two weeks later, the thread was still getting traffic. Clearly, this topic resonates.

I am open and honest — some may think too much so — about the struggles I have experienced as a doctoral student. Hearing on Twitter from hundreds of people who can relate makes me feel less alone, but it also angers me that these struggles are widely relatable yet not talked about nearly enough. So let’s talk about them.

What are the differences between a challenging graduate-school culture and a traumatizing one?...

For professors and graduate-program directors looking for ways to promote a healthy, challenging culture in your department, here are some ideas:
  • Provide graduate students with links and phone numbers to campus counseling services. Normalize seeing a therapist in graduate school for your students.
  • We all know that a Ph.D. program means long hours of reading, writing, research, and stress. Recognize that your students are more than research robots. Encourage reasonable work hours, mental and physical health, and time with family.
  • Encourage your students to pursue hobbies unrelated to the degree program. For students new to the area, recommend local sports leagues, book clubs, and the like. Support their having a life outside of the intense focus of graduate study.
  • If you notice a student in your department who appears to be stuck in an unhealthy, toxic relationship with an adviser, reach out to that student. Or find someone in your department who can. Struggling students may not know whom they can trust — you can at least let them know they have options (including the three I suggest below). If they decide to change labs or switch advisers, support them however you can, even by just being an advocate and a positive reference as they search for a new adviser.
  • Especially if you have tenure, work to resolve problems in your own department. Or find someone who can in the departmental or institutional leadership. Do not put that onus on the student.
For current graduate students feeling stuck in an environment that seems more toxic than challenging, here are some suggestions:

Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education