Better mentoring stands to boost junior researchers’ mental health

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA.

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We contend that the incentive for faculty members to invest in mentoring is limited because of the disempowering structure of academia (see Nature 552, 5; 2017). This leaves graduate students and postdocs with a sense of isolation and without perspective on their accomplishments, both of which contribute to the mental-health problems experienced by many junior researchers.

Discussion of these mental-health issues has so far focused on strategies for coping with work pressures, for instance by achieving better work–life balance, finding meaning in outreach activities and seeking counselling (see, for example, Nature 545, 375–377; 2017 and Nature 539, 319–321; 2016).

As graduate students, we want instead to shift the discussion to the misplaced incentives in academia that undermine the well-being of both faculty members and students. Faculty members are expected to excel simultaneously as principal investigators, educators, advisers and administrators. Their job security, however, is determined by the number and perceived impact of papers published and grants secured. This leaves them with little motivation to invest in the mentoring that stands to boost our collective well-being and sustainability.

Rather than place the burden on students to cope with depression, anxiety and burnout, we call on our entire academic community to address the underlying structural problems in academia that cause these mental-health issues in the first place.

Nature 554, 31 (2018)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-01286-w

T.P. writes on behalf of 5 signatories (see Supplementary Information for a full list).

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Supplementary Information

  1. Perlova supplementary information