PhD in Depression?

August 31, 2015

According to data from a report out of UC Berkeley, almost half of STEM PhDs are depressed. Additionally, these graduate students reported a lack of optimism in regards to their future career paths. These data are limited to one college campus; however, the study’s author, Galen Panger, believes these results would be replicated elsewhere.   Panger viewed this study as a first step in expanding the conversation about mental health and wellness noting, “Graduate students have unique needs, and we need to expand the mental health conversation beyond mental illness and talk about everyone’s performance and everyone’s well-being.”

Why is graduate school a trigger for anxiety and depression? Graduate students often face many challenges in and out of the academic setting. In the lab, many report tense work environments with advisors as well as a pressure to produce groundbreaking results. Outside the lab, students face financial burdens and can feel isolated from family and friends who don’t quite understand the stressors of academic rigor. These factors can quickly add up, especially for students already vulnerable to mental health disorders.

 
Comic strip of grad school timeline: Impressed! Oppressed. Depressed. Mostly Pressed.
Wellness and self-care are extremely important during graduate studies. A recent keynote presentation at the 2015 GPP Retreat highlighted several points about the importance of paying attention to our own health and well-being. Stress is bound to be a part of life, but it is also important to recognize when stress becomes maladaptive for you. Individuals receive messages of stress through three main ways: body (physical sensations), mind (thoughts/images), and emotions (affect/feelings). Some physical symptoms of stress can include headaches, insomnia, low energy and frequent illness. Emotional symptoms can include feeling easily frustrated, overwhelmed, hopeless or helpless, as well as general moodiness. The cognitive symptoms of stress can include constant worry and racing thoughts and/or feeling the inability to focus or remember. Long-term stress can have many health consequences, such as depression and anxiety.

Life will never be completely stress-free, so how can you more effectively handle stress on a daily basis? Three quick and easy tips to try and incorporate daily include:

  1. Stretching (even at your desk)
  2. Breathing (counting to 5 on your in breath, taking a pause for a moment, and then counting to 7 on your out breath)
  3. Getting up to move around (for several minutes every hour)

Stretching and breathing lower stress hormones and bring on a relaxation response; while moving helps to get blood and endorphins flowing. Practicing mindfulness meditation has been proven to help reduce stress and improve focus. If you are unsure of how to begin practicing meditation, check out these five steps to help you get started.

Another component of developing effective coping mechanisms is to help build resiliency. Resilience won’t make your problems go away but it can help give you the ability to see past them and find more enjoyment in life. Luckily, one can work on developing skills to become more resilient, including:

  • Be proactive
    Don’t ignore your problems or be afraid to ask for help. Identify what isn’t working for you and make a plan to take control of the situation to improve it.
  • Get connected
    Building strong, positive relationships will help provide the support you’ll need in times of stress. Continue to foster the relationships you have and, if needed, seek out new connections in your community.
  • Take care of yourself
    Make time for yourself and nurture your mind, body and spirit in ways you see fit. Try the tips of stretching, breathing, exercise and mediation.

Some of the top predictors of depression according to the Berkeley study were: insufficient sleep, poorer overall health, lower academic engagement, and lower social support. Prioritize your wellness and self-care. The OITE is offering a program on wellness in the beginning of October. If you aren’t at the NIH, you can participate in a MOOC, “How to Survive Your PhD” which will focus on building resilience during grad school. Let us know what tips work for you by commenting below.


Teleguilt

August 24, 2015

Image of a person at a desk in a house.It’s called many things: teleworking, telecommuting, working from home, working remotely. Whatever you call it, it’s on the rise. According to the Telework Research Network, about one in five Americans work from home at least once a week; this number is expected to increase over 60% in the next five years. Teleworking is a growing trend in the workplace because there are many upsides. Teleworkers often report among other things: increased productivity, fewer interruptions from colleagues and more flexibility over the management of their time. While we know you may not be able to do research at home, it is likely you may telework to write papers, analyze data, or think about new project directions.

Teleworking doesn’t only benefit the employee. Employers also benefit from teleworkers. According to Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics, the government saved about $32 million last winter when federal employees worked from home during official snow days. Not all companies are on board with working from home though. Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, banned telework — an announcement that was widely considered controversial. Best Buy followed Yahoo’s lead and ended their flexible work program in 2013. Mayer recently defended this decision by acknowledging “people are more productive when they’re alone, but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together.”

An article “The psychological impact of teleworking: stress, emotions and health” was published in the journal, New Technology, Work and Employment. This article notes some of the benefits of teleworking including: better balance of home and work life, increased flexibility, reduction in commuting, reduced overheads for employer, increased skill base for employer, and increased productivity. On the other hand, the article also details some of the challenges that come with teleworking.

Telework Problems

  1. Social isolation
    One of the most commonly cited disadvantages to teleworking even with technological tethers like IM, email, phone calls and Skype.
  2. Presenteeism
    Meaning not just an increase in working longer hours but also working when sick as well. Presenteesim is an issue for office workers who feel pressured to come to work when sick, but this can be an even bigger challenge for teleworkers when co-workers can’t ‘see’ how unwell they are.
  3. Lack of support
    The article specifically mentions technical support in this section since technology is the key for successful teleworking; however, support could also mean supervisory support in decision-making as well.
  4. Career progression
    The importance of face time has been perpetuated through the years and through different sectors of employment. Turns out it might be true since people who worked from home were promoted at half the rate of their office worker colleagues.
  5. Blurring of boundaries
    Traditionally, the commute from work to home allowed for a role transition to occur. There is often a spillover effect for office workers who transfer both negative and positive emotions from work to home, but this can be an even bigger challenge for the teleworker.

Anybody who works remotely will also disclose another secret disadvantage: guilt. This teleguilt comes from a fear that your co-workers or your boss are thinking that you aren’t pulling your weight. You can feel this fear while sitting at work, but the teleworker often fears that everyone thinks they are lounging around their house in pajamas and not putting in enough hours. This guilt and fear often fuels teleworkers to work even more hours to “prove” that they are working. This makes the traditional long hours that scientists log even worse!

How can you combat teleguilt? In general, some strategies for reducing work guilt include:
1. Prioritize work items and immediately take action on the most pressing items.
2. Develop a system (time management/task organizer) that helps keep you consistent.
3. Recognize when you have done all you can for the day/week and then move on.

As you progress in your career, even as a scientist, the options for telework increase. So, keep these strategies in mind as you gain more and more options to work from home. Just remember the sign-off from Garrison Keillor in the Writer’s Almanac, “Be well, do go work, and keep in touch”...sounds like a good mantra for all who work from home.


Are you an Ambivert?

August 10, 2015

If you have ever taken the Myers Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI), then you probably know whether you are an introvert or an extrovert. This assessment was developed based on Carl Jung’s framework of psychological types. Jung coined the terms “Extrovert” and “Introvert” to describe the direction of one’s energy flow. He felt this dimension was one of the most substantial personality differences. Even if you haven’t taken the MBTI, it is likely you have a sense of your own preference in regards to what energizes you since extroversion and introversion are widely talked about.

It’s generally considered that extroverts tend to be energized by the outside world (people, places and things around them) and their energy is externally directed; whereas, introverts tend to be energized by their inner world (own ideas, thoughts, concepts) and their energy is internally directed.

Instead of thinking of this as a label, it might be more helpful to view these preferences as a continuum. If the descriptors for introverts or extroverts have never fully resonated with you, it might be because you are a slight extrovert or a slight introvert – an ambivert.  Arrow pointing in either direction. On the left is "Introvert." In the middle is "Ambivert." On the right is "Extrovert."

Ambiverts are those who fall relatively in the middle of being introverted and extraverted. They can slide up or down the spectrum depending on the context, situation and people around them. This is often referred to as situational introversion. They tend to identify with characteristics of both personality traits and can even adapt depending on the situation. Some have likened it to ability to be ambidextrous with your personality.

The article “Not an Introvert? Not an Extrovert? You May Be an Ambivert” in the Wall Street Journal describes the ambivert as:

  • Knowing when to listen and when to talk
  • Moderate in mood – not overly expressive or reserved
  • Adaptable to situations
  • Socially flexible

We could add to this list with research findings from Professor Adam Grant. Grant works at the Wharton School of Business at Penn and he published an article entitled, “Rethinking the Extraverted Sales Ideal: The Ambivert Advantage.” He found that, contrary to popular belief, strong extroverts are as bad at sales as strong introverts. The ambiverts did the best by a wide margin.

Interested in finding out if you are an ambivert? Take this quiz to find out!


MD/PhD: Is it Right for You?

August 4, 2015

A few weeks ago, OITE hosted NIH’s Graduate & Professional School Fair. One of the sessions focused on MD/PhD programs and how to decide whether it is the right program for you. If you missed it, the presentation can be found online.

The goal of most MD/PhD programs is to create physician-scientists who aim to spend about 80% of their time on research and 20% of their time on clinical care. Most MD/PhD programs are training you to enter research-oriented careers. If you have no interest in research, an MD/PhD might not be the best fit for you. Remember also that MD physicians can conduct research and many MDs pursue research fellowships during their training. Many MD/PhD applicants falsely believe that they will spend about half of their time in the lab and half of their time in the clinic. This is not true until maybe fifteen or so years into your career.

So, how can you decide? First and foremost, allow yourself ample time to gather information in order to make this decision. Before undertaking any further education, it is extremely important for you to consider your own interests and career plans.

Is doing translational research and making discoveries really important to you? If yes, perhaps you are leaning toward an MD/PhD. Are you more drawn to basic research and the idea of running a lab within the biological science field? If yes, perhaps you are leaning toward a PhD. Or maybe you are most interested in working with people in a clinical setting? If so, an MD or other medical training program might be the best fit for your long-term career plans.

Many prospective applicants wonder whether an MD/PhD is worth it for them. Some big considerations are the financial and time commitments. On one hand, an MD/PhD program is longer and generally takes seven to eight years to complete. However, on the upside, they are generally pretty well-funded. Another consideration is the level of competition. Medical school is difficult to get into and MD/PhD programs are even tougher. There are approximately 20,000 MD students and 600 MD/PhD students. These statistics aren’t meant to deter, but rather to highlight that MD/PhD students are a unique group. It is important to be focused yet realistic. Ultimately, your path will be decided through a mix of your interests, motivations and aptitudes.

The AAMC has a lot of resources about MD/PhD programs and they have even compiled a list of frequently asked questions. It is definitely worth checking out here. However, it can often be helpful to talk through your options with mentors or advisors. Do informational interviews with people who have an MD/PhD to see if this would be the right fit for you. If you are at the NIH, you can also meet with medical/graduate school advisors or career counselors within OITE.