Avoiding a mental health crisis in academia (and beyond)

In the latest issue of the Leibniz Magazine, an article was published, in which a doctoral researcher, a resilience researcher and three managers were interviewed on the topic of mental health at the workplace. Among them Pankhuri Saxena, a former Spokesperson (2020/2021) of the Leibniz PhD Network.

The number of people missing work due to mental health issues is rising, a trend not only present in science and research. Due to the increasingly competitive nature of academia, early-career researchers increasingly suffer from uncertainty, pressure, and stress. The intense pressure and demands of a doctorate can take a toll on a person’s mental well-being, leading to symptoms of anxiety and depression. If you are interested in the interview have a read here.

In November 2021 the “Guide to Mental Health during the PhD” was passed by the Leibniz Association. It was collated by Sebastian Lentz (director of the Leibniz-Institut für Länderkunde) in close collaboration with Leibniz institutes and the Leibniz PhD Network. The guide states three fields of action: raising awareness, prevention, and counselling, while it also provides recommendations of measures to be taken. You can find the guide here.

Yet, Jan Klenke (former Spokesperson 2020/2021) critically comments:

“There are still many PhDs on scholarships (i.e., without an official working contract and in voluntary statutory health insurance). This situation enhances the described (mental health) problems in this group. At the same time, this group isn’t on anyone’s budget plan and is usually not mentioned in target agreements. In many cases, the doctoral students are without proper guidance, even if they ask for more supervision.”

Mental health (during the PhD) remains an important topic, seemingly for the foreseeable future. Let us know your ideas and comments on the topic. What would you need to reduce mental stress during your PhD? Leave us a comment or get in touch on our social media platforms.

Our voices listened! – N2 participation on the expert exchange in a public commission meeting – German Federal Parliament.

On October 19th 2022, the N2 representation presented a statement in front of the parliament’s commission to express the interests of the Doctoral Researchers Network of non-university organizations in the improvement of the “basic working conditions in order to ensure scientific excellence and diversity in a sustainable manner”.

Here you can find the complete text of the speech.

Huge leap for Mental health awareness: Leibniz Association adopts guide on mental health of Doctoral Researchers.

Recently working group Survey of the PhD Network assessed the well being of the PhD researchers in the various Leibniz associations based on a conducted survey. The lack of proper means to address mental health well-being sparked discussions. Adoption of the mental health guide within the Leibniz Association addresses the issue of mental health of our doctoral researchers.

The guide deals with steps to decrease the psychological stress during the PhD.
Clear fields of actions are stated which can be implemented in all the institutes. Actions like awareness-raising, removing taboos from mental health and how to recognize critical factors leading to mental health issues and many more are elaborated on the guide

Realizing that PhD on its own can be stressful and the uncertainties with the career path ahead can get overwhelming, but knowing that the Leibniz association will be there to guide and counsel the researchers who need it comes as a reassuring support.

The guide is attached as follows.

N² Network Event 2021 (13th to 15th October) Perspectives on Open & Sustainable Research

The N² Event is just next week get you tickets and reserve a place for yourself.

Registration links :  https://registration.socio.events/e/n2event2021

This year’s N2 Network event connects early career researchers from the humanities, natural and social sciences. Bringing together inspiring speakers, trainers, and experts from fields like politics, economy, natural sciences and communication the N2 event will engage in topics around open science and sustainability.

Interested in how to communicate research results in an open and accessible way? Looking to build a more sustainable career or work more sustainably? Then this is for you! Within three days, the online event provides insights on open science publication channels, sustainable career planning, funding possibilities, and offers great opportunities to network. It gives early career researchers of the N2 member organizations the unique possibility to get in touch with peers beyond their own institutions and to exchange with stakeholders in academia and beyond. Additionally, we reserved some spots for early career researchers from the associate and guest members of the network.

The N2 Event 2021 aims to empower participants to grow their network and to offer perspectives on their future in or outside of academia.

This N2 Network Event 2021 is open to all PhD researchers from the full members of the N2 – Network:

Helmholtz Research Centers, Leibniz Research Centers,Max Planck Institutes and its associate and guest members: IPP Mainz, Technical University of Munich (TUM), Friedrich-Alexander-Universität, Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU).

Program Information: The program features keynote speakers, panel discussions as well as parallel workshop sessions in small groups and includes plenty of time for networking.

Days 1-2 (October 13 and 14): Perspectives on Open & Sustainable Research. The program on these two days is included in all tickets. If you wish to attend only these two days please select the ticket: N2 Network Event 2021 Days 1 – 2.

Day 3 (October 15): Career Development – Skills and Perspectives. The program on this third day is included in the following tickets:

N2 Network Event 2021 Days 1 – 3: Helmholtz.

N2 Network Event 2021 Days 1 – 3: Leibniz.

N2 Network Event 2021 Days 1 – 3: Max Planck.

N2 Network Event 2021 Days 1 – 3: N2 associate and guest members.

Please pay attention that the tickets for all three days have fixed quotas for PhD candidates from the Helmholtz Association, the Leibniz Association, the Max Planck Society and from the N2 associate and guest members.

The Event plan is as follows :

PhD Networks delves deeper into “how to make our research more sustainable”.

One of the major guiding goals of the Working Group Sustainability of the Leibniz PhD and PostDoc Networks is to create a sustainable community within and outside of the Leibniz Association.

In order to start a discussion, the working group held a panel discussion entitled Sustainable Research – What can WE do and where do WE start? on the 2nd of June 2021 in which we discussed what role sustainability should play in research in general and in the Leibniz Association in particular.

Four experts from different fields were invited:

  • Diana Born, Business Development Manager at atmosfair gGmbH
  • Andreas Otto, Deputy Director of the Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development (IÖR) and Speaker of the Leibniz Arbeitskreis Sustainability Management
  • Falk Schmidt, Head of Office German Science Platform Sustainability 2030
  • Juliane Schumacher, Researcher at the Leibniz Institute Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO)

The panel discusion centered around the following major topics. They have been briefly summarised as follows:

What impact do individuals have on sustainability?

Greta Thunberg demonstrated very clearly what an individual can do. She became the face of a movement that motivated a whole generation. Her example shows that the main responsibility of an individual is to raise awareness and integrate the topic of global warming into our everyday life. Making conscious decisions about sustainable consumerism on a collective level can steer the money flow away from big corporate emitters. However, it cannot be denied that in a complex system like our society, structural changes like international regulations to enforce sustainable procedures in corporations would have the largest impact. Therefore, political actions are needed, meaning that the main responsibility of individuals is not to change their personal lifestyle but rather to advocate for political and structural changes.

How to do research sustainably?

In order to make research sustainable, fundamental restructuring in institutes and research culture (currently fast paced and economically limited) is necessary. Researchers should not be left alone with the big task of sustainability management in addition to their already high workload. Instead, institutes should allocate capacities for sustainability management and get experts to help researchers work more sustainably. Researchers should look for a connection to sustainability in their respective field of research rather than limiting it to research on sustainability.

The Leibniz Association has already initiated the first steps towards more sustainable research: Leibniz worked together with Fraunhofer and Helmholtz on the LeNa project, which serves as an orientation framework for sustainability management in the non-university field containing 8 criteria in doing research sustainably. Additionally, a Sustainability Management working group and the Leibniz research network Knowledge for Sustainable Development have been implemented. 

What can early-stage scientists do to create a culture of sustainability?

Early-stage researchers should push for change, get involved in political work inside and outside of research and most importantly communicate. Their qualities as early-stage researchers like critical thinking, looking for different solutions and open mindedness can help to create the necessary innovation to make society and research sustainable. In their individual research projects, every early-stage researcher can look for their personal link to sustainability and reflect on their work with the LeNa criteria in mind.

Take home message: 

The most efficient way to improve sustainable measures is by advocating for political and structural changes. Researchers should communicate their wishes for a sustainable research culture openly inside, with their institutes or research associations, and outside of academia.

To integrate sustainability in our “research life”, the working group Sustainability plans to organize further seminars on this topic as well as a science communication workshop for Leibniz members.