Grad School Blues

By Lucy Guillory

Originally published Summer 2009.

feb222009Feeling stressed? Anxious? Depressed? If you’re a grad student, you’re probably not alone. A survey of 52 graduate students in the Emory Neuroscience program revealed most of us grapple with stress and mental health problems. Of all students polled, 60% reported having mental health or stress-related problems since entering graduate school. Emory student health service psychiatrist Dr. J. David Moore states a disproportionately high percentage of the psychiatry clinic’s patients are graduate students (60%). “However, most anxiety and mood disorders peak in a person’s 20’s,” he said. That is, these disorders may have developed even if these students hadn’t attended graduate school, but instead became professional dog groomers (my personal “plan B” to grad school). However, this overrepresentation of graduate students may also be influenced by differences in stress between graduate and undergraduate education.

There’s no doubt about it – graduate school is stressful. Of those survey respondents reporting mental health problems, the majority reported significant problems with anxiety (72%). 64% also reported significant problems with depression (see below). Furthermore, 52% of respondents reported their graduate school experience is more stressful than their undergraduate experience, while only 18% thought undergraduate was more stressful.

sulcus104But what makes us so vexed? 66% of survey respondents stated academic pressure has caused them stress in graduate school (see below). Several students commented that their first years were particularly stressful due to difficult classes and lack of direction. Many respondents also cited lab projects and research success as significant stressors. One student commented, “Your value as a student and as a person tends to get wrapped up in how many significant p-values your work produced, not how many studies you’ve completed or techniques learned.” Another student commented, “I think a lot of the stress comes from lack of time; both not having enough time to do all the work-related things needed and not enough time to do personal things to take care of yourself/manage stress (i.e., relax, exercise, socialize).”

sulcus105Despite the prevalence of anxiety and depression in the students surveyed, the majority (65%) have not sought treatment. This is not from lack of resources at Emory, however. Emory’s University Health Services psychiatry clinic has four physicians and is free to students with the provided health insurance. Emory Student Health and Counseling Center also offers free counseling to students with this insurance, although visits are limited. Both the student Health Center and Counseling Center also offers on-call counselors for emergencies. So in sum, graduate school is stressful; we all agree. But if you are having trouble, use Emory’s resources! They are free, so you may as well take advantage of them.

Student Health Services: 404-727-7551

Emory Counseling Center: 404-727-7450


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