Doing a PhD shouldn't hurt

April 30, 2015

I was delighted to read about the University of Exeter breaking the taboo and issuing details concerning the impact of PhD studies on the physical and mental health of students (“Four in 10 say PhD affects physical and mental health”, News, 9 April).

I am a mature, part-time PhD student who is employed as a lecturer at a leading UK university. After eight years of study, I am reaching the end of a journey that has been, on the one hand, intellectually challenging, stimulating, exciting and enjoyable, and on
the other, has tested my sanity, played havoc with my health, almost ruined some long-term friendships and caused me to question whether the university in which I am employed really cares about its staff and students.

I believe that now is the time to challenge universities to make reasonable, sustainable demands on PhD students - demands that do not force students to experience severe stress, feel unsupported and socially isolated and to worry constantly about time.

This time last year, I was forced to take a break from my studies because I was suffering from work-related stress that was caused by, among other things, mismanagement of the supervisory process that resulted in an extension of the time allotted to my PhD studies. Without the support I received from writing retreat organisers and fellow students, from my GP and NHS mental health practitioners, from my long-suffering husband and from
my close family and friends and some work colleagues, I would have been unable to continue towards completion. I took control of my health and well-being and now, whenever possible, include fitness activities and time to socialise with my family and friends in my routine. Both give me time to reflect and relax.

During my long absence, the only written contact I received from my university was a short, five-word enquiry asking how I was feeling - during a period when I was sleeping 20 hours a day.

Name and address withheld

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