THE Scholarly Web - 10 April 2014

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

April 10, 2014

“I QUIT MY PHD!…AND I FEEL GREAT!” exclaims the opening line of a post on the Academic Follower of Fashion blog.

The blog (which its author promptly renamed “Ex-academic Follower of Fashion”) details the experiences of Jessica Macdonald (@JessicaRdctd), until recently a second-year PhD student researching public engagement with social sciences at the University of Glasgow. “I also suffer from occasional bouts of clinical depression,” she writes. It is an issue she visits regularly in her posts.

“In my experience, mental health is not something which is widely and openly discussed in relation to PhD students, despite the potential for the stress, uncertainty and isolation experienced by most people who undertake post-graduate study to act as a trigger for mental health problems,” she said in the “about me” section on her blog, which she has since updated.

“Whether it’s due to fear of failure, falling behind or what our supervisors might think, we just don’t talk about how to promote positive mental health, or how best to support those who experience difficulties.”

In a post on her decision to quit her PhD, Ms Macdonald explains that although she has “talked a lot about how mental health issues in no way prevent us from being good enough and smart enough and dedicated enough to complete a PhD” (and she still believes this to be true), she feels that “right now, at this time in my life, this project in this department is not for me”.

“I want to talk about it here because I want other students in my position to know that it is totally OK to leave a PhD,” she continues. “There is nothing shameful in walking away from a situation which is not good for you or your health.”

The decision to leave was made during an annual gathering with other PhD students. “Looking around the room at my friends and colleagues, many of whom are in the final year of their PhDs, I realised that they all looked kind of knackered,” she writes.

In a subsequent post, Ms Macdonald explains in more detail why she decided to leave her “toxic PhD” (although she admits to holding back from officially quitting so that she can renew her student railcard).

“The biggest barrier to me in going back to my PhD is that, often, academia is not an environment [that] is supportive of disability,” she says, praising the use of the Twitter hashtag #AcademicAbleism to group tweets that highlight discussion of this problem area.

“The thing that struck [me] hardest about #AcademicAbleism is how collectively sick we are of being told that our issues with access, with time missed due to illness, and with necessary adjustments are due to our own, apparently unusual and unreasonable, requirements,” she says.

“Depression and other mental health issues are particularly common among PhD students…How many students just quietly give up the fight and slip away because they are part of an institution which perpetuates the idea that a different model of study is wrong and that…those who are unable to thrive in the current environment have less to contribute to academic society?”

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