One in three PhD students seeks mental health help, says survey

Survey of more than 6,000 students worldwide also highlights bullying and harassment faced by doctoral students

November 13, 2019
Mental health
Source: iStock

More than a third of PhD students worldwide seek help for anxiety or depression caused by their studies, a worldwide survey of those studying for a doctorate suggests.

Responses from the survey of more than 6,000 students also showed that about a fifth said they had experienced bullying with supervisors the most likely to be identified as perpetrators.

Although the results of the survey, carried out by market research firm Shift Learning for the journal Nature, suggested that 70 per cent of PhD students were generally satisfied with their experience, a significant minority identified problems.

Of the 36 per cent who said that they had sought help for anxiety or depression, 43 per cent did so via their institution and only a quarter of these said this was helpful. Almost 10 per cent sought help but said that they found none available.

After supervisors, other students and staff were the next most likely to be behind any bullying that students said they had experienced.

Separately, almost a quarter of those surveyed said that they would change their principal investigator and 8 per cent would not pursue a PhD at all given the chance to start again.

About a fifth of the students also said that they had experienced discrimination or harassment during their programme, with gender and racial discrimination the most common forms. Sexual harassment was found to be most likely in North and Central America.

Meanwhile, almost half of the respondents said that there was a long-hours work culture at their university.

More than three-quarters said that they were working more than 40 hours a week on their PhD, with a quarter saying they spent 51 to 60 hours a week. About half said that they spent less than an hour a week with their supervisor.

The survey also highlighted that the potential mismatch between expectations of an academic career and the eventual career path followed is common across the world.

More than half of respondents (56 per cent) ranked academia as the sector they would most likely work in after finishing their PhD and only a quarter agreed that their programme was preparing them well for a non-research science-related career.

A majority of the students (46 per cent) believed that they would find a permanent position within the first two years of completing their PhD, whether that was in academia or not.

David Payne, managing editor at Springer Nature, said: “Many people assume that once someone has enrolled on a PhD programme they are set up for life, but sometimes reality can be quite different.

“Polls like Nature’s PhD survey allow us to understand the challenges students face and can be invaluable to institutions when they are considering the needs of their students.”

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles


Featured jobs