Grad School and Wellness: Now What?

Graduate Student Mental Health is excitingly (and disturbingly) coming to light through so much of BSR’s work. If you still haven’t heard of the storm generated by Sebastien Lounis and Denia Djokic in their article This is Your Mind on Grad School, reflected by the personal narratives collected by Georgeann Sack in We’re all in this together, followed by Galen Panger’s findings in the Graduate Student Happiness and Well-Being Report, for which Anna Lieb reminds us that We’re still in this together, and Alexandra del Carpio that you can Sleep your way to happiness and Levi Gadye’s article on depression (related to the main findings of Panger’s report)…you can see the chain effect is cumulative and branching.

Shall we simply shrug our shoulders and carry on? Was it up to the graduate students to know coming into grad school that it would be stressful? Doesn’t stress motivate us to reach otherwise impossible goals? Doesn’t the pressures of graduate school toughen us up for the demands of academia or industry? Don’t activities related to wellness take away time from work?

Stay well. Credit: CC License courtesy Packa https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Well,_Prague_Satalice.jpg

Stay well.
Credit: CC License courtesy Packa

It’s tricky for me to write about wellness from a scientific perspective. (But this is Berkeley Science Review, right?). Just because a certain pharmaceutical or activity procures a statistically significant improvement to perceived wellness (measured through some subset of variables we ascertain to signify “wellness”) doesn’t mean it is guaranteed to work for you or me.

So, what is wellness?

This was a question that took several meetings of the Wellness Workgroup to tackle in preparing for the Wellness Referendum that passed in the ASUC election this year. Beyond the various tasks that the referendum lays out (covered by The Daily Californian earlier this summer), having a definition of wellness that works to promote it is a challenge that is continuously being tackled (see the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports for a commentary).

One thing is certain: wellness as a concept is culturally-dependent and perpetually evolving.

How could such a broad understanding of wellness play into the discussion for graduate students here at UC Berkeley? Although PhD Comics speak to the graduate student experience more broadly by portraying this idea of pushing ourselves to unbearable limits as the norm, the passing of the Wellness Referendum signals “wellness” in all of its capacities to be an important priority for students.

Beyond the material resources that the wellness fee enables, could it maintain what might be a cultural shift promoting graduate student wellness? For this to happen, it is necessary that graduate students continue to contribute feedback and share their struggles and experiences with staying well.

So, what now? I encourage you to organize a discussion on wellness in your department and invite your department’s Graduate Assembly delegate and/or the Graduate Student Wellness Project director (yours truly). Apply to be a part of the Student Health Advisory Committee to represent graduate students at-large. I’ll be organizing meetings twice-a-month just for graduate students to discuss the takeaways and next steps from the Graduate Student Happiness and Well-Being Report, so stay tuned.

With graduate students actively participating in the discussion, campus can better address our specific needs, and we can collectively create a culture of wellness that reaps the benefits offered by the Wellness Fee and the peeps in student government working to not make your PhD feel (too much) like a PhD Comic.

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