I think about grad student wellbeing. A lot.

Image: several people with cupped hands holding a small plant in dirt.

Graduate students: I want to speak with you directly in this blog about your holistic wellbeing during your studies. Graduate school IS really, really hard with substantial intellectual hurdles. There are also mysterious bureaucratic labyrinths and opaque professional development expectations (see Dr. Jessica Calarco’s 2020 book, A Field Guide to Grad School). I want to help you be aware of and resourced for potential challenges to your bodies, emotions, and spirit as you develop your personal and professional identities. 

Graduate school is a potentially traumatic experience for some students. I’ve seen it in my professional work. I’ve talked with enough students who seem depressed, anxious, isolated, afraid, and dissociated from their bodily sensations and emotions. They seem to have lost their core reasons for pursuing advanced study, the joy in giving care to their research questions, and the inner fire in knowing the process of developing their own expertise matters. I think there are some contributing baked-in features of graduate school: emphasis on the mind and objectivism; emotional neglect by mentors; enigmatic, stressful, isolating academic rituals; separation from familiar resources and social networks; and conditions of economic scarcity, to name a few.

I’m not a certified or trained therapist, but I do follow work on trauma and recovery (see for example van der Kolk’s 2015 The Body Keeps the Score as well as Herman’s 2015 Trauma and Recovery). I also know personally my current journey through healing from trauma. Those potential adverse conditions of graduate studies might lead to complex PTSD for those who don’t have the social resources and inner resilience skills and for those who have experienced adverse events in their past.

Perhaps what I can offer is my best translation at this moment of that theory and practice: 

  1. A wellness check-in (“how are you REALLY?”); 
  2. A validation of the big feelings that happen during key, predictable milestones in graduate school; 
  3. A description of the reality as it is; 
  4. Words to characterize some psycho-social phenomena you’ll encounter; 
  5. Ideas about where to look for comfort, nurturing, compassion, rest;
  6. Suggestions on how to think about your potential for expanding capacity and sense of self.  

I also hope I can offer some practical advice to identify and ward off toxicity, abuse, narcissism and to stay grounded in alignment with your values. I want to be part of your virtual mentor team upstream of crises during your studies.

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