Petition for PhD psychological support – more than 250 signatures in one week

On June 13th, PhDs at Utrecht University launched a petition for psychological support to be available for PhDs at the university. While mental health issues are prevalent among PhDs, a proper support system is lacking. This need is reflected in the large number of signatures (more than 250) collected in one week. The petition is supported by PhDs (62%), and by UU staff from all levels of the university.

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The petition follows two actions by the two UU-wide PhD organizations: Prout – PhD Network Utrecht, and UPP – Utrecht PhD Party. Prout and UPP have coordinated the first symposium on PhD mental health at Utrecht University in January 25th 2018. This was followed-up by a guide for PhDs, and a letter with 10 recommendations for PhD well-being, sent to the UU board in March, and strongly supported by PhD councils.

In early April, the UU board responded to the letter in a university council meeting. The UU board expressed their understanding and willingness to implement the recommendations, all except for the first one: “Appoint a full-time PhD psychologist – make it easy for PhDs who are struggling to get specialized professional help”. It was reasoned that providing healthcare is not a core task of the University. According to the UU board, PhDs should follow the current procedures, i.e. consulting with the company doctor (bedrijfsarts), and with the social workers (maatschappelijk werker). The board said it would look into the possibility of training the company doctor and social workers in specific PhD issues.

However, considering the prevalence of mental health issues among PhD candidates, there is a need for specific psychological support services. While UU students can go to the student psychologist, PhDs can only meet with social workers, or with a confidential advisor. For mental health problems, they are forced to seek help outside the university. Comments to the petition show that many PhDs feel or felt the need to have mental health support during the PhD. Some mention that when seeking help outside, general psychologists do not understand very well the particular situation of doing a PhD.

Having dedicated psychologists and sessions for PhDs at UU would be the best-suited approach, following the steps of other universities: TU Delft appointed a PhD psychologist, and UvA made the student psychological services available to PhDs.

In sum, paraphrasing petition comments, doing a PhD is not only an intellectual, but also a mental challenge, for which support from mental health professionals should be available. Ultimately, it is also in the interest of the university that PhDs are healthy and able to finish. Providing psychological services would acknowledge the importance of mental health, and contribute to a healthier work environment at UU.

While 250 signatures is a good start, we would like to collect many more in the coming months. So, please share it around, and let us know if you have any questions!

Read and sign the petition here: http://bit.do/PHDpetition.

Petition for psychological support for PhDs at Utrecht University

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In the past months we co-organized a PhD mental health symposium, and we wrote a letter of 10 recommendations for PhD wellbeing to the UU board (see here the response of the board). As a follow-up we decided to start a petition for psychological support for PhDs at Utrecht University.

Petition

To the board of Utrecht University,

We, the undersigned, want to ask for psychological support for PhD candidates at Utrecht University. This request is supported by Prout (PhD network Utrecht) and UPP (Utrecht PhD Party). This is a follow-up of the PhD mental health symposium organized on January 25th 2018 with about 130 participants, and of the 10-recommendations letter for PhD well-being sent to the UU board in March this year.

It has been repeatedly shown that PhDs are at high risk of mental health issues, such as depression, burnout, unhappiness, anxiety and high levels of stress. While currently PhDs at UU can consult with a staff confidential advisor and with social workers, this is not enough when it comes to mental health.

PhDs should have free access to psychological support, including individual consultations with psychologists, walk-in hours, group sessions, and courses addressing the psychological challenges of doing a PhD (e.g. stress, motivation, work-life balance, etc.).

UU can follow the example of other Dutch universities. TU Delft appointed a PhD psychologist, and UvA made the student psychological services available to PhDs. Offering low-threshold access to psychological support improves employee wellbeing, and prevents PhD dropout and delay, compensating potential costs.

We urge the UU board to take action and provide psychological support for all UU PhDs.

 


Sign it on this link, or here below!

Response of UU board to Prout’s recommendations

On April 9th we heard the response of the UU board to our letter of recommendations, during a university council meeting with Anton Pijpers, the chair of the UU board.

The UU board understands most of the recommendations and they have added it to the Graduate Agenda (the general plan of how to improve the PhD phase at UU).

They were less enthusiastic about appointing a psychologist, but they said they will ensure that the social workers are sufficiently equipped to deal with PhD issues.

They will also investigate how to make transferable skills courses more accessible to everyone, regardless of which graduate school you belong to, or what your budget is.

Next steps

We are happy that the UU board agreed with almost all of our recommendations (except the PhD psychologist – the first recommendation on our list). We have agreed to re-evaluate these measures with the UU board in October, to see if they are sufficient.

However, we still think that it would be very important to provide psychological support to PhDs at UU, so we decided to start a petition! You can read it and sign it here.

10 Recommendations for improving PhD wellbeing

On January 25th 2018 we raised attention to the issue of PhD mental health at the “Keeping sane in your PhD” symposium. After all the inspiring and constructive discussions it was time to bring the issue to greater attention of the whole University.

With all the input from the symposium we – Prout, UPP and a representative from the Life Sciences PhD council – wrote a letter to the board of Utrecht University with 10 recommendations to improve PhD wellbeing. Read the full letter here.

These recommendations will be discussed with the UU board, on April 23rd (15h00-17h00) in a university council meeting (Bestuursgebouw room 0.33G). You are most welcome to attend! Here’s the FB event. The more people show up, the better!

Recommendations to improve PhD mental health and well-being

 

1. Appoint a full-time PhD psychologist – make it easy for PhDs who are struggling to get specialized professional help.

2. Offer free courses on transferable skills – these courses can optimize the PhD process, as well as strengthen skills that are valued outside of academia.

3. Be transparent about requirements for PhDs – “make the implicit explicit” regarding duties and rights, including (in)formal rules that are UU-wide and specific requirements of departments.

4. Properly implement a PhD mentoring system – each PhD should have an appointed mentor. The mentor should be a neutral person, with whom the PhD can talk about the process of the PhD. Mentors should proactively check on PhDs (once/twice a year).

5. Offer training to PhD supervisors – encourage supervisors to take courses on PhD supervision.

6. Monitor the quality, satisfaction and problems of PhD supervision – at the moment PhD supervision is not adequately assessed. Finding ways to systematically monitor supervision quality would help to develop processes to solve problems.

7. Instate career coaching for PhDs focusing on academic and non-academic careers – the availability of career officers, career-minded trainings and events can decrease the anxiety linked to a future career.

8. Organize introduction sessions for new PhDs, creating Graduate School PhD cohorts – this can be partly UU-wide, and partly the responsibility of  faculties/departments. Having cohorts of PhDs starting at the same time contributes to social cohesion.

9. Create a welcoming and inclusive environment, explicitly including internationals – e.g. from UU and faculty communication (in English), to an active culture of inclusion within each department.

10. The whole UU is co-responsible for ensuring that a proper support system is available to all PhDs – the above stated measures would constitute such a support system, which can only be built with the engagement of all UU, from the higher to the most local level: UU management, faculties, graduate schools, departments, and research groups.

“Institutional action is needed”- a review of the PhD mental health symposium

The numbers are striking. Up to 25- 30% of UU PhD candidates experience significant stress-related mental health problems during their PhD. Many would not feel free to talk to their supervisors about these issues, and most voices resonate the need for change to come from above.

Such were the conclusions of the first symposium on PhD Mental Health held at UU last January 25th, organized by Prout, in cooperation with the UPP, University Council, and the Graduate School of Life Sciences.

The urgency felt by PhD’s to address the problem was highlighted by the popularity of the event, with more than 120 participants attending an event fully booked weeks ahead of time. This urgency become more poignant when it was surveyed that 38% of participants had sought professional advice for stress-related issues, and 26% would not talk about these issues with their supervisor.

The symposium had two aims: “What can you do” – to exchange personal tips and tricks for a healthy PhD, and “What can the UU do?” – to bring this underplayed issue to the attention of UU policymakers and supervisors.

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In the first part of the symposium, three experts on PhD mental health shared their expertise. Dr. Inge van der Weijdenfrom Leiden University presented research concluding that 40% of Leiden University PhDs had mental health issues – a figure much higher than corresponding figures for non-academic same-age same-education counterparts. The psychologist appointed at Delft University to address PhD-issues, Paula Meesters, described the mental health support system for PhDs at TU Delft,  inspired the audience with a short medidation session, and emphasized the importance of  having a variety of coping skills. The third expert, Dr. Amber Davis, a PhD Coach at Happy PhD, gave personal advise on how to do more by working less, but also stressed that this is a collective issue, not an individual one.

The talks were followed by an interactive panel discussion. The panel was moderated by Janneke Plantenga, the new dean of the Law, Economics and Governance Faculty, with Hans de Bresser (vice-dean in Geosciences), Estrella Montoya (PhD mentor and Jr. Ass. Prof at Social and Behavioural Sciences), and Jeff Smit (PNN representative) participating. The guest speakers considered having transparent two-way communication between PhD and supervisors and setting clear boundaries and expectations when it comes to working hours and thesis requirements, as important steps a PhD can take. However, the PhD’s presented the flip-side of this argument, stating that they feel the atmosphere and openness of a department is largely determined by the supervisor, and that falling in line with pre-formed expectations is imperative to avoid the “complainer-label” and to have decent working relationships with those in the department.

Once audience member noted – to a rousing applause from the crowd –how shockingly little attention and awareness there is for general wellbeing, career training, and supervision quality in academia when compared  to industry and the public sector. The panel and audience seemed to agree that structural improvement of PhD mental health must be spear-headed and supported by policy from above. An example of how this could be achieved is mandatory supervision training for professors.

The organizers were very pleased with the involvement of and interaction between PhDs and policy makers. They hope this event marks the start of collaborative push to change culture and policy at Utrecht University.

Missed it? Check here the presentations, know whom to contact if you have problems, or consider attending the stress management course set up by Prout and UPP with the Graduate School of Natural Sciences, open to all UU PhDs.

We also assembled a PhD Wellbeing Guide based on the input of the symposium. 

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PhD Mental Health Symposium

uusaneposter_final-01Prout is co-organizing a symposium on PhD mental health that will take place on January 25th 2018, at Utrecht University. The event is title “Keeping sane in your PhD – What can you do? What can UU do?”, and it is co-organized with the Utrecht PhD Party and with the University Council.  Check the programme and register here.

PhACE Invitation 2016

Dear PhD candidate,

Career opportunities after a PhD are a highly debated topic among PhD candidates. The majority of candidates starting a PhD want to end up in academia. However this is a difficult career step and not always a possibility within your reach. Utrecht University developed the PhD Activating Career Event to help you with future career steps (PhACE).

PhACE gives insight into the great value and different career opportunities of your PhD. As doctoral candidates, you are top academic performers with a broad scope of experience who may fit in many different sectors of employment. PhACE brings people together that successfully completed their PhD with different career tracks. During a two day event, organized by PhACE, these people want to share their professional experiences with you! Furthermore they want to explain the skills that are needed to transfer to areas other than academia.

During these two days you will participate in a range of workshops. These workshops will help you to explore your personal strengths and skills and create awareness of personal weaknesses to help you surpass yourself!
PhD Activating Career Event (PhACE)

We at PhACE are joyous to announce that the registration for the next PhACE event is now open. PhACE XI will be held:

When: Monday April 18th and Tuesday 19th , 2016
Where: Academiegebouw, Domplein 29, Utrecht
From: 09.00-19.00 hrs.
Group: PhD candidates in the penultimate (usually 3rd) year of their PhD
Fee: Free of charge when attending full two days. If not please contact Phace@uu.nl.
Language: English
Registration: PhACE website: www.uu.nl/phace

If you are interested please make sure you register a.s.a.p. otherwise we cannot guarantee placing for the event.

Kind Regards,

Fati Shahrabi & Lucette Teurlings
PhACE Team

PhD Movies Screening in Filmtheater ’t Hoogt

WHEN
Wednesday 27 January 2016 from 17:45 to 21:00
WHERE
Filmtheater ‘t Hoogt – Hoogt 4, 3512 GW, Utrecht
WHAT
Piled Higher and Deeper: Still in Grad School” is the sequel to the film adaptation of the popular comic strip “Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham. The film takes a smart and humorous look at the world of academia through the eyes of four grad students, and features real academics (including a Nobel Prize winner!) in many of the roles. Click here to view the trailer.
The PhD Movie 1 takes a humorous and poignant look at four graduate students as they grapple with research, being a teaching assistant and finding balance in their over-worked lives. The PhD Movie 2 looks at themes of competition in research, overcoming writer’s block, and finding your voice.
Please join The PhD Movies screening on 27 January 2016 organised by Prout | PhD Network Utrecht and the Graduate School of Life Sciences (GSLS).
Sign up now! The event is free for PhD candidates. Registration is limited to 130 seats, first come first serve!

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What can PeerPower do for you?

Are you a PhD candidate and do you believe that an inter-disciplinary peer-group can benefit your personal development?  PeerPower is looking for four PhD candidates that can help validate their assumptions. In a 1-hour session they hope to hear from you how PeerPower could possibly help you in your PhD trajectory. Interested? Sign-up before 10 December by responding to stefan@peerpower.co. Exact date t.b.d. Check for more info: www.peerpower.co.