Academia is more than a workplace. People choose to pursue a career in academia because they are passionate about science, eager to keep pushing the bounadries of our understanding of the world, making a vital contribution to the advancement society.
Researchers have an important role in today’s society. The entire category should be regarded with respect and consideration. Prestige or not, the contribution they make to society should be acknowledged and recognized.
Researchers are also burdened with a huge pressure to perform, to compete, to sacrifice themselves. Now, academia is also a workplace. It should provide reasonable conditions for researchers to thrive, to give their best. Because researchers are people. And people can crack under too much stress. It is time to start talking about mental health and well-being in academia. And to do something about it.
The ReMO podcast
ReMO is the Researcher Mental Health Observatory, an ongoing COST Action (CA19117) focussing on well-being and mental health in academia. Among other things, ReMO has produced a new podcast, collecting individual stories of young brave researchers and their challenges through academia.
The podcast features three episodes, each of the duration of about 20-25 minutes. The podcast is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Anchor, and all major podcast platforms including YouTube. All the references below. Depending on funds availability, there may be more episodes in the future.
The narrative style is between a documentary and an interview. “This is a podcast about people” says Dr. Federica Bressan, host and producer. “I tried to highlight the uniqueness of each story, so that listeners could relate and take something away,” continues Bressan. “I have avoided presenting the guests as victims, indulging in the emotional aspect of their experience, and I am very glad that all of them were naturally in line with this approach. Tough ladies, with great insight, and a will to bring a positive change to the system, which is what motivated to share their stories in the first place.”
1. In the first episode, we meet Carla, a postdoc, a mother of two, and someone who once had the courage to say ‘enough’ and to leave a toxic situation, as well as her PhD. She eventually went back, finished her PhD, and decided that science is what she really wants to do – but without the toxicity. Her story is one of courage, and proof courage pays off.
Quotes and take-home messages from Carla’s story:
– you are so immersed in this competitive environment, that you think the toxicity is normal
– quitting is not a weakness. It’s a power move
– there is a glorification of hard work
– I didn’t feel safe to tell the truth. There was no one to go to. No one felt safe to talk.
2. In the second episode, we meet Dilara, a PhD student who found herself confused and isolated during the writing of her master thesis. Finally, someone stepped forward and helped her through that difficult time. Now, as she is busy with the PhD thesis, she makes a point of connecting with younger colleagues and always offering them support and a safe place to be heard. What is inspiring about Dilara’s story is the strength of her spirit, her determination to help herself, to never give up, and to rarely place the blame on others – even when she could.
Quotes and take-home messages from Dilara’s story:
– I didn’t know where to start
– you need to know your inner and outer resources, or you can go crazy about it
– peer solidarity is important, because you can build a relationship that you cannot have with your superiors – due to hierarchy.
3. In the third episode, we meet Camilla, a multidsciplinary globetrotter with a determination to become a university professor. Someone who has always seen higher education as the way to independence, a way out of her past. Blessed with the capacity for great insight, Camilla is someone who has really learned what works for her as an academic – and what doesn’t. She is critical of academia, but the insightful person she is, she also knows what she brings to the table. Camilla admits having suffered from mental health issues almost all of her life, and she was recently diagnosed with ADHD.
Quotes and take-home messages from Camilla’s story:
– I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have mental health problems. It’s part of me, part of my life
– I was depressed, but I didn’t care. I kept pushing and pushing, until you have to stop because basically you can’t function anymore
– it’s their problem if they cannot help you
– I thought I didn’t deserve to take a break
– admitting something like this makes you very vulnerable. Not everybody is comfortable being vulnerable
– you can overcome difficulties by sharing them with other people. You are special, but not that special 🙂
All of the stories showed that academia is a beautiful, tough place, where there’s no shortage of challenges, where rarely things go according to plan, and you don’t need to look hard to find reasons to complain. Much in academia needs to be improved because people deserve better. But ‘what stands in the way becomes the way’ the adage goes, and this is the reality we need to face to get on the other side together. The other side is the place where we have redefined the values of academia based on the notion that “researchers are people” and that people deserve favorable working conditions; a place where we have successfully completed the transition from individual stories to systemic change this podcast istrying to contribute to.
— References to the ReMO podcast:
Intro video (1:37 min): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Okm7F076u4c
Direct download (mp3): http://federicabressan.com/media/podcasting.php
— References to ReMO:
— Federica Bressan’s references:
YouTube channel: http://youtube.com/c/wyfiwyg/