UW Graduate School

March 12, 2020

Take care of yourself during stressful times

Even in the best of times, completing your postdoc fellowship can be stressful. And, we can all agree that with the uncertainty around COVID-19, our collective stress level has increased. Beyond the normal worries (e.g., will my experiments work, will I be scooped, will I find a job after my postdoc, etc.), we are now concerned about how changes to campus operations may impact our research progress. Further, we are uncertain of the consequences that coronavirus may have on us at a personal level, as well as our family and loved ones. Simply put, these can make us feel more mentally stressed.

The growing mental health concerns in the graduate student population have received increasing attention in the past few years (see Nature, 2019, PhDs: the tortuous truth; Nature Biotechnology, 2018, Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education; and CBE-Life Sciences Education, 2019, Burnout and Mental Health Problems in Biomedical Doctoral Students, among others). And, just because you’re no longer a graduate student, it doesn’t mean that all of the mental health concerns go away once you transition to your postdoc position (see Science, 2014, The stressed-out postdoc). 

It’s important to remember that it’s normal not to feel 100% all the time. However, when the burdens of anxiety, depression, imposter syndrome, perfectionism, and harassment become overwhelming, it’s OK to seek help. 
UW recently re-designed our Health & Well-being website to provide a one-stop-shop for all relevant resources you might find helpful for your needs. For example, consult with the Counseling Center and they will provide you with referrals if you require long-term counseling. There are also resources to support your well-being and safety on campus. If you want to discuss events in your life or research group, reach out to the Office of the Ombud or our office, the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (OPA). When in doubt, simply contact the SafeCampus 24/7 helpline (206- 685-SAFE), and trained professionals are ready to support you. 

There are also a number of online resources and support groups that you can explore to find the community that best suits your needs.

We all are responsible for supporting each other. We encourage all of you to be open about how common it is to experience issues related to mental health and to normalize and destigmatize the seeking of mental health care. Let’s support each other as you consider different career paths. Try reaching out to people who you think might be struggling and share some wellness tips with them, such as getting more sleep, doing exercise, cultivating a sense of purpose, and finding one’s community. For more tips, please read The Conversation (Meghan Duffy, 2018). With the support of the UW community, we will get through these trying times.