Well-being and health during the PhD: workshop

Learning Planet Institute_DiscoveryDays2021_©QuentinChevrier 

Well-being and health during the PhD: the FIRE doctoral school offers a new series of interventions

For the first time last year, the FIRE doctoral school organized a Workshop dedicated to “Well-being and health during the PhD” covering two essential aspects in a young researcher’s life which are often not discussed enough within academia [1]. Here is a highlight on what happened and the main evolutions for this year's program.

The initial 2-days Workshop was built onto several interventions, followed by the same group of a dozen PhD students at different stages of their thesis. To enable more participants to attend and target what is the most relevant for them, our diverse interventions can now be followed independently.

Free discussions, benevolent listening and mutual gentleness between participants are still keys for fruitful interactions.

From imposter syndrome to communication, a large variety of covered topics

Amongst the most significant moments, Colin Lemée will succeed Jeanne Boisselier, on behalf of the Doctopus association, to deeply discuss the imposter syndrome with the participants. This self-perception of being less competent than what other people think of you, feeling like a fraudster despite objective evidence of success, is widely spread amongst PhD students. Being aware of it, for oneself and the others, is thus the first essential step to overcome it.

The thesis is a stimulating period which can go together with a large variety of activities besides research, including teaching, mentoring students, peer-reviewing articles, etc. To avoid feeling overwhelmed it is sometimes necessary to decline some extra sollicitations. A more detailed focus will be put on identifying one’s needs and limits, including roleplaying to practice saying ‘no’ to opportunities that fall beyond the limits.

As stated by a former participant, seeing “how people I look up to faced the same challenges as me was very encouraging”. This was clearly shown by Wendy Ingram, from the DragonFly Mental Health international NGO, through an impactful video where accomplished scientists expressed the doubts and even mental health issues they had to fight against. Breaking the stigma was one of the most important take-home messages and we keep emphasizing on it. Wendy’s intervention also focuses on active listening as an introduction to tackle tough discussions.

This communication part, which is crucial to maintain high-quality interpersonal relations (with a PhD supervisor, a collaborator, a lab colleague…) was covered as well by Pascale Haag this fall. Pascal holds a PhD in psychology; her thesis was precisely studying the doctoral journey, through the lens of stress, health and supervision relationships. She gave concrete examples of assertive communication, a way to express your point of view or idea in an understandable and direct manner, while respecting your interlocutor.

During her 3-half-days Workshop, she now also dives into the field of Positive psychology, presenting both theoretical frameworks and practical tools and techniques to strengthen resilience and socioemotional skills.

Topics that go beyond the PhD students concerns

During these workshops we also discuss aspects of a research life that are not only relevant for PhD students, but for people working in academia in general. Even though our doctoral training is already open to a broader audience, we are also taking this opportunity to build new workshops directly targeting a larger public. That is the case for the topic of “Power abuse in academia - what can we do?”, offered again by DragonFly Mental Health this spring. Together with the students who launched the Learning Planet Institute’s Wellness club we are currently working to set-up this intervention and discussion for the Institute community: all students and researchers are more than welcome to attend.

PhD and by extension research work is an exciting, stimulating and enriching scientific and human experience, which can also sometimes become emotionally challenging. We are convinced that it is part of our role to support PhD students the best we can, for them to achieve a positive journey throughout their thesis. By doing this, we aim at improving the professional quality of life within academia as well, for larger communities.

Article : Camille Gaulon, Scientific and Pedagogic Coordinator of the FIRE PhD program
Crédits photo : Learning Planet Institute_DiscoveryDays2021_©QuentinChevrier

[1] despite strongly concerning figures: around one third of PhD students are experiencing anxiety and depression associated symptoms. Source: Nature 575, 403-406 (2019)

Learn more about the FIRE doctoral school on our website