Mental Health and Grad School

He said that he does not know the historical period in question, and invited me to send my academic material to his boyfriend who is a specialist. If you don’t see that this is not appropriate, you are either incompetent or corrupted. Which one is it?

You say that there is no need for Bailey to apologize?

He referred to the Mother of God as a “symbol” that is not really true. In class, he talked about the “boobs” of the Vigin Mary. What is your field, Barnaby, administration or academics? Do you not know that people can be dismissed for saying this sort of nonsense against other people’s faith? . . .

God comes like a thief in the night for all the corrupted hypocrites of this world. He says so both in the Old and in the New Testament: do you also think that the Word of God is “unprofessional and unacceptable”?

Why don’t you tell Him so when you appear before His Throne, and see how He reacts to that.

Who will save you from your “feeling of grievance” then?

You’d think this is a petulant 11-year-old, firing off angry Facebook status updates, right? You’d be mistaken, though. In a new weird development surrounding my alma mater, a graduate student has been writing numerous long and rude emails to the Assistant Dean of Yale’s graduate school.

I know Dean Barnaby and he always seemed a highly professional and helpful administrator. There were several administrative issues I faced as a grad student (having to do with my visa and financial status) that Dean Barnaby resolved very effectively. I can’t imagine him having any interest in discriminating against anybody because of their Catholicism, which is what this student accuses him off. In my numerous interactions with the Dean, he never addressed my religious affiliation in any way. I always got the impression that he had way too much administrative issues on his plate to care about anything like that. By the way, at my department at Yale, most people were Catholic (for the obvious reasons), and I can’t remember their faith being any sort of an issue for anybody at any point.

In the correspondence with this irate grad student, Dean Barnaby goes out of his way to be helpful. He even states that the student will continue receiving the full stipend in spite of not being able to work as a TA, which is something everybody is required to do at this point of grad school:

Because you have shown no understanding of the inappropriateness of your behavior, you will not be able to continue in your role as a teaching fellow. However, the University will provide you with the standard stipend for a University Fellowship this term.

The student, however, continues to rant in a way that makes one very worried about her mental health.

The reason why I’m posting these excerpts from an extremely weird correspondence between a grad student and an administrator is that people often fail to realize what an enormous emotional and psychological toll grad school can take on them. I’ve known several people who ended up at psychiatric facilities or in alcohol rehab centers because grad school turned out to be too much for them.

Read the entire correspondence, folks. Read it and remember that grad school is very tough. You need to take care of your mental health just like you need to take care of your physical well-being. If you don’t engage in constant and very deliberate psychological hygiene, you might start to unravel. And then, one day, you just might find yourselves firing off completely unhinged emails about Virgin Mary’s boobs.

Thank you, dear fellow Yalie, for sending me this priceless link.

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29 comments on “Mental Health and Grad School

  1. “He said that he does not know the historical period in question, and invited me to send my academic material to his boyfriend who is a specialist. If you don’t see that this is not appropriate, you are either incompetent or corrupted. Which one is it?”

    If this is real, she has a point, and nobody did anything against it.

    • I don’t see her and your point.

      If he had offered to send her material to his friend Prof. XYZ who is a specialist, would you also say the same thing? This specialist just happens to be his boyfriend. The only thing he may be guilty of here is TMI.

      • In the sciences, the procedure should be to ask the student’s permission before showing the (paper, grant application) to other individuals. The reasoning is that the more well connected or powerful reviewers occasionally crib ideas of the student/other low-ranked person with fewer resources, push through similar experiments faster, using the reviewer’s greater access to resources, and scoop the original submitter. Yes, there are disciplinary measures for this variety of plagiarism. The student or supervisor may not be able to prove plagiarism, or if able, may not want to risk whistle-blowing.

        The History faculty member followed appropriate protocol, in leaving the choice to the student to have material reviewed by expert X.

    • He suggested she show her work to somebody who is capable of understanding. The rest might be the product of a diseased brain of this homophobe and religious fanatic. The woman is extremely unhinged, folks. Who can believe a word she says?

      In any case, if somebody suggests I show my work to a specialist in my field, it is of absolutely no interest to me whose boyfriend anybody is. It’s all about getting an update on my work.

  2. On “hygiene,” it’s all true but people don’t understand it. I caught h*** from assistant professors while I was a graduate student because of leading a healthy lifestyle. They said I couldn’t do it and also make reasonable progress to degree; I said I couldn’t make reasonable progress to degree if I didn’t lead a healthy life.

    I was right but I’ve gotten this time and time again – not looking beaten down enough to be credibly “dedicated,” etc. – I’ve even been told that eating/sleeping/exercising/taking time off so that one could feel well and work well was a “coping mechanism” that fostered “denial” of the fact that everything was so awful, one had no control over anything, etc. … ???!!!

      • That’s how I am staying sane. Untenured professors have just as much work and pressure as graduate students, although we also have more benefits I think.

        • “That’s how I am staying sane. Untenured professors have just as much work and pressure as graduate students, although we also have more benefits I think.”

          – This is precisely what I answer to people who tell me that I blog “too much”. :-) I actually started publishing a lot more since I started blogging, so my strategy obviously works.

  3. Oh dear. I’m cringing in fellow-there-but-for-the-grace-of-trying-really-hard-not-to-be-thereness. Is there a word for that? It’s not quite fremdschämen, although close.

    Sometimes you really must accept that you are not going to have done all the reading/marking/essay/whatever, and go to bed/for a run/read for pleasure – whatever it is that floats your boat and keeps you on an even keel and working towards service of your larger goal, not just your immediate deadline.

    Given the religious tones of the email, I wonder the unfortunate concerned has bought into the ‘whole self-abnegation is a virtue’ rubbish.

    • “Sometimes you really must accept that you are not going to have done all the reading/marking/essay/whatever, and go to bed/for a run/read for pleasure – whatever it is that floats your boat and keeps you on an even keel and working towards service of your larger goal, not just your immediate deadline.”

      – That’s exactly what I’m saying!

  4. This is sad. I immediately thought “mental health” or “drugs” when I read the quotations you selected. I think grad school can be very harmful to mental health if one is not careful, particularly in those who are already vulnerable to it. I wonder if it also attracts people who are so insulated into their own introspective thoughts and beliefs, and filled with such passion and calling to the ivory tower, that it doesn’t also encourage not just attract the sort of behavior that would inspire one to become as obsessive as this student, and as driven – although sadly misplaced and confused.

    I always pushed myself to play a sport or do something that wasn’t cerebral. I think its important that we recontact our physical selves as well as our over loaded mental selves.

    • – This must be different for everyone because it hasn’t been my experience at all. I suffered in grad school but tenure-track has been paradise, pure and simple. What made me suffer in grad school was lack of respect, lack of autonomy, lack of status and lack of money (in that order.) And a TT position brought me all that stress-free. I have a job with a very special department and a very special university, though.

      • Your experience was like mine. Except I had a creepy advisor who was a leech after all his young advisees, and I did NOTHING inappropriate with him but he suggested to his colleagues that I did, to impress them. I would NEVER and I did never. Anyway, so that ruined my whole experience. But otherwise, I was happy.

        But I knew a few people who were drawn to the isolation, and mental tower of grad school, who were very unstable mentally and emotionally. I definitely think the student in question could benefit from playing a game of soccer, going for some walks, and opening her mind beyond her own prejudices. That is, after all, kind of the point of grad school.

        • “Except I had a creepy advisor who was a leech after all his young advisees, and I did NOTHING inappropriate with him but he suggested to his colleagues that I did, to impress them. I would NEVER and I did never. ”

          – How horrible! I’m very sorry you had to experience that. People are often so nasty that it defies belief.

          ” I definitely think the student in question could benefit from playing a game of soccer, going for some walks, and opening her mind beyond her own prejudices. ”

          – Hear, hear!!

  5. I loved grad school. I thought it was amazing. The tenure track took a little adjustment. Mainly because I am at a very very very small school and I didn’t feel like I had people of my own age and place in life around me. But now I have adjusted (and met people that I could connect with) and I do love it. I really think this is one of the most wonderful and rewarding professions in the world.

  6. This stuff the grad student wrote is weird, because by putting the word, “is”, in inverted commas, she doesn’t imply a literal IS but rather a figurative or ironic “is” — which is the opposite to what she intends.

    >>>The Mother of God “is” the Mother of God, as YHWH “is” YHWH, and Allah “is” Allah.

  7. FD: “working towards service of your larger goal, not just your immediate deadline.”

    This really hits the nail on the head. I notice that many have a hard time doing this and there is a lot of pressure to focus on the immediate deadline rather than the larger goal. This is why a lot of academic advice frustrates me – it’s about tactics (in immediate situations) as opposed to strategy. And I remember being called “arrogant” and things like that for wanting to think in terms of strategy (“how dare you think you can have that much power / independence / think for yourself” etc.).

    • Yes! I kept making the mistake of concentrating on the immediate for way too long. And I was doing it because thinking in terms of a broader strategy was scary. I feel happy that I have learned to do that now. But it was not easy to figure this out. Your blog was actually very helpful to me in this.

  8. I know what it’s like to deal with mental health issues while being in graduate school. While I don’t think graduate school triggered my problems, it did compound them. And I think I’d spent too much time in my life up to that point ignoring them. After I got my Master’s, I chose to leave, and though it was a very difficult thing to do, as it sent me into a spiral of the unknown, it was probably the better decision for my mental health.

    This student’s correspondence . . . yikes. She seems rather confused and high-strung. Perhaps she needs a break for her mental health.

      • I don’t know about minimal. Between coming up with worksheets and so on, teaching 5 days, etc., I always ended up spending 20 hours total a week teaching a section of Spanish: 1 hour prep, 1 hour class, 1 hour office hours and
        tutoring, 1 hour grading, x 5 = 20. In French people would
        spend about 15 hours because their materials were created for them. In English I’ve spent as much as 30, if it was a new course / had a lot of reading new to me / if it was out of field / if it was writing intensive and had a lot of grading … but we were paid for 20 hours, 49% time. In my fields being a TA wasn’t helping a professor, it was teaching a labor intensive course oneself, usually for the first time.

        Still, what drives people around the bend in graduate school is the atmosphere not the work.

  9. To keep mental health as a Grad student I started running. And I have never ever ever run before. Ever. When I completed my PhD I was running more than 20 km three days a week. Now that I am not a graduatre student anymore I stopped running.

    However sad the story of that girl is, she will probably land a well-paid TT job in a private religious college,

  10. Oh, I had a good atmosphere–everything was fine at my school. The only problem I had is my supervisor got cancer and couldn’t effectively supervise anymore. Then his eyesight went. So I was really on my own for the last year or so.

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