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What to do when you are struggling in grad school – Mental Health and Resilience

What to do when you are struggling in grad school

What to do when you are struggling in grad school – Mental Health and Resilience


Your research and classes provides you the opportunity to work at the edge of knowledge and this will be difficult. You will likely be working closely with other scientists and conflicts may occur. In addition to your advisor, your graduate committee, and your other colleagues, there are many resources on campus and elsewhere to help you when you face difficulties in graduate school.


Mental health resources are available on campus and details are here ( We encourage you to use these resources as needed.


From this site, possible symptoms that you may need assistance with mental health include:

Finding little or no pleasure in life

Feeling worthless or extremely guilty

Crying a lot for no particular reason

Withdrawing from other people

Experiencing severe anxiety, panic, or fear

Having big mood swings

Experiencing a change in eating or sleeping patterns

Having very low energy

Losing interest in hobbies and pleasurable activities

Having too much energy, having trouble concentrating or following through on plans

Feeling easily irritated or angry

Experiencing racing thoughts or agitation

Hearing voices or seeing images that other people do not experience

Believing that others are plotting against you

Wanting to harm yourself or someone else

Challenges in graduate school also occur that are not directly related to mental health.

Simple self-tests can help you figure out areas where you may need to find extra assistance. Two important ones are characteristics that will help you learn and components of resilience. If you feel that you are struggling with one of these areas, discussions with your advisor, your graduate committee, other students, your mentors, your sponsor, or mental health experts may help you strengthen these areas. There are also many books available to help you with graduate school listed here (Book list =


Characteristics that help people learn include:


Confidence – a sense of control over your research and graduate program

Curiosity – the feeling that learning new things is a positive experience

Intentionality – the desire to be effective, to have an impact, and the ability to be persistent in that goal

Self-control – the ability to manage your time and actions to make progress in your program

Relatedness – the ability to understand and be understood by others you work with

Communication – the ability to exchange ideas, feelings, and concepts with others

Cooperativeness – the ability to balance your needs with others in the group


Components of resilience included:

A strong, supportive relationship with an effective sponsor.

A positive role model and mentor.

An environment where your talents and abilities are being recognized and nurtured.

A sense of control over your own life.

Being invested in and part of a larger community.


Your major advisor may be both your sponsor and your mentor, but you should also seek out others to fill these roles because no one person will be able to offer you all of the advice and support you will need to succeed in science. It is important to know the differences between a role model, mentor, and sponsor. A role model is someone who has characteristics or a career that you wish to emulate. A mentor is someone who aids you in learning specific concepts. A sponsor is a senior colleague who helps promote your career. While in graduate school, you will also serve as a role model, mentor, and possibly even a sponsor for undergraduate students and beginning graduate students. Serving in these roles will help you better understand what you need to look for in your own role models, mentors, and sponsors.

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