The current landscape of graduate training in the biosciences is a topic of much discussion among administrators, faculty, policy makers, and of course, student trainees themselves. Topics include research funding and publishing models, training in rigor and reproducibility, training period length, effective mentorship, and job prospects after graduation. Graduate program offices are at the front lines of almost all of these topics. It is here where students, faculty, and policy makers turn to for information. Such offices are rather diverse with varying mission statements – or lack thereof – and many are relatively invisible. Given the ongoing discussions about graduate education, such offices must play an important role in providing the support and infrastructure needed for students to do outstanding science and choose careers that are in line with their interests.
As such, graduate program offices must strive to enhance service and support mechanisms that allow students to do their best science, and share information with other graduate programs in the biosciences on best practices. It is our mission in the MCO graduate program to (1) share, support, inspire, and advocate for our students, and (2) provide thought leadership for the wider biosciences community on important issues surrounding graduate education.
A constant feature during my training as a graduate student at Stanford and postdoc at MIT was my interest in understanding the mechanisms through which science is created, evaluated, challenged and communicated across society. I particularly found the human stories of those people doing the creation, evaluation, and communication rather fascinating. It is what has driven me to this role in the MCB department.
The many issues surrounding trainees in STEM are of particular interest to me. As part of a small science advocacy think tank group I co-founded during my postdoc (STEM Education Advocacy Group), I have written and co-written articles exploring this area with the intention of helping other trainees in the STEM pipeline.
This article which I co-wrote with a friend of mine from Stanford (Dr. Jessica Tsai MD, PhD) explores an area of graduate education in the US which has not received as much attention. The article explores mental health in the biosciences. Why? Well, graduate and post-doctoral trainees in the biosciences face significant challenges during their training. How trainees are affected by these challenges is not well characterized. We were initially motivated to understand the existing data with regards to mental health of graduate and post-doctoral trainees in the biosciences. In the article, we highlight that the limited published studies of graduate students show significant issues pertaining to depression, anxiety, and limited mental health resources, as well as poor utilization. Even more striking, we found that there is essentially no data on the mental well-being of post-doctoral trainees, who are important contributors to our base of scientific knowledge.
Additionally, we also document mental health resources that are particularly useful, focusing on both bottom-up and top-down approaches. We highlight several institutions that have had particularly unique programs for mental health. We further propose more wide-sweeping solutions aimed at obtaining more data from individual institutions and encouraging innovative strategies towards cultivating wellness in trainees. Mental health and wellness are issues that affect us all; if not directly, they affect colleagues we work with every day. Ultimately, we emphasize a shared responsibility between institutions, advisors, and trainees for working collaboratively to address these important needs.