The Underpinnings of Graduate Student Burnout

Posted on July 6th, 2016

Mental illness is often offered as the standard rationale for why some graduate students burn out and leave their programs before finishing. The commonly presumed correlation between mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, and intelligence leads many to assume that these students are predisposed to such difficulties. Yet the statistical correlations do not line up. More than fifty percent of graduate students fail to complete their degree and only a handful enter their programs with a mental health diagnosis. There remains more to be seen. 

In the following article, Te-Erika Patterson investigates the institutional power dynamics, structures and policies that undermine the well-being of graduate students. She juxtaposes current research with personal anecdotes to suggest that the prevalence of depression, anxiety and suicide ideation amongst doctoral candidates is something more than a statistical anomaly or a predisposition for mental instability.

“Research suggests that the majority of students who enter doctoral programs possess the academic ability to complete their studies, but systemic issues at schools may lead to high attrition and mental distress among graduate students. In exploring what exacerbates mental-health issues among graduate students, it may be wise to shift the focus away from labeling graduate students “deficient” to investigate how institutions themselves may be causing attrition.”

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