Why is my Postdoc making me depressed?

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This article will discuss why your postdoc makes you depressed. The article will show the main reasons for that, and what you can do when you feel you are getting depressed because of your postdoc.

Why is my Postdoc making me depressed? 

Your Postdoc may be making you depressed for various reasons. It is something that will often ask you to immerse yourself in it for hours and hours. Developing new research is not easy at all. And by the time you reach this level in your scientific career, you may feel like you have climbed a ladder but you don’t know where it is taking you.

You have been devoting yourself to science for years, you got your Ph.D., and maybe you are at your first, or second Postdoc. And now you are looking around and seeing friends that graduated with you but chose another path of career living a more stable life.

They may be getting a fixed income from a company, and even though they are still working a lot, there isn’t that pressure of making something brand new as the Postdoc requires of you. And this can lead you to reevaluate your path in life.

A person will often pursue a Postdoc, and a career in science because they love this late, and ultimately hope they will be able to find a more stable position in a university. But it doesn’t always happen this way. And this lack of perspective and stability can also take a toll on your mental health.

According to research done by nature magazine, Postdoc researchers are feeling more and more overwhelmed, and many have considered, or have already made the decision to leave the path of science to care for their mental health.

They made voluntary research, in which Postdoc researchers answered how they were feeling about their career path. Through that, it was discovered that half of them had, at some point, thought of leaving science because of anxiety or depression. 

The research also highlights that 20% of the participants were, at that moment, in treatment for their mental health, while the other 26% would have liked to have received help. In the mix of what led them to feel depressed, it seems that the work-life balance may be another important factor.

It seems that being a Postdoc takes away your possibility to take some time away, to stay with family, or even to deal with big life changes. Women that are reaching the time in their life in which they want to have children, find it hard to do so and remain relevant in their field of research. 

Since having a baby, and being on maternity leave would take them out of their research for too long.

As a matter of fact, in nature research, pretty much all of the participants have said that they have worked more than their contracts have required. 30% of them said they put in around 10 hours more than their contract asked of them. And pretty much every participant said they have worked on weekends and their day off.

And another matter that seems to lead Postdoc researchers into depression, is the power imbalance they can often experience. When you are developing your research, you are dealing with the instability, the long hours, and the stress of not knowing how your research will turn out, this already makes you more vulnerable. 

But dealing with bullying, and discrimination can be the last straw in an already difficult situation.

In nature’s research, almost 25% of them said they have gone through some of those situations. The most common form of discrimination seems to be bullying due to power imbalance. After that, Postdoc researchers refer to gender discrimination, which affects mostly women, and racial discrimination.

With all those situations piling on, it may be easier to understand why Postdoc is making you depressed. But what it is important to keep in mind is that you are not alone. As a matter of fact, what became clear after all this is how there is something wrong with this system, and not with you. 

So if you are going through your Postdoc, keep in mind that there are some things you can do to try and make this experience a little better for yourself. So let’s discuss what can be done.

What can I do if my Postdoc is making me depressed? 

If you are going through your Postdoc, and you are feeling depressed, here are some things you can do.

Look for help 

As shown by nature’s research, a lot of Postdoc students that were struggling found it hard to look for professional help. But try to keep in mind that when you are depressed, it is the only professional treatment that will help you find a way out.

If you don’t do that, it may be that your condition will only get worse causing you to get to the point of even thinking of ending your life. If you don’t know where to look for help, you may get in touch with the health system at your university, and they can maybe give you some guidance.

In other cases, if you have a positive relationship with your supervisor, maybe talking to them will help you get a sense of where to start. Some Postdocs have also created support groups to help each other, so you can check if that is a possibility in your program. Whatever is the path you choose, just remember to get help.

Get in touch with your university

If you feel you are getting depressed because you have been dealing with a situation of bullying, or discrimination in your Postdoc program, you should get in touch with the university and report what is happening.

Although this may be hard to do, keep in mind that this is wrong with the educational system, and it will only improve once we start to say “enough is enough”.

Gather evidence, and even witness what is happening to you, if it is possible, and let the university know about it. 

Find a passion 

The postdoc may consume the larger part of your life, but it is important that once you are out of there you are in a place in which you feel good about yourself. So try to have, as a part of your life, things that you are passionate about, pr that brings you joy.

It can be a hobby, like taking dance lessons, that you can do a few days a week, or even gardening, which you will do on the weekend. But you need to have other things in your life aside from the research. 

Reevaluate your goals

It is always important to reevaluate your goals. See if what you are doing still makes sense to you. You may have had a huge passion and desire to develop a lot of research, but with time, other things may have taken your attention, and you feel depressed because you are doing something that doesn’t speak to you anymore.

If that is the case, know that there is no shame in that. You better face how you feel, and decide the direction that will make you happier than invest more of your energy in something that doesn’t spark joy anymore.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): Why is my Postdoc making me depressed? 

Is it okay to quit my postdoc?

Yes, it is perfectly okay to quit your postdoc. You may feel unsure to do so, and get scared that it will send a sign that you are unable to keep a job, or deal with stressful situations. But don’t let those fears drive you.

Take some time to consider why you want to quit your postdoc. Ask yourself if it has to do with the hardship of it, or how stressful it is. Is it taking a toll on your mental health? Does finishing that research, and getting that diploma still make sense to you? 

Answering those questions may help you understand why you want to quit your postdoc. Knowing what is behind it, may help you decide. But keep in mind that whatever your decision is, guide it by your desires, not by what others will think.

How long can a postdoc last?

A postdoc should last somewhere around two or three years. But keep in mind that when a person is interested in academia, it is recommended that they do at least two postdocs, which means that you should spend around 5 or 6 years invested in getting your postdoc.

Is getting a postdoc essential?

No, even if you are interested in academics, many positions don’t require you to get a postdoc, especially if you have enough publications and experience that can back you up. But if you don’t have those, being part of a postdoc program can give you the chance to submit a lot of publications, and develop your skills.

Does a postdoc count as a job experience for a company?

Unfortunately, if you have followed a career path through academia, and have gone through a postdoc. Once you decide to go look for a job in a company, those years of experience in research won’t count for much.

But what you can show your employer is how determined you are, and how prepared you have become to deal with the unexpected, and with pressure, since academia is often an environment that will put you through those often.

Is a postdoc more important than a Ph.D.?

To answer this question it all comes down to what are your goals. If you want to have a career in academia, it is common that having a postdoc will speak better of you than having a Ph.D. When you have a postdoc, it will show that you have more time of experience and even better publications.

What will put you one step ahead of people that have only their Ph.D.? If you have a postdoc, it is most likely that no one will ever care where, and when you did your Ph.D.

Conclusion 

This article showed the main reasons why you might be feeling like your Postdoc is making you depressed. Aside from that, the article explained what are the best ways for you to deal with this situation.

If you have any questions or comments about this article, feel free to write them in the section below.

References

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-03235-y
https://www.science.org/content/article/stressed-out-postdoc
https://amp.theguardian.com/science/head-quarters/2017/aug/10/the-human-cost-of-the-pressures-of-postdoctoral-research

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