Tuesday, April 24, 2018

What needs to be said about mental health issues in universities?

On friday I am giving the UQ Physics Department colloquium on mental health issues for scientists. The talk may be similar to one I gave a few years ago.

I will update my talk incorporating some recent reading and the articles below.

A recent Editorial in Nature declared
Time to talk about why so many postgrads have poor mental health 
An outpouring on Twitter highlights the acute pressures on young scientists.

[I thank Tanglaw Roman for bringing the editorial to my attention. I never look at luxury journals unless someone refers me to a specific article.]

The Editorial was in response to the Twitter response to an article in a baby Nature
Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education

Poisonous science: the dark side of the lab 
The bullying and subsequent suicide of a talented Ivy League scientist exposes ugly truths about the cruelty and dysfunction at the heart of academic science

Mindfulness won't fix bad management
It also conveniently shifts the burden of wellbeing from the employer causing stress to the employee trying to deal with it. Worse, it allows what you might call "well-washing": employers who cloak themselves in a veneer of caring for their workers while hurting them with bad management practices. 
Five tips to get a good nights sleep

However, I would like some feedback and suggestions from readers.

What do you think needs to be said?

Update. The colloquium was postponed to avoid a scheduling conflict and to make it accessible to a broader audience. Thus, there is still time to send in your suggestions.


  1. This is from Prof David Colquhoun FRS web site


    The email of SG is there in the above site.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion.
      I will include the case of Stefan Grimm.

  2. More on bullying.

    Then in the following web site below David Colquhoun gives an excellent example of A Huxley. Here is the reply to @AJSTaunton


    "I can’t agree. Do you really think that the value of a scientist’s work can be measured by the amount of money they get in grants? To use grant income as a proxy for quality is not only baseless, but it also defrauds the taxpayer. And it occasionally kills people.

    I believe that Andrew Huxley (who got Nobel prize for discovering how the nerve impulse works) never had a grant. Should he have been fired?

    I should make it clear that the managers who must take responsibility are senior academics. The HR people who implement the policies are just obeying orders (though that Nuremberg defence can’t exonerate them entirely).

    The problem with your argument is that the people to whom you say he should have appealed are the very people who were bullying him. An appeal would have been a waste of time"

    1. Thanks for the example of Huxley.
      I wonder if Einstein, Godel, Feynman, or Onsager ever had grants?

  3. There's a lot of emphasize on mental health of students. But, I felt mental health (and perhaps even the physical wellbeing) of academic staffs have often been ignored. For instance, at one of Australia's top universities, staffs are not eligible to use the medical service available on campus, only students are (this is true even when the staff become terribly ill while on campus). It is also very easy for students to abuse staffs. In fact, on my first semester as an academic in Australia, a student demanded better grades with threatening gesture and voice in my own office. This is of course on top of the heavy emphasize on performance based on student evaluation.

  4. Stefan Grimm email has very great words.

    "In March ’14 I then received the ultimatum email below. 200,000 pounds research income every year is required. Very interesting. I was never informed about this before and cannot remember that this is part of my contract with the College"

    Then he writes
    "Our 135,000.- pounds from the University of Dammam? Doesn’t count"
    So he has a deficit of 65,000 pounds.

    Then he writes
    " The reality is that these career scientists up in the hierarchy of this organization only look at figures to judge their colleagues, be it impact factors or grant income. After all, how can you convince your Department head that you are working on something exciting if he not even attends the regular Departmental seminars? The aim is only to keep up the finances of their Departments for their own career advancement"


    " Grant income is all that counts here, not scientific output.

    We had four papers with original data this year so far, in Cell Death and Differentiation, Oncogene, Journal of Cell Science and, as I informed Prof Wilkins this week, one accepted with the EMBO Journal. I was also the editor of a book and wrote two reviews. Doesn’t count."

    Prof David Colquhoun is right in bringing Huxley's example. Times have chnaged , You have get grants. However the question is even with a deficit of 65,000 pounds he has been able to give an output of good research. Why insist on a target of pounds if someone is able to produce good science with less money. Infact, the senior academics should be happy at this. This I have heard from some state unis in US.