“Research is a collective endeavour; the culture is shaped and owned by all of us“
Jeremy Farrar, Wellcome Trust director
Scientists are in general passionate about their work: they perceive it as more than a job, and they know it will need long hours when the experiments and deadlines so require. The problem arises when, what should be exceptional, becomes the norm.
There is growing evidence that PhD researchers are more at risk of suffering common mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, than the rest of the population with similar age and literacy levels. But it is not only PhDs who are affected: the whole research community is asking for a more respectful and supportive research culture. Indeed, there are many aspects of the research environment that take a toll on researcher’s mental health: lack of funding, pressure to publish, fierce competition, job instability… Recent studies have made evident to all stakeholders that something needs to be done.
In this regard, centres at the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB) have measures to ensure a good and fair working environment, such as anti-harassment and conflict resolution protocols or welcoming initiatives for newcomers. PRBB researchers have also access to mentorship programes and training, through the Intervals programme or their own centres, on self-management and inter-personal skills to help them better manage their time, stress and communication with others. They also have the opportunity to join yoga classes, or social activities like the choir, orchestra or beach volley, which help de-stress and reduce the isolation that some might feel. And for those in need of professional support, there are psychological services, confidential and free of change or at a reduced price.
Many actions can be done to improve mental healt, both by individual scientists and by research institutions. But the definitive solution would be a change in the research culture, moving to a more collaborative and nurturing climate for all involved. Challenging? Yes. But not impossible. And the times seem to be favourable for a kinder and more supportive environment where scientists can excel, and most importantly, enjoy what they like doing most: research.
This editorial piece was published in the July special issue of Ellipse, focused on mental wellbeing in the academic world.
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