Intense work stress and mental issues
Four out of ten PhD students consider quitting
It’s no surprise that PhD students are having a tough time. But the results of a recent poll held by the PhD Network Netherlands (PNN) are still shocking. The PNN surveyed more than 1,600 PhD students at Dutch universities.
47 percent run an increased risk of mental problems. International PhD students run an even greater risk, at 55 percent. Work stress is another issue, with 60 percent of PhDs saying it’s too high. They are also suffering from a constant risk of burnout: 39 percent are showing serious symptoms.
On top of that, 41.6 percent of PhD say they’ve considered quitting. 6 percent even consider this regularly. PhD have doubts about academics in general as well as the circumstances of their work. Many also have issues with their supervisors.
PNN president Lucille Mattijssen says the corona crisis has had an influence on how PhD students feel. The crisis started ten days after they started circulating their survey. ‘We asked the PhDs to not let corona influence their answers’, says Mattijssen. ‘But not all of them managed it.’
Nevertheless, the results are valid, she says. ‘This isn’t the first study to show that many PhDs are suffering from mental health issues and work stress. But this is the first one that shows the severity of the problem on a national level.’
She says the report is ‘sobering’. The work stress is consistently high for all institutes and across all types of PhDs. ‘There are no discernible differences between men and women or between fields’, she says. There’s also no difference in the experiences of scholarship PhDs and employee PhDs. The only differences are between internationals and Dutch PhDs.
Mattijssen does not see this as a reason to retract her criticism of the scholarship PhD scheme. ‘We maintain that doing a PhD is a job and that people should have an employment contract’, she says.
‘It’s now up to the universities, medical centres, and research institutes to improve their work environment. Otherwise, they’ll run the risk of PhD students leaving the academic world en masse.’