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Alyssa Mikytuck



Self-Care for Graduate Students

Topic area: self-care, work-life balance, graduate student life

When I read the phrase “depressed graduate student” is redundant[1], I balked at the notion that depression and graduate student life need to coincide. Of course, in some ways the stereotype of a dejected graduate student is accurate. A new survey found that the majority of graduate student respondents experienced high levels of anxiety and depression that significantly correlated with poor work-life balance.[2]  However, one does not need to be miserable to be “a good graduate student.” While staying up all night to finish an article might feel like the “right thing” for a graduate student to do, getting sleep is actually better for performance and productivity.[3]

Making self-care a priority for graduate student life is one way to combat the anxieties or depression that seem to go hand-in-hand with the responsibilities of graduate school. While it is easy to dismiss self-care as a buzzword, I argue that taking care of yourself is integral to the graduate school experience.

New to the world of self-care? Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Take care of your body.  Basic self-care entails getting adequate sleep, eating nutritious meals, and exercising regularly. Although you likely mastered these skills before entering graduate school, the demands placed on you may have pushed these tasks to the back burner. Give yourself permission to take a break and make yourself a priority. Not only will your body thank you, but so will the quality of your work.  
  2. Attend social events with your department/colleagues.  It can be easy to ignore social events with your department in lieu of the other demands on your time. Not only are breaks necessary, but socializing with fellow graduate students will help build a support system. After all, nobody else understands what you are going through quite like fellow students. 
  3. Enlist professional help. From going to the dentist, to having an annual physical exam, to making mental health appointments – professional help is a necessary form of self-care. Professionals can help ensure you are in peak physical and mental condition so that you can perform at your best – especially when tips one and two are not doing the trick.

These tips are by no means the only ways to practice self-care, so how you practice may look different. It is important to do what works for you, which some days may mean doing nothing at all. What matters is that you practice some form of self-care when you need it.

None of this is to say that self-care is the cure-all to all graduate school woes. There are personal and contextual challenges that occur in graduate school that a good night’s sleep simply cannot solve. But it is one way to challenge the stereotype of a dejected graduate student. After all, getting your PhD should be focused on fulfilling your passion and not on being miserable.   


[1] See Basalla & Debelius (2007). So what are you going to do with that? Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, p. 37.

[2] Evans, Bira, Gastelum, Weiss & Vanderford, (2018) Evidence of a mental health crisis in graduate education, Nature Biotechnology, 6(36), 282 – 284.

[3] Rosekind, Gregory, Mallis, Brandt, Seal & Lerner. (2010). The cost of poor sleep: Workplace productive loss and associated costs. Journal of Occupational Environmental Medicine, 52(1), 91 – 98.  

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