Half of PhDs report mental health issues due to corona

| Michaela Nesvarova

The PhD Network of the University of Twente (P-NUT) has conducted a survey to assess the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on UT doctoral candidates. Its results show that 50% of them expect delays due to mental health issues and that 75% of the respondents are less productive working from home.

P-NUT carried out the independent survey between the 18th of May and 9th of June. Its goal was to investigate the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health and working conditions of PhDs and PDEngs at the UT. From about 1200 recipients, a total of 238 doctoral candidates responded.

Delays

It has been reported that especially young researchers are suffering from the consequences of the corona crisis, namely by experiencing delays in their projects. The P-NUT survey confirms this: 83% of PhDs at the UT expect delays for their projects. Out of those, 63% expect a setback of more than two months.

Through the questionnaire, P-NUT aimed to also identify reasons for these delays. Alarmingly, half of PhDs indicated that their delays are due to mental health issues, such as anxiety, stress, or isolation. ‘That is a big number,’ says P-NUT board member Yasser Pordeli. ‘It gives us a lot of worries. In our opinion, this points to underlying issues PhDs face with regard to their mental health.’

Next to mental health issues, the most common reason for delays was decreased productivity - around 75% of PhDs reported that they were less productive at home. In many cases (60%) the delays were also caused by practical obstacles, such as closed labs and cancelled fieldwork.

Home office

The survey further explored the working conditions of PhDs, specifically how they have set up their home office. Most (89%) PhDs reported that they have a suitable place to work and that they have the necessary equipment (91%). The majority of all respondents (82%) felt mostly supported by their departments in this process. However, only half of self-funded PhDs reported that they felt supported by their departments.

Recommendations

Based on these findings and input from the participants, P-NUT has formed a list of recommendations which they will share with the Executive Board, Human Resources department, Twente Graduate School and deans of UT faculties.

‘The main issue we see is clear communication directed at doctoral candidates. There has been a lack of communication specifically for PhDs. For the mid-term, we recommend the university provides courses on crisis management,’ says Pordeli. ‘We will share all the results and recommendations with UT executives and we hope they will be implemented. Mainly, we wanted the issues to be known. As P-NUT, we wanted the voices of PhD candidates to be heard and help find solutions to their problems. This report is a good start.’ 

You can find the full report here.