Congratulations. You’re a grad student now at a prestigious research university. One of our colleagues was just like you once, an eager beaver starting his first semester in MIT EECS. Unlike you (I hope), Mr. John Beaver (not his real name) had pled guilty to a federal drug possession charge. During IAP he went home to appear before a judge and was sentenced to 1 year in prison (joining 2 million other Americans; we have the highest incarceration rate of any industrialized nation). He served his time and came back to MIT. In his final year of graduate school he was complaining about how much he hated his life, hated being poor, hated his thesis, hated his advisor, and hated MIT. His officemate, trying to cheer him up, noted “Well, John, at least it is better than being in prison, eh?”
John Beaver the grad student leaned back and reflected for a moment. Slowly he responded “… actually when I was in prison I had a lot more optimism and zest for life than I do now.“
That was an anecdote. What about some data?
A new study by a team of Harvard-affiliated researchers highlights one of the consequences of these realities: Graduate students are disproportionately likely to struggle with mental-health issues. The researchers surveyed roughly 500 economics Ph.D. candidates at eight elite universities, and found that 18 percent of them experienced moderate or severe symptoms of depression and anxiety. That’s more than three times the national average, according to the study. Roughly one in 10 students in the Harvard survey also reported having suicidal thoughts on at least several days within the prior two weeks.
… the payoff for all that stress may be wanting: A 2014 report found that nearly 40 percent of the doctoral students surveyed hadn’t secured a job at the time of graduation. What’s more, roughly 13 percent of Ph.D. recipients graduate with more than $70,000 in education-related debt, though in the humanities the percentage is about twice that. And for those who do secure an academic post, census data suggest that close to a third of part-time university faculty—many of whom are graduate students—live near or below the poverty line.
Drag this article out the next time someone brags about having been smart enough to get into a Ph.D. program!