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Moving Forward When the World Seems to Be at a Standstill

Given the unprecedented mental health challenges of the past year, Mental Health Awareness Month is a good occasion to address the underlying issues and social stigmas that the majority of graduate students and researchers currently face. AJE has 7 practical suggestions for managing some of the fears that researchers are facing and suggests a few strategies for encouraging mental wellness.

Woman Writing in Laptop

Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, much of the world is currently shut down or operating at a slower pace than normal. The competitive and demanding environments of academia and research have historically produced feelings related to depression, anxiety, and imposter syndrome among graduate students and researchers. Principal investigators and early-career faculty face additional concerns regarding achieving tenure and other career-defining milestones. All these emotions are now enhanced by the lockdown as worries associated with a lack of progress toward career and research goals are magnified.

To handle feelings related to the fear of falling behind, it is important to remember that everyone is facing a similar situation. During this time, it is imperative to keep long-term goals in mind and to celebrate milestones both big and small.

Although research and study opportunities may look different than originally planned, try to focus on productive tasks that can be completed under the current circumstances. Here are 7 practical tips from the AJE team to help you move forward and alleviate the anxiety caused by uncertainty about the future:

  1. Start by making a list of research activities that still need to be completed and determine who will be responsible for each of them.

  2. Arrange regular remote meetings to keep your research group motivated and engaged. This is a great opportunity to focus on tasks that had previously been postponed.

  3. Plan and prioritize tasks in a way that ensures that everyone knows what to do next.

  4. Try to find time to address backlogged items. If you are unable to find time to complete these activities now, it is unlikely that you will be able to prioritize and complete them once normal research activities resume.

  5. Work on aspects of research or academic development that are feasible, such as data analysis and literature review.

  6. Find alternative online learning programs to replace opportunities that are not currently available.

  7. Search for opportunities such as conferences that are scheduled for later in the year and submit abstracts.

Taking concrete steps to move forward and celebrating progress can reduce some of the anxiety caused by uncertainty about the future.

Published on 05/01/2020

Thanks to Rebecca Hendrickson, Mary Anderson, Melissa Schumacher, Molly Amador, and Sheila Vieira for contributing to this article.

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