In preparing to host the “Mental Health and Self-Care in Grad School” webinar, I dug deep about what I’d like to see more of when it comes to mental health discussions in academic spaces. I thought back to the first semester of my Master’s program. What would that very anxious 26-year-old like to hear? I thought about the mental health conversations I’ve had in the last five years that challenged, comforted, and enriched me. Some key themes emerged from these reflections, and I shaped the webinar around those threads. I found myself drawn to thinking about imposter syndrome, finding strength in vulnerability, questions of access and inclusion, and the importance of engaging institutional critique in exploring toxic academic norms, boundary setting, and self-care dialogues. Preparing for the webinar helped me work through how I process ideas and feelings around these issues, as I wrestle with these topics often. Working through these themes compelled me to think of what experiences offered me a sense of genuine connection with other academics, and how that feeling of connection is vital in sustaining us as scholars and people.
I realized that my younger self really appreciated other grad students being open and honest about how they experience imposter syndrome: that tendency among academics (particularly POC and women scholars) to doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. Hearing friends that I saw as brilliant and inspirational tell me that they felt like they didn’t belong or didn’t earn an opportunity (despite clear evidence to the contrary) highlighted to me that I was not alone in feeling like an imposter. Each time another grad student felt comfortable sharing with me how they saw themselves as not having it 100% “together” and were struggling with feelings of not measuring up, they created space for me to resonate with them and experience a profound sense of solidarity with them. Whenever other neurodivergent academics shared with me how they see academic contexts as lacking dimensions of accessibility for those with ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression, etc., I expanded my own understandings of what access and inclusion looks like. Talking with academics about how they set boundaries amidst institutional pressures, expectations, and norms that cultivate toxic work environments always provides me with insight on how to navigate academic spaces in more intentional and healthy ways.
I value conversations about mental health that refuse to skirt the difficult topics, especially when that requires critiquing the academic spaces we share commitments to. I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to have dialogues that push academic spaces forward in ways that prioritize not just personal change, but institutional change too. After all, finding the support, resources, and tools we need to take care of our mental health requires a little more than Netflix and some ice cream. Even though I love some reality TV and ice cream, it’s important to keep talking about how really prioritizing our growth and needs is not always easy, and must be paired with community care and institutional shifts.
Here is the YouTube video for the webinar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4h1S4NFpO1w