A third of PhD candidates and Postdocs suffer from mental health related problems such as burnout, depression or anxiety. This is clearly alarming and warrants action. Following a workshop facilitated by NWO, PNN and PostdocNL together drew up a list of recommendations to improve early career researchersECRs) mental health. Our full report covers a range of topics, of which we would like to highlight a few crucial ones:

  1. Supervision
    ECRs are very dependent on their direct supervisor. Often supervisors and direct managers are the first point of contact when issues arise. The role of supervisors and managers should be clearly defined and suitable training has to be provided.
  2. Performance evaluation and job requirements
    A systemic issue in academia is high work pressure connected to unclear or excessive job requirements and a culture of overworking. This issue needs to be addressed in all levels of academia. For ECRs specifically, work requirements should be clearly defined and recognition and rewards principles applied. Evaluations should also consider mental health and personal development.
  3. Funding and career perspectives
    ECRs have temporary employment contracts which naturally cause concerns about future career perspectives. Funding for long-term stable postdoc positions as well as introductions to Dutch academic grant and contract systems are needed.
  4. Providing (access to) help
    It is important to provide help to ECRs, directed at both prevention of mental health issues and intervention when they occur. Often institutions already provide support in different forms - sufficient accessibility and clear communication of support possibilities is key to the success of these efforts.

To improve the mental health of ECRs we need action from all responsible parties, including the academic institutions, the government, funding bodies, supervisors, and the ECRs themselves. Important to note is that especially early career researchers belonging to minority groups and internationals should be taken into consideration as they face additional problems. With our recommendations, we hope to encourage action towards a healthier academic environment.

Read the full report here .

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