The Job Market and Mental Health: A Conversation on Career Diversity and Graduate Education

AHA Session 127
Saturday, January 4, 2020: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Gramercy West (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
David M. Perry, University of Minnesota Twin Cities
Shuko Tamao, State University of New York, University at Buffalo
Melissa K. Bokovoy, University of New Mexico
Brian Campbell, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Alejandra Garza, University of Texas at Austin

Session Abstract

Mental health and career diversity have received considerable attention at the AHA over the past two years. As recent studies and articles have shown, graduate students experience anxiety and depression at higher rates than the general population. An uncertain labor market exacerbates stress on all graduate students, especially those in certain demographic groups and/or those with mental illness. At the same time, conversations about obtaining skills and exploring career pathways within and outside of academia can put added pressure on students, who exhaust themselves in their search for meaningful careers. This roundtable interrogates the relationship between graduate student mental health and the academic job market, asking how embracing a diverse career mindset could improve the mental health of graduate students. It will explore questions of mental health and career diversity from the perspective of three AHA Career Diversity Fellows along with faculty members and student advisors to discuss best practice solutions for departments in creating more inclusive and supportive graduate programs. This roundtable cannot speak to all experiences and is not meant to address all mental health issues faced by graduate students. Rather, it is mean to explore how one aspect of shared graduate student experience—stress about a future career—has an impact on graduate student mental health and how students and departments might alleviate that stress.

The panel will consider how concerns related to the job market are not homogenous but unique and circumstantial depending on students’ backgrounds and experiences. How do the concerns of historically marginalized groups of students factor into these conversations? For example, we know that teaching assessment is biased against women and racial minorities, narrowing their career prospects as teachers and educators. Many international students might give up obtaining a job in the United States due to anxieties stemming from the cultural gap and language barriers as well as tenuous visa situations and growing xenophobia. Additionally, how does class position and the accumulation of student debt affect PhD candidates’ well-being when they cannot afford to accept adjunct or temporary teaching and research positions? For students with prior mental health concerns, asking them to take on internships, unpaid labor, and more work in general, can produce added stress and anxiety.

Nevertheless, adopting a more flexible mindset about career outcomes can empower graduate students to approach their careers options with an open mind and help reduce stress and anxiety throughout graduate school. If departments can connect graduate students to the right resources that will help them navigate multiple career pathways and encourage them to seek out mental health services, they can help ease the uncertainty of the academic labor market—removing stigmas surrounding both mental health and career diversity in the process.

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