By Alfreda S. James, in the Inside Higher Ed Carpe Careers series.
Too much anxiety has passed throughout colleges and universities for us to retreat to old norms of surrounding graduate students in a cocoon of field silos and platitudes (but no plots) related to their career education. As we prepare to return to more in-person interaction in the coming months, let us acknowledge the emotional costs paid by our trainees and students who represent our academic and, ultimately, economic future. A successful future, which also means an emotionally healthy one, includes resilience, confidence and social connections — the very elements often missing right now in our institutions.
For example, graduate students who are physically located in Europe and Asia attend my virtual career education and professional development events. My New York-centric and Eastern clock states that the time is 2 p.m. But for the Ph.D. student residing in Berlin, the hour is 7 p.m. And for her counterpart in Mumbai, the time is 11 p.m.
Can you imagine being the sleep-deprived outlier in your own home? The family households operate on local time, while the students work in time zones related to educational and career goals made before the global disconnection of in-person teaching and research.
Graduate students still on our campuses face another type of challenge. Health and safety protocols for COVID — social distance, remote work and daily attentiveness to interpersonal connections — have generated fear and, in more than a few instances, a mental health crisis.
Not every graduate student needs a therapist, and some individuals have creatively thrived during the pandemic. But as I listen to the students participating in my virtual graduate career planning class and in large-scale events with graduate students from both master’s-level and Ph.D. programs, these words most often crop up: stress, uncertainty, derailed, lost. . . .