Four out of ten PhD students consider quitting

Intense work stress and mental issues

Four out of ten PhD students consider quitting

PhD students suffer from work stress and run the risk of mental problems and burnout. Nearly 40 percent of them consider quitting before their contract is up. It’s not just the Groningen scholarship PhDs who feel this way.

2 September om 11:03 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 7 September 2020
om 13:33 uur.
September 2 at 11:03 AM.
Last modified on September 7, 2020
at 13:33 PM.


Christien Boomsma

Door Christien Boomsma

2 September om 11:03 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 7 September 2020
om 13:33 uur.
Christien Boomsma

By Christien Boomsma

September 2 at 11:03 AM.
Last modified on September 7, 2020
at 13:33 PM.
Christien Boomsma

Christien Boomsma

Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur
Volledig bio
Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur
Full bio

It’s no surprise that PhD students are having a tough time. But the results of a recent poll held by the PhD Network Netherlands (PNN) are still shocking. The PNN surveyed more than 1,600 PhD students at Dutch universities. 

47 percent run an increased risk of mental problems. International PhD students run an even greater risk, at 55 percent. Work stress is another issue, with 60 percent of PhDs saying it’s too high. They are also suffering from a constant risk of burnout: 39 percent are showing serious symptoms. 

On top of that, 41.6 percent of PhD say they’ve considered quitting. 6 percent even consider this regularly. PhD have doubts about academics in general as well as the circumstances of their work. Many also have issues with their supervisors. 

Corona

PNN president Lucille Mattijssen says the corona crisis has had an influence on how PhD students feel. The crisis started ten days after they started circulating their survey. ‘We asked the PhDs to not let corona influence their answers’, says Mattijssen. ‘But not all of them managed it.’

Nevertheless, the results are valid, she says. ‘This isn’t the first study to show that many PhDs are suffering from mental health issues and work stress. But this is the first one that shows the severity of the problem on a national level.’ 

Sobering

She says the report is ‘sobering’. The work stress is consistently high for all institutes and across all types of PhDs. ‘There are no discernible differences between men and women or between fields’, she says. There’s also no difference in the experiences of scholarship PhDs and employee PhDs. The only differences are between internationals and Dutch PhDs.

Mattijssen does not see this as a reason to retract her criticism of the scholarship PhD scheme. ‘We maintain that doing a PhD is a job and that people should have an employment contract’, she says. 

‘It’s now up to the universities, medical centres, and research institutes to improve their work environment. Otherwise, they’ll run the risk of PhD students leaving the academic world en masse.’

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