Mental Health in Academia: How Can We Do Better?

Academics are facing a mental health crisis. A recent Nature Biotechnology study suggests that graduate students are six times more likely to experience anxiety or depression than the general public (Evans et al. 2018). Student identity (ex. race or gender) and mentorship quality were found affect mental health. Given that a healthy student population is integral to scientific institutions, mental health outcomes in graduate school may follow a student throughout their academic career, and that poor mental health is generally pervasive in academia, identifying gaps in mental health resources at all career stages is crucial. This workshop will discuss the complexities of mental health in academia and identify possible solutions that institutions like the Western Society of Naturalists can implement.


Dr. Laura Jurgens Texas A&M University Galveston 

Dr. Laura Jurgens is an Assistant Professor in the Marine Biology Department at Texas A&M University Galveston (TAMUG) and a core faculty member in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Interdisciplinary Doctoral Degree Program at Texas A&M (College Station). Her research investigates processes supporting ecological stability from population to ecosystem levels, and from local site to latitudinal scales. She works largely in Pacific and Gulf ecosystems, emphasizing experimental field ecology and bio-physical interactions. Prior to her science career, she worked as a community organizer in social justice and environmental policy, and trained in multicultural conflict resolution and addressing racism and sexism in the workplace. As an undergraduate transfer student, she studied Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California Santa Cruz and worked for the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO). She completed a Ph.D. in Ecology at the University of California Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory (2015), investigating positive physical effects of habitat-forming species. Dr. Jurgens then spent three years as a postdoc at Temple University, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute studying latitudinal variation in species invasions. In addition to research and mentoring in her current faculty role, she is committed to helping students learn to overcome perfectionism and imposter syndrome in academia.

Angelina Zuelow California State University, Fullerton 

Angelina Zuelow is a second-year masters student and teaching associate at CSU Fullerton. She is the president of the SACNAS club, which focuses on increasing diversity in science. As a teacher and president of a club that is geared towards undergraduates, Angelina has dealt with mental health issues in academia. For her club specifically, Angelina and her colleagues have developed worksheets and conversation topics that they go over during monthly member meetings. SACNAS creates safe spaces for members to talk about anything they need to and try to answer their questions as best we can, and Angelina has created space for her students to share their current problems and issues. Many of her students have used office hours to discuss how their mental health might be affecting their schoolwork, and Angelina collaborates with them to create solutions. She has also dealt with mental health issues, such as imposter syndrome, and believes she has a lot to share that can positively affect other people.

Sadie Small U.C. Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory

Sadie Small is a laboratory manager at UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory, where she works with Dr. Steven Morgan on fisheries, conservation, and coastal oceanography. Her research broadly encompasses the effects of environmental factors on early life history of marine organisms, ranging from seaweeds to invertebrates and fishes, through a lens of restoration, conservation, and mariculture. Her career in marine ecology began at UC San Diego, where she received her BS in Ecology and joined Dr. Paul Dayton’s group at Scripps Institution of Oceanography as a technician investigating anthropogenic effects on intertidal fauna and flora. Her passion for kelp forest ecology led her to pursue her MS at Diego State University, working with Dr. Matthew Edwards on seaweed ecophysiology from southern California to the Aleutian Archipelago of Alaska.  While in graduate school, she also gained valuable experience outside of academia—first via a US Navy fellowship culturing abalone with Dr. David Lapota at SPAWAR-SSC Pacific, then through a job as an oyster hatchery technician at Carlsbad Aquafarms. Despite these accomplishments, Sadie’s graduate school tenure was rocky due to problems both personal and systemic. This has led her to advocate for transparency and visibility around the ubiquitous issue of mental health in academia.

Niyatee Sukumaran, Ph.D. U.C. San Diego

Hello, I am Niyatee (knee-uh-tea) Sukumaran, and am a counseling psychologist my profession. I work as a Staff Psychologist at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), Counseling and Psychological services (CAPS). I am originally from Mumbai, India, have resided in different nations, and arrived to the United States as an international student for graduate school. These experiences have influenced my appreciation and respect for cultural diversity such that I was able to explore more about my multicultural identities, and learn what it means to live in a multicultural world! As a result, I am excited to empower clients via therapy, outreach and workshops to increase their self-understanding and improve their mental health and well-being. In therapy, I use a non-judgmental, empathic and compassionate stance in learning more about you and discuss what matters to you! My therapeutic framework is integrative including a strengths-based approach that takes into consideration a student’s individuality, cultural context and systemic issues. I integrate interventions from a variety of theoretical orientations, and actively engage in outreach/ consultations to work towards reducing stigma and increasing help-seeking among underrepresented groups (e.g., racial/ethnic minorities). At UCSD CAPS, I also serve as a liaison to South Asian and Asian American and International Students Muslim Student Community. Some of the topics addressed in therapy include adjustment & life transitions, acculturation, trauma and interpersonal difficulties; anxiety (General & Social), depression, impostor Syndrome, and Self-Compassion.