Why are so many graduate students depressed?

PhD and master’s students worldwide report rates of depression and anxiety that are six times higher than those in the general public (T. M. Evans et al. Nature Biotech. 36, 282–284; 2018). The report, based on the responses of 2,279 students in 26 nations, found that more than 40% of respondents had anxiety scores in the moderate to severe range, and that nearly 40% showed signs of moderate to severe depression.

That is from this summary statement.  Here is the original piece.  So what might be going on here?

1. The ordeal of studying and possibly finishing is extreme, and extreme ordeals depress people.  This seems inconsistent with other evidence, however, namely rising (reported) rates of depression in prosperous, comfortable societies.

2. The task of studying and possibly finishing is correlated with a kind of extreme lassitude, and that in turn is correlated with depression.

3. Graduate students become depressed as they realize they have chosen poor life paths.

4. Graduate students become depressed as they realize, a’la Caplan, that it is mostly about signaling.

5. Graduate students are undergoing a transformation of their personalities, and being turned into intellectual elites, but this process is traumatic in several regards, thus leading to frequent depression.  The chance of depression is part of the price of admission to a select club.

6. Our graduate institutions serve women poorly (women in graduate school experience depression at higher rates — 41% vs 35% for the men).

7. It’s all just sample bias, as depressed graduate students have nothing better to do than respond to this survey.

What else?  And how much should we regard these results are symptoms of a deeper malaise?  Or is the problem confined mainly to academic life?


No money
No sex
Profs treat them like slave labor

agreed. but really it's just #1, which leads to #2. #3 is another way of saying #1. and there's a relative aspect to it. grad students peers make significantly more money, for less challenging work. all the phd students i know became happier when they finished or quit and took jobs they didn't need phds for.

That is my experience too. I would guess that Ph.D. students, especially in the Arts, come to realize that what they are doing is fraudulent. That their professors are just pretending. They don't really know anything - as BC says, it is all just signalling.

And the only way to succeed is to buy into the bullsh!t. So they are happier when they leave.

We are being ruled by people who learn to imitate the genuinely intelligent with vapid posturing and intellectual pretensions. No wonder nothing works out properly.

So Much For Subtlety, I'm catching up after a few busy days but felt the need to reply to your comment in another thread somewhere you might read it.

You said "Who wants to watch the Scottish soccer competition?"

The Scottish soccer competition has the highest attendance per capita of any league in Europe, a feat it has achieved most years this century. Perhaps stick to topics you are familiar with.

I bet you my son's travel soccer team has an even higher per capita attendance than that. Sometimes every single parent is at the game!

". That their professors are just pretending. They don't really know anything - as BC says, it is all just signalling."

I disagree. Those students learn a lot. However what they learn isn't particularly useful.

People are happy when they are doing things and getting rewarded for it. They are unhappy when they are spinning their wheels or don't feel any sense of accomplishment or that they aren't getting any rewards. I suspect a lot of Grad Students see other people that are doing things and they feel that they have spent all of their

...life specializing in a very narrow field and they may never get a decent reward for the effort.

Why does happiness have to be so contingent on social approval? I agree that it is perhaps contingent on a sense of accomplishment, but why make that sense of accomplishment depend on how much someone else (or how much some group of people) value one's work?

This is not to say that individuals can be happy without social support, or community engagement, but that individuals ought to learn how to be happy when they don't get their biscuit from the herd.

This has been my experience as well. I was so relieved when I was done with grad school. My supervisor was the main cause of my unhappiness.

I agree. It's not that the work itself was such a grind, it was the lack of leadership and occasional mistreatment by my advisor.
On the plus sign, the lack of leadership meant that I basically controlled the direction of my research. There is some value in aimlessly pursuing whatever happens to strike you as interesting at a given moment, until you are forced, by grim necessity, to turn it into a dissertation.


"when they leave.

We are being ruled by people who learn to imitate the genuinely intelligent with vapid posturing and intellectual pretensions. No wonder nothing works out properly."

Like a cargo cult - setup the props, put on the costumes, perform the rituals, recite the magic words and a miracle will occur.

OTOH, what if they just said "screw it" and followed their own curiosity?

How could that be depressing?

"Our graduate institutions serve women poorly (women in graduate school experience depression at higher rates — 41% vs 35% for the men)"

Now, that is just stupid. Does anyone believe it is the school's fault. It is likely that for genetic and social reasons that women in general experience depression at higher rates than men do. Should the schools try to be their psychiatrists?

Women disproportionately enter the disciplines that incline one to depression? Depression-prone women are likelier to pursue graduate studies than depression-prone men?

Women with advanced degrees are less likely to have boyfriends, since many men dislike marrying up (and many women dislike marrying down).
Thus there may be increased depression among low-earning men and high-earning women.

I don’t think think you even need to go down that road.

Men report mental illness less than women do, which based on suicide rates we know is an artifact of shitty self reporting studies.

Beware the self reporting study.

Women record 2-4x the amount of suicide attempts as men. Men just tend to use more effective methods.

> Men just tend to use more effective methods.

Yeah, men are so much more effective because (competence? aggression? ...are you willing to fill this in a way that relates to the facts?). But back to your point. Twice as effective? 4x? 10x? TEN TIMES?!? Is this even plausible? On average? Can you cite any other metric other than those relating to physical strength where males are ten times as successful as females?
(The actual numbers are that men have to be far more than 10x as successful, or that the 'suicide attempts' number is dubious as to counting who really wants to end their life rather than send a signal.)

The most common methods of suicide by men are (as reported by the docs who treat them or sign the death certificates):

1. Firearms (~50%)

2. Hanging (~25%)

3. Drug OD (~10%)

For women the top three are:

1. Drug OD (~35%)

2. Firearm (~30%)

3. Hanging (~20%)

First, each of these options is most successful in males. Men have more firearms experience and are more likely to accurately inflict a mortal wound; women are more likely to misfire, to hit "non-vital" parts of the brain (e.g shooting out your temple is not terribly likely to be successful in this day and age), and to use smaller less effective weapons (e.g. shotguns, high caliber pistols).

Hanging is similarly more effective in men. Men carry a greater body mass so when they drop they compress their carotids more. This gives them less time to struggle out of it if they have second thoughts (and survivors report that virtually all of them do) and gives less time for some one else to find them and cut them down.

Drugs also favor males, while males have larger livers and can detox more, they are more likely to have access to highly effective drugs for killing themselves (e.g. men are more likely to know where to procure heroine).

You will not also that men use firearms. These complete suicide suicides at 80-95% rates. Hanging is down around 40-60% and drugs are down in the single digits.

Then there is the social aspect. For whatever reason, women are more likely to attempt when others are home, in front of another person, or in semi-public places. Men tend to kill themselves alone without anyone to find them for hours or days. The stereotype, based on statistics, is that women kill themselves in their bedrooms while men drive out to the woods.

This is pretty well known to all the treating docs and has been for some time. Frankly I am not sure where you are going with TEN TIMES figures. Either women are 10 times better at reporting suicide attempts or men are 10 times better at committing suicide.

Whatever is going on I can definitively say that I see vastly more women who show up through the big bay doors who attempted suicide and did not complete than men.

Most people don't make a difference. My guess is realizing that truth combined with graduate students being particularly susceptible to having gone into a field out of "love for it" and a desire to emulate their heroes in the discipline leads to malaise.

Additionally, in a normal work-a-day world you can feel yourself making a difference by finishing a project, helping a co-worker, or otherwise performing well. And, if you're as smart as someone in a graduate program, are likely paid pretty well (whether in salary or interesting work) for that performance.

As a graduate student you are coming to terms with the fact that you will almost certainly not be one of the few people who make a difference in your field. You have few day-to-day tasks to complete that make you feel useful and so the process of reconciling yourself to your own superfluity in an unstructured environment where it is easy to blame yourself for not being smart enough or working hard enough breeds depression.

Or that's my guess at least.

True. It's essentially a realization that due to inadequate patent laws, most of what you discover or invent will be ripped off and profited from by others. One reason that a lot of innovators drop out before graduating, to pursue their discovery / invention (Gates, Zucker*, others: https://visual.ly/community/infographic/technology/famous-scientists-and-inventors-who-dropped-out-school) via the time-tested "first to market often wins future market share" tactic (a sort of 'marketer's de facto patent').

It would be interesting to see if this depression correlates with certain disciplines, my hypothesis is that the applied sciences would be least depressed. When you are working on cool robots, it is pretty engaging, and there will be a plethora of jobs available in industry if academics doesn't work out. Writing a thesis on the sexism of 19C authors that no-one will ever read in the 1 in a thousand hope of landing a tenured role must be pretty soul destroying.

@ChrisA - true enough. This is btw the Marxian thesis of everything can be explained by economics, not a bad assumption, but sometimes wrong.

Agreed. If anything this should be an inducement to women to study more engineering/math. STEM fields are low-risk since even if academia doesn't work out, or you don't like it, you can always get a decent paying job in industry.
While I'm on the subject, imagine the disappointment of people who majored in "environmental sciences" and "geology". I knew a couple of women who studied those things and they ended up working for oil companies. The irony was oppressive. They thought they were going to get jobs as environmental activists or something. But their job was basically to (a) write environmental hazard reports for companies scouting for drilling locations, and (b) analyze the probability of finding oil deposits based on geological markers. Where did they think the jobs in these fields would actually be anyway?

I can't believe someone starts a degree in geology not knowing that the primary employer for graduates is oil and minerals.

Less sleep + Alcohol = reduced REM sleep. It is REM sleep that removes emotional charge from memories. A build up of emotionally charged autobiographical narrative must be causing depression. So it is all those bad habits one forms in graduate years.

No, REM restriction is even a *treatment* for depression.

Not to mention that SSRI's drastically reduce nightly amounts of REM sleep in users, who are legion. On your theory, it would make people even worse.

Anti-depressants is a big game and no researcher takes them on - but consider this:
"Sleep, and specifically REM sleep, was clearly needed in order for us to heal emotional wounds. But was the act of dreaming during REM sleep, and even dreaming of those emotional events themselves, necessary to achieve resolution and keep our minds safe from the clutches of anxiety and reactive depression? This was the question that Dr. Rosalind Cartwright at Rush University in Chicago elegantly dismantled in a collection of work with her clinical patients."
Walker, Matthew. Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams (pp. 210-211). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition. "
And Yes - dreaming in REM sleep is needed to resolve emotional despair and recover from depression.

Could it be that people who are depressed, or at least predisposed to it, choose grad school as a path?

Did anyone survey grad students about depression right before they started their graduate programs?

This was my first guess too. Grad students are more likely to be politically liberal and, correlatedly, more neurotic.

I’m liberal. Perhaps you mean “very left wing”?

I believe he meant to write "pedantic" ;)

This. The kinds of people who choose to become graduate students are the kinds of people who are more easily depressed.

Who knew that MBA students are more easily depressed?

Only when I look at the sad state of my lefty friends...

To some degree, graduate study can be an appealing path to somebody who is bright and curious but not well suited to working in teams. This kind of less social personality type is likely correlated with depression and anxiety. Granted that the amount of teamwork varies by field, but many, especially humanities, are largely solo endeavors.

That hypothesis is worth double checking. But on a personal note, I experienced depression in grad school but had never had that prior to it and I recovered rapidly when I left (even when I was actually poorer for a bit while looking for a job). Personally my case was a bit of 3 and 4 mixed together.

"1. The ordeal of studying and possibly finishing is extreme, and extreme ordeals depress people. This seems inconsistent with other evidence, however, namely rising (reported) rates of depression in prosperous, comfortable societies."

What?? It's not even remotely inconsistent. It's 100% undeniable fact that people get depressed when they go through tough times in their lives.

"6. Our graduate institutions serve women poorly (women in graduate school experience depression at higher rates — 41% vs 35% for the men)."

Your conclusion should be the opposite. In the general population women are twice as likely to be depressed, so maybe our graduate institutions serve men poorly.

RE #6 Exactly right. The figure I saw was 1.7x the rate vs the 1.17x the rate at college.

"Your conclusion should be the opposite. In the general population women are twice as likely to be depressed, so maybe our graduate institutions serve men poorly."


#6 - A quick google search says that women are twice as likely to develop depression as men, so if the female and male depression rates are 41% and 35%, the first guess could be that our graduate institutions serve men too poorly.

In fact, Tyler's gynocentric guess may be symptomatic that graduate institutions serve men poorly.

Just noticed that Anonymous above made exactly the same comment. Apologies.

Yes, but Tyler is in the same position as Zhang Yiming: he has to say these sort of nonsensical things to keep his job.

Does 41% vs 35% even count as a difference? It seems it would be a challenge to find a simple line for dividing graduate students into two roughly equal-sized sub-groups that have a closer match than 41% vs 35%.

that women are twice as likely to develop depression as men,

Or perhaps that women are as likely to be depressed but use the term 'depression' to describe emotional states which men would describe differently.

Reading this, what first occurred to me is that perhaps depressed people are more likely to go to graduate school, and so the relevant comparison is not between rates of depression and anxiety among graduate students and the general population, but between graduate students and their pre-graduate school selves, if one wants to know if graduate school is "helping" or "hurting" students' mental well being. I don't think this is implausible -- us gloomy types who cloistered ourselves in the library reading books on logic for fun pointed ourselves towards graduate school, for better or worse! (Quickly skimming, this is not discussed in the paper.)

That said, the structure of graduate school probably doesn't help, in many cases. At least in STEM fields (I'm a physics professor), I think #3 and #7 on the list are the most reasonable. For #3, this applies both with respect to career paths but also, more immediately, with respect to the the research group and advisor they will be spending years, including some of the best years of their lives, working with. I'm amazed at how few students look into the group dynamics and mentoring style of potential advisors.

I think graduate studies selects for people who (amongst other things) are relatively unsuited/unready for work. This factor becomes more dominant the more “easy-in” grad school becomes.

(In the workplace I observe that people with postgrad studies are often still less suited to work after they finish than those who came straight to work)

In economics only the super hard working super resilient people survive. Hence, it selects people that are more resilient and less likely to become depressed. I.e. the inverse of what you are talking about. A normal person would never make it.

Yeah maybe so, mostly i’ve observed this in science and the humanities. I also imagine it doesn’t happen do much at top universities

I don't know if Joël, one of the smartest commenters here if not the smartest, is reading this thread; if he is, it would be great if he shares his views.

8. Many grad students have poor social networks, and when they fall behind they not only see their friends surpass them, but graduate and depart entirely.

9. If a student's academic interests become disconnected from their supervisor's they end up with no direction or idea how to proceed.

10. Imposter syndrome.

11. Supervisors may be poor managers, and if a student needs additional direction or encouragement no one is in an obvious position to intercede.

12. If the supervisor's standard for a meaningful contribution is lower than the student's then the student's work seems meaningless. If the supervisor's standard is higher then the student's work seems insurmountable.

13. The role of luck: your research area saturates or becomes irrelevant just after you start, the problem you work on may have difficulties that don't reveal without much sunk cost, your work may be rendered irrelevant by a big researcher elsewhere working almost contemperaneously...

14. Hazard of optimism bias: most people only concretely realize how insignificant their own brains are until they actually get into research; until then they are given an excessively optimistic picture by encouraging undergrad teachers who pretend it is not criminal to encourage anyone and everyone into research (always "encouraging" is the safe option).

This is probably the right answer - most people can't actually add any value with the kind of fundamental research that a PhD requires, they are just not smart enough.

That's the academic path. I went into consulting after the PhD. More than half PhDs know they will never be professors, do fundamental research. Anyway, there's enough job to do in industry or business.

Please elaborate on "imposter syndrome."

I once heard a graduate student lament that he felt like a fraud - not having nearly as much knowledge as his education should suggest. Is that the same thing?

Most journeymen are treated very poorly and get depressed. I think you might be looking at graduate school in a vacuum.


Would be interesting to restrict the sample to grad students who worked in private sector before PhD.

A good point. Many people choose to do a PhD, particularly in lower ranked schools, because they're unwilling to step out of their comfort zones (University environment) and are running away from the challenges and anxiety of finding a regular job. When you pick something as hard as a PhD for the wrong reasons, you're more likely to struggle and be depressed.

What I tell my students is that if you're good in school, and never make a decision, eventually you'll end up in the third year of a PhD program. I still write letters for VERY research-motivated students to go to PhD programs, but my standard advice is "fir work a somewhere else a year or two, see if you like it. If you don't we'll talk about graduate programs"

Maybe depressive people tend to go into grad school.

Depression is temporal and a natural reaction to apparent unending/unsurmountable adversity.

All of us will lose a loved one, have a disabling accident or illness, or whatever problem makes us depressed. I hope people around me at the time, acknowledge the temporality of depression and not dismiss it as "depressive people".

I don't dismiss depression, it is a very serious illness that destroys lives.

Just to push back against some suggestions that this shows bias against men...

Follow up with the screener used, "Standardization of the depression screener patient health questionnaire (PHQ-9) in the general population" and you'll see that on the same scale, men's average is 5.9% to women's 5.4%. Thus in fact this really does suggest that grad school serves women poorly. Of course this isn't enough to explain the gap between grad students and the general population, since men's 35% is still very high.
A seemingly unending string of harassment stories from academia correlates too.

I find your comment cryptic; which paper are you referring to, and what is 5.9%/5.4%? (you say "men's average" - average what?)

"rates of depression and anxiety that are six times higher than those in the general public"

Follow the citations in the paper to see what the authors' mean by this, i.e. where they got their baseline numbers. The paper I'm referring to is the paper I gave the name of, in quotes. If it helps, it was published in General Hospital Psychiatry.

I would normally say if you don't know what the numbers refer to, you might avoid conclusions based on them (i.e that the numbers in this post suggest that men are the ones being mistreated)

Thanks, your comment is still cryptic, but hopefully your pointers will let me look things up.

That said, the commenters whom you target were merely questioning the deduction naively made by Tyler above, saying that a rough first look suggests otherwise. I was very clear in saying "the first guess could be that...". Far from suggesting the strong conclusion you are attributing to them.

Very fair!

But the deduction is reasonable - the baseline rates being compared are higher for men, thus if anything provide stronger evidence that grad school sucks more for women. But indeed this is very clearly not yet strong causal evidence

Okay, I got to access that paper and see your point. Once this is factored in, the first guess (without accounting for confounding factors, Simpson's paradox etc.) is indeed, as you say, that grad school might be more depressive on women.

Social status. Graduate students have low social status and their potential payoff in future status is far down the road.

I would imagine that this effect is much less pronounced in mba and law students at respectable institutions.

Grad students have very high social status next to food service workers, for example. But within the social hierarchy in which they work, they frequently are on the losing end of vicious status fights.

If this is due to the graduate education itself and not to a pre-existing condition or disposition, then one would expect the problem to affect PhD students more than master’s students who have a shorter graduate study window. Is this the case?

They're in the wrong graduate programs. My grad school was full of parties, smiles, great classes, and post-graduation employment.

Also, partially 3...as academic-track grad students realize the likelihood of becoming tenured professors is low.

What if you control for income, hours worked, and compare to graduates in first jobs?

Anecdotally, in Switzerland a PhD student can make more than $80k per year. At my university it is rare to see anyone in the lab beyond their regular 8 hour workday. At least on the surface it would appear that anxiety and depressions levels are very low.

Grad school is rarely chosen for financial merits, and even in the case where there eventually is a pay off, it is probably not during grad school. The students are there because of some belief, either that their work means something or that it will eventually pay off. I suspect people with these motivations are likely to create or heavily weight the meaning of all kinds of activities, and if you are looking for meaning in the day to day life of a grad student then there is no shortage of things to be depressed about. This either creates or amplifies your situations 1,3, and 4.

But phd students are generally nothing hired for 100% positions in Switzerland. And the same people can make 100k++ right out of undergrad.

I imagine there is some effect for people being depressed that they could make more money elsewhere, but I doubt this effect is unique to academia.

I want to know how depression varies within academia relative to pay, and how depression compares to people with similar pay outside academia. Even at fractional pay Swiss students make 50 to 100% more than people with similar positions I know in the US and UK. For my purposes Switzerland a stillness a great population to explore.

...Switzerland is still a great population to explore.

On a separate note I am convinced that writing in multiple languages on a phone is functionally equivalent to unlocking a surprise Haiku feature with autocorrect.

This subject bums me out.

No sex? What about all the fawning undergrads?

- Seeing others in their cohort who have chosen careers outside of universities as making more progress in their lives, and making more money.
- Focusing on intellectual activity full time is in many regards an unwholesome way to live. Especially after years of school and undergraduate study. It may be they need a period or interval in life whilst still young of more action and, frankly, adventure. Some enterprise of greater moment, otherwise its no surprise they are sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,

#42: Grad school is where the a well-trod path of schooling ends, and people realize they should have left it a long time ago. Elementary school->middle school->high school -> college -> grad school: one of those things isn't like the others, and it's that last step. Too many people follow that last step for bad reasons.

A comfortable majority of post-baccalaureate students pick up vocational degrees which can be completed in a calendar year or two academic years. Some of the remainder are studying law or peri-medical occupations which can be completed in three years. The discussion here concerns those putting in seven years to complete a dissertation on an academic subject. If I'm not mistaken, the number of enrolled graduate students who are (at any one time) studying academic or artistic subjects is somewhere around 18%, and a great many of them will depart the program after a year or two.

#1. There is no inconsistency there. It's about performance relative to expectations and in comparison to your peers. In rich societies everyone want to be super successful and powerful the burden of failing to reach those highs fall squarely on you, whereas in poorer societies, there are a million impediments to success and you're less likely to be doing much poorer than your peers. The same thing happens in graduate school. You're the creme de la creme. You come in thinking you're gonna be the next Friedman and then reality hits you hard while some of your peers go on to actually become the next Friedman, publish in A journals, graduate quickly and get great jobs in elite departments. The PhD process is extremely hard in of itself but what makes it even harder is the readjustment of your self-image when for the first time in your life you become one of the also-rans and there is no one to blame but yourself.

Sampling bias: Much higher self-imposed standard of excellence, so higher tendency to frustration when things are only good enough.

Studies can be very long, so no short-term successes that reinforce you. High anxiety about if studies are not successful or you're scooped and all work was for nothing. In academia, you don't only need to do good work, but work not done by anyone before.

Literature reading makes you constantly aware of which others are better and more succesful than you. At work offices, instead, you have valued expertise and not much knowledge about what's being done in other offices by people like you.

My favorite theory is Internet addiction. I'm a PhD student. I had depression a few years ago. During therapy, I realized while talking to my therapist that I was spending inordinate amounts of time randomly browsing the web during my workday. When I stopped doing this, my depression cleared up. Further, I notice that more the time I spend on the Internet, more the depressed I tend to become, and the less the time spend on the Internet, the less I tend to be depressed.

Doing good graduate work requires the ability to maintain strong focus for long periods of time, which Internet browsing is not conducive to. I see too many of my fellow graduate students whiling away hours and hours everyday browsing the Internet, and then lamenting that their research is stuck.

Further, this theory has the feature that it explains why widespread graduate student depression is a recent phenomenon. I would predict it coincides with the rise of fast Internet connections and addictive content.

I wonder how many simply suffer burnout, realize they don't like the subject as much as they hoped, but realize they're in so deep now they can't stop. In much work it's possible to put your head down and bulldoze through, but to do so for years on a topic that has grown stale and may have lost meaning must be depressing. I can certainly understand if the dullness of some very deep (perhaps pedantic) dives into a singular topic that few care about might grind the joy out of life.

My experience as graduate student: loneliness.

A) The language for the job was English but it took me a year to learn the local language (French).

B) if the student is around 30 years old, it means something was lef behind: family, friends, a good paying job. It's easy to move to the other side of the globe when you're 20, not as easy 10 years after.

C) too much liberty. In the beginning it was good, then I realized the liberty was because the professor style was working with students 1 year before the end. So, all other students were ignored. Good for science, a bit hard emotionally.

D) social rejection? I went to the bar, met new people, nice chat until I mentioned the PhD thing. By the third bar I changed my story to the bachelor degree and made new bar friends. I don't know why people is hostile to graduate students. Are PhDs social parasites?

But, there are also great things. During the PhD I got married and finished the mortgage of my house.

I think my experience can be mostly explained by the fact that I moved to a new country. I'm a bit surprised Tyler is oblivious to this reality. In the department I worked, only 2 out of 20 were locals.

Well adjusted people get a job right after getting a bachelor's. Master's students are there because they're not normal.

After rereading Tyler's list. I'd put 50% cause on #5: improving hurts.

But depression is temporal. Let's look at substance abuse: PhDs may get into amphetamines for a while. But they are not at the top of cirrhosis, lung cancer or opiate overdoses.

So, depressive people does not exist.

With some projects, I'd imagine that the more you know about a problem (as graduates are likely to, given the length of time they've been studying it), the more daunting any kind of solution seems. Ignorance is bliss.

Exhibit A: Me after finishing my Masters

There is a culture of bullying in most departments. This is very hard to detect (no one would say "I bully my students" in a survey). As it goes unrecognized, the bullying has gotten worse over the course of many years. This culture is rampant beyond the walls of most departments: go to any annual meeting, walk into a random room and observe the presenters, audience, and how they interact. Forms bullying --from most subtle to most direct--are everywhere.

Other factors may be relevant, sure, but I have good reasons to think erosion of collegial respect is mostly to blame. In a constant game of competition, no one genuinely respects the other, and rather puts up a "performance of respect" without meaning it.

E. Tory Higgins' Regulatory Focus Theory of motivation provides an explanation. Depression is the negative emotion linked to promotion focus, while anxiety is the negative emotion related to prevention focus.

"Regulatory focus theory posits two separate and independent self-regulatory orientations: prevention and promotion. A prevention focus emphasizes safety, responsibility, and security needs. Goals are viewed as oughts and there is a strategic concern with approaching non-losses – the absence of negatives – and avoiding losses – the presence of negatives. A promotion focus emphasizes hopes, accomplishments, and advancement needs. Goals are viewed as ideals, and there is a strategic concern with approaching gains – the presence of positives – and avoiding non-gains – the absence of positives. Regulatory focus is a state and can differ both across individuals – chronic regulatory focus – and across situations (momentary regulatory focus). Regulatory Focus Strength Measure measure chronic regulatory focus. Momentary regulatory focus can be primed or induced.
Each regulatory orientation has its own preferred strategy. A vigilant strategy ensures the absence of negatives – non-losses – and ensures against the presence of negatives – losses. A prevention focus and a vigilant strategy both operate in terms of non-losses and losses, and are especially sensitive to the difference between “0” and “-1” – maintenance. An eager strategy ensures the presence of positives – gains – and ensures against the absence of positives – non-gains. A promotion focus and an eager strategy both operate in terms of gains and non-gains, and are especially sensitive to the difference between “0” and “+1” – attainment. Thus, someone who is chronically or situationally prevention-focused generally prefers a vigilant strategy, and someone who is chronically or situationally promotion-focused generally prefers an eager strategy."


It has been a few years since I finished my PhD, but there's a tough transition at the start. You go from being one of the smartest people in your undergraduate class to a graduate-school environment where effectively everyone knows more than you do - usually much more. At the same time you go from an environment where your work is well defined and directed to one where (probably for the first time in your life) your research is largely self-directed.

Everyone I knew felt pretty lost for the first year of graduate education (UK, so a three- or four-year PhD programme) - depression and people dropping out were not uncommon. Around 18 months in, most people started to find their feet, but the initial stages were tough.

Anither symbol of Trump's America.

I really feel like Mr. Corwen missed a category. How would you feel if you spent years grappling with a tough subject, digging into the nuance of some issue, only to learn/realise that all the learning, knowledge and cognitive effort you have put in makes you the equivalent of someone else across the political spectrum who has no specialised knowledge, but whose opinion is considered equally valid as your own.

I don't remember the company or year off the top of my head, but I think it was a PEW survey which had only 11% of scientists either strongly or leaning Republican.

I'd like to see that broken out between the academics and the business scientists. In my experience, the more close you are to the application of science vs the research, the more conservative you are. I get to interact with a lot of chemists and some other disciplines, but they seem to be pretty well on the right.

I'm in IT the split is with developers vs everyone else. Outside of SV the developers are evenly split and the rest are conservative. I'm in the midwest but travel to Minneapolis, NYC and DC a lot (all liberal towns) and it's the same there. The two most conservative guys I met in DC moved there from California.

I think you are on to something, but I really am just speculating. However, it really doesn't seem a reach to me that you might be depressed in any facet of life if your life's work is devalued, or you aren't given your due in terms of recognition of expertise, were said things to be happening.

Loss of control over their lives. Unlike, for example, law students, grad students are dependent on the good graces of their betters, who undoubtedly enjoy their role as makers and breakers of their inferiors. I'd be depressed too if at any moment I might knowingly or unknowingly offend one of my betters and seal my fate.

There may be some comments already addressing this but a piece of it, more specific to biomedical / life sciences, would be the pressures of the PI track and a relatively low # of slots relative to the people vying for them. Work aspects of that track have been addressed above.

Also, credit to people figuring out really hard things. If your willing to do things 99.99% of others cannot in a career with tons of pressure and poor work life balance then the rest of society is indebted as this make a big difference over time even if they aren't discovering penicillin. Also, saying this is a poor life track is unfair unless they were never suited to research in the first place. (my spouse works in a NIH funded lab).

As to the sheer impressiveness of these folks google the Krebs cycle, spend a few days memorizing it and trying to understand the biochemistry, and then ponder that that is a freshmen concept that is built on by orders of magnitude. Biomedical scientists are amazing people.

Well, (1) they go through high school and undergrad being smart and academically successful and being recognized and rewarded for it; (2) they hone in on an interest that becomes a passion; (3) they decide to put their intelligence and passion to work getting an advanced degree, and pursue a lifelong career/service to make the world a better place and win the accolades of their peers, mentors, and heroes....

Then they go to grad school.

Selection bias is probably a big deal, it would be nice to control for mental health pre-grad school. To the extent that grad school is a way to put off real life for awhile it may select for people who are too unmotivated or anxious to commit to a career.

In terms of environment, one of the hardest parts of grad school is the independence and freedom. Feedback tends to be infrequent, actual milestones (i.e. publications) can be spaced out by years, and goals are often abstract or mutable. I would expect similar epidemiology for writers, artists, and any other career with a similar structures (at least for entry level people who haven't figured out that its not for them).

#1 with a twist. Most people who go to graduate school have been great at school their entire life. However, graduate school calls for a different skill set than the absorb and regurgitate model at which they excel. Some get frustrated and depressed by their lack of progress and the difficulty thereof.

My own data-free hypothesis:
1. depression results from steady levels of stress (not necessarily high levels, just steady)
2. stress = there is a threat out there, and I can do nothing about it (neither flight nor fight will work)
3. grad school (especially in arts & sciences) is set up to generate stress: a. the "threat" as it were is "getting the thesis done and passing the orals"
b. stress results because you can't run away from it (d'oh!) but you also cannot really fight it: on any given day you can chip away at the work, but the linkage between any given day's work and defeating the threat is tenuous at best (your hypotheses may fail, your data may be poor, your thesis advisor may decide to run you around the barn again, someone will discover similar work was done years ago).

So every day you wake up with the threat, and each night when you go to sleep you don't have much sense that you did anything to relieve the threat.

Or: you just get depressed from eating university cafeteria food for six years.

Depressed and anxious people are simply more likely to enter grad school, because they have a hard time getting a real job.

Fear of failure, that's what drives it. So many things can go wrong in the five, six, seven, eight years or more of graduate school. It creates, for some, unmanageable levels of anxiety. And thus depression.

Will I be able to pass comps? Will I be able to learn, adequately, this fancy new research method that I need to use for my dissertation? Will the experiments work? Will they produce meaningful results? Will a year or more of data collection produce new findings? Will I be able to publish something before I finish the PhD? Will it land in a prestigious journal? Will I be able to finish this monster of a dissertation that I loathe more and more by the day? Will I be able to get a tenure-track job, or will I be part of the increasing tribe of hopeless, impoverished VAPs? Have I wasted important years in my life on scholarly pursuits that no one considers important? Have I missed out on romantic partners and good job opportunities because I have run down the scholarly rabbit hole? Have I made an unfixable mistake and lowered the quality of my life for years and decades to come?

Of course, there's depression. That's the default state in graduate school. Only the lunatics and the self-deluded avoid the crushing feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.

It wouldn't surprise me at all if there was a big difference in depression across disciplines.

My two cents/my experience. Assistant professor in the social sciences here. I loved graduate school, it was, looking back, the least stressful time in my life. My stipend wasn't large, but it was enough to live on (then: rents have skyrocketed in the last half decade), and there was no expectation of me having nice things (I was a grad student!). But I didn't come from a previous social context where my college friends were i-bankers or doing big law. They all went into academia or tried their hand at creative professions with low success rates. As a result, no comparisons to make me hate myself. Plenty of sex and dating: the city was becoming lousy with techies, but they were rather inept and there were plenty of women my age or a bit older who didn't mind the borderline poverty of a grad student; better conversation than the tech bros, and a far better schedule.

But I think the primary reason I, unlike so many people I was in grad school with, had a wonderful time was that I loved the city and made tons of "civilian" friends. Thus I lucked into a tight social circle of people I neither worked with nor competed against. So few found that, and most of those that didn't really ended up getting sucked into a little fishbowl of constant comparisons, self-doubt, and pettiness.

Depression leads to low self-esteem.

Low self-esteem leads to the idea that you don't deserve to be treated any better than a grad student is treated.

Hence grad school looks like a rational choice.

I think this is more likely than any of 1-7 above.

Another possible explanation can be found in the Self-Determination theory of motivation. If someone in depressed or anxious I would ask a psychologist first, they are the experts.

"SDT is an organismic dialectical approach. It begins with the assumption that people are active organisms, with evolved tendencies toward growing, mastering ambient challenges, and integrating new experiences into a coherent sense of self. These natural developmental tendencies do not, however, operate automatically, but instead require ongoing social nutriments and supports. That is, the social context can either support or thwart the natural tendencies toward active engagement and psychological growth, or it can catalyze lack of integration, defense, and fulfillment of need-substitutes. Thus, it is the dialectic between the active organism and the social context that is the basis for SDT’s predictions about behavior, experience, and development.

Within SDT, the nutriments for healthy development and functioning are specified using the concept of basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. To the extent that the needs are ongoingly satisfied, people will develop and function effectively and experience wellness, but to the extent that they are thwarted, people will more likely evidence ill-being and non-optimal functioning. The darker sides of human behavior and experience, such as certain types of psychopathology, prejudice, and aggression are understood in terms of reactions to basic needs having been thwarted, either developmentally or proximally."


Based on my experience, I vote for a combination of 2, 3, and 4. I wasn't actually much depressed tho, since I knew what I was getting into, was doing it partly to wait for a visa, and partly for fun. But living off of a shitty stipend kinda sucked, especially when the recession hit in 2008, and the shitty stipend got cut by 40%.

6 is worth mentioning, not because graduate advisors are sexual harassers generally, but most professors are male, and your graduate advisor, in the academic system, has an extreme amount of power over their students, so women are bound to have more anxiety about maintaining a good relationship with their advisor and what that might mean.

I shared a house with one woman (kind of an idiot) who was obviously involved in some sort of romantic relationship with her advisor while he was engaged with another woman. When he got married she didn't leave her room for three days, except to pee and get food. That's probably the stupid end of the spectrum. There's probably cases of male advisors pressuring female grad students into relastionships.
Anyone watch 'Masters of Sex'? That show was basically about a professor forcing a junior female student to fuck him in exchange for not destroying her career. (And the show just goes around pretending it was a normal affair.)

My #8 would be a twist on #5:

the cognitive and emotional stresses that graduate students face are perhaps not so much psychological in nature as historical in outcome.

As the inevitable contemplation of one day "joining the elites" stretches out into their respective and indefinite futures, the vision that today's grad students conjure may reflect the disillusionment that comes of settling into programs supposed to launch them into elite domains only to discover to their dismay that the elites have no clue about how to address the approaching inevitabilities of Technogenic Climate Change and don't seem much to care: once they reflect that the elites are the ones who made TCC possible, they may lose interest in joining or serving in "the cognitive class".

The retreat of our effete elites continues apace.

8. Depressed people choose to seek graduate degrees.

9. Closely related to 8, they learn they aren't as smart as they thought they were.

10. Liberals tend to flood into graduate school, and as a study has shown they are more neurotic.

11. The current spate of grad students largely went to grad school out of financial pressures from the Great Recession: no jobs, competitive need to increase credentials, deferral of undergrad loan payments.

Women outside of graduate school have higher rates of depression.

I've got no education in psychology, but my hunch is that psychologists differentiate between depression caused by situations and depression that is independent of your stressors.

Aren't intellectual elites as a whole (not just in Grad school) more depressed these days? How are you feeling, Tyler?

Social isolation, exacerbated by pressure not to show weakness - at least compared to most jobs where you have colleagues, some of whom have an incentive to help you be productive

Grad. school is all about deferred gratification. Plus the anxiety that the gratification may be not merely deferred but denied (due to failure to earn the degree or poor job market for the credential earned).

Anxiety (and a sense that one's efforts may be futile) is not conducive to life satisfaction, and gratification today tends to be far more pleasant than gratification tomorrow.

So, what's surprising in this?

40% selection effect: depressives are more likely to seek a "life change," and a popular life change is going back to school. 60% omitted variable bias: depressives are more conscientious, and this leads them to want to study things deeply, leading to grad school.

"PhD and master’s students worldwide ...": why muddle the two categories together?

The big issue unmentioned by Tyler is surely the winner take all nature of the kinds of outcomes and positions that academia and the milieu in which the students function rewards. Of course, students at mid tier schools might *say* they don't expect top jobs. But the papers they read and even the quality of their best professors is so far above what the average student can hope to produce -- let alone convert into a strong tenure track job -- that students will feel depressed when comparing what they're doing (or often failing to do) with what is published and highly praised.

I've heard that academia is the only profession where your boss puts a pile of finished work products in front of you and says, "Do things like this or you're fired."

This is a fantastic comment. Thank you.

From my experiences with med school on both sides (adjunct) and with treating suicidal grad students:

1. You regularly interact at a huge disparity with everyone around you. You can make your adviser look a tiny bit bad if you try to make waves and it is a crap shoot if that will even matter. He can destroy your career and cost you years of your life. The rules apply to you, not to him.

2. There is no intermediation between the bottom of the ladder and the top. In the military, the people making demands of you are themselves subject to orders. This keeps them grounded in how things are perceived from the other side of the table. Likewise, in business middle management cannot be too terrible unless senior management is also bad. In academia, how professors interact with grad students is only policed for flagrant abuses, if that. Such oversight as exists for professors cares far more about grants, research, and institutional paperwork than ever ensuring students are well served.

3. You are trapped there. Got a crappy boss? Well you can quit and find other employment or at least tell yourself that. In the federal civil service? You can apply for a horizontal transfer. In academia? Good luck. Applying to a second grad program is basically not done, is mounds of paperwork, and runs real risks of tanking your career. Likewise, with few exceptions, applying to another grad program means uprooting your life. It is not like you can stay in the same housing, or often even the same city or state. Grad programs lock you in for the duration in way that few other things in life can manage. Worse, you often have previous debt and/or are accruing more debt. Cutting free of a bad situation is much more akin to leaving a bad spouse than a bad boss.

4. Your life is largely determined by how people feel about you. There is always a perfectly reasonable additional experiment to run or statistical test to run. Likewise, it is always an option to muck around with authorship, journal targeting, and grades that can easily cover for hard or soft animosity. Worse, professors often have chips on their shoulders as well. Their peers outside of academia make more money, they are run ragged by publish or perish, and they believe that hazing is good for students. Grad students at some level know that their fate is decided by people liking them; grad students are bad navigating this sort of turf on average as they have not spent a lot of time cultivating those skills.

5. The cheese keeps slipping away. Post-docs used to be rare, now for the sciences they are almost essential to get a decent position. Medical residencies continue to lengthen even as research shows that learning in the extra years is minimal and fellowships are basically required for lots of good positions. Regardless of what your adviser is like, grad students can see a bit of a pattern where things keep change to grind them down. What is the last piece of news that ever said "Life gets easier for grad students"?

6. Major issues beyond your control can destroy your life. Your adviser loses a research grant, the state cuts funding to your university, an insufficient number of individuals retire the year you hit the job market ... you are limited in how much you can affect your life. Even if things work out well, you often have limited control of where you will go after grad school.

7. Most people in your life are leaving it. You are not terribly likely to stay at your institution or even your home city. This means you often have to expect that all your friends will be gone. Worse, timing is such that you expect to lose people for the duration as they graduate, drop out, or take leave. This reduces your incentive to invest in friendships that help with sanity. Dating is particularly fraught as either you have to restrict your post-graduation options (e.g. only one of us gets a faculty position) or you have to know the relationship is likely not going to last.

8. Everything measure is relative. You are regularly assessed with examinations, feedback, publication strength, and the like. Doing well is never enough outside of a few elite schools, you will be judged against your peers for everything. The pond has shrunk much faster than the fish population.

When I see grad students with serious mental health issues these sorts of dynamics are the big driving force. You feel like you have no control over your life and that is largely correct unless you are willing to quit.

This is a great summary. Add to that that women are especially vulnerable to abuses caused by 1, 2, and 4 and it isn't surprising that women are more likely to be depressed than men in grad school.

This nails it. The big thing is that the main part of a grad student's compensation (the degree) is deferred until the end, which provides a strong incentive to stay in a bad situation rather than walking away.

There may be many reasons but #2 is most relevant. Being intellectually battered for hours a day, month after month, year after year certainly takes a physical and emotional toll. Imagine being made to feel like an idiot multiple times a day for years on end, wondering if you'll ever "get it" or live up to your own standards or those of your peers. Your needs for esteem and self-actualization are completely unachievable while even more basic needs, such as sleep, health, and family are neglected.

I went through law school and it was intellectually exhausting. I had a similar experience later when I took an intensive six-month language course. I watched many of my adult classmates turn into blubbering lumps. These were incredibly bright people, many of whom had experienced significant success in other areas. But when faced with being wrong over and over and over again, some of them just broke down.

Lot's of work involving politics + Lot's of work, with uncertain, indeterminate results + no money == Superdepression

Grad school is when I realized that educational institutions are kind-of evil. Or least far more interested in their own welfare than yours, despite all their rhetoric and 401(c)(3) status.

In fairness, I was a pretty naive kid.

"...interested in their own welfare..."

This was my thought when I was in grad school. I remember circling desperately trying to find parking in a cavernous parking garage while passing through completely empty (after 4 pm) employee parking on the coveted bottom two levels only to engage in a race to a spot on the top level. If I lost the race I had to park at least, but maybe further, 2 city blocks to the campus. I had to pay $200 for the privilege to park on only 2 days per week, M-W or T-Th (no classes on Fri). The graduate math classes usually had less than a dozen students, sometimes less than a half dozen. The professor and students were all bored. There were usually no questions. The lectures came right out of the text - if you could read it and work the problems you might as well skip class. I forgot to mention the one hour commute to this urban campus.

I thought to myself, "why not do this online?" It was 2006.

I eventually realized that this public university was really just a pension fund that delivered overpriced and uninspiring courses to justify it's ravenous appetite for taxpayer money.

I love edX and Coursera - I can take all the math courses I want for free. No signalling, no credentialing, just curiosity driven learning for it's own sake.

A day of reckoning is coming for the lower and mid-tier colleges. The elite schools will thrive, because Ferrari s don't go on sale.

The math grad school had almost as many employees (what DO they do?) as students.

Maybe they are just training to become "Excellent Sheep"?

Grad students are frequently on the receiving end of humiliating social dominance type jabs that trigger the herd animal depression instinct.

A food service worker or physical laborer has much lower status in the grand scope of society than graduate students, but they aren't working in this cut throat status competition with lots of social jabs.

to add: Depression is a natural instinct for herd animals who are losing a social dominance competition. Depression is designed to show the more dominant animals that the lower status animal isn't a threat and shouldn't be killed or exiled.

Grad students are often losing these vicious status competitions and depression is their submission survival response.

Depressed human males tend to murder those higher status animals.

That's an interesting hypothesis, but that's all it is.

My (non-scientific) observations on the difference between science postgrads that became depressed and those who didn't... some students were more focused on the process, 'the clock-punchers' were usually happier and usually made faster progress. People, like myself, who were focused on the end goal of producing great science (early on) or just handing in and getting it over with(later on) tended to be more miserable.
For me it was the largest single task I had attempted and quite honestly I didn't know how to manage myself. I think this is true for a lot of grad students. The 'clock-punchers' were better at breaking their project down into more manageable steps. The rest of us were like rats in a Morris Water maze for the first time.
The second observation was that as it became apparent to the student they weren't making progress a lot of them started dropping other commitments so they could 'focus' on their work. Which seemed sensible... but those who had family, sport, religious or other work commitments didn't seem to suffer as much. There seemed to be an inverse correlation between the number of commitments and how miserable a person became.
Finally a variation on #3 and specific to science postgrads. A common refrain I heard and much later adopted (turns out I'm a bit slow) was "I like science, but I guess I don;t like being a scientist". A little like seeing the inside of a sausage factory: reading about science, learning science and even doing experiments which follow well established protocols is very different from the messiness and frustration of research. Another saying common to the various departments I've worked in was "If it was easy, someone would have already done it." Some people adapted to this challenge easily, others not so much.
Others have touched on a lot of reasons that ring true to me, but I find it interesting how in the same situation some of us suffered while others thrived.

Add to your thinking on this the drop-out rate for graduate students, which last I looked (around the time I myself dropped out of grad school) was 60%+. I was at that point, if not clinically depressed, at least exhibiting most of the symptoms. ABD is a really tough place - you lose the semester by semester progress of finishing courses, in exchange you have an enormous project that might be poorly thought through, plus enormous uncertainty as to whether you have good options once that enormous project is finished... so mostly #3.
After dropping out, moving across country, and starting work in an unrelated field, I may not be perfectly mentally fit, but I am not the basket case I was in grad school - my only regret is not dropping out sooner, say after the *first* time I realized my dissertation was going in a circle.

My wife (a psychologist) and I (health services researcher) discussed this a lot as she was going through her doctoral program (she had already earned her MSW several years before). Our hypothesis was that unsatisfied people (who may share characteristics with those with depression) and people with something to prove to themselves or others (that is, anxious) are the kinds of people who apply for graduate school. Anxiety in particular leads one to be so uncertain of themselves they take more notes, read more of the assigned readings, and re-read both. They are more prone to not stepping too far outside of expectations. That is, they are anxious to please others for their approval. Thus anxious people, in particular, are more likely to succeed in graduate school as well. And, since they are more likely to succeed generally, that means that their concentration in the population grows larger in subsequent years (as the non-anxious, non-depressed) wash out. So selection bias on the way in that is exacerbated through the course of the program. This also leads to a corollary that doctoral degrees will have higher concentrations of both over the (shorter) terminal masters programs.

Totally speculative, obviously.

Grad students who are depressed take longer to complete their degrees. They are thus over-represented in the statistics.

As a PHD student in economics who has actually suffered from anxiety and depression related to the PHD I think that the main reason for this is the sensation of being "floating around" without a clear outcome in sight while the faculty treats you like an idiot (professors tend to think that they should be the harshest , systematically disrespecting your work. I essentially have to grind through the last 4 years of the PHD without any positive feedback and great uncertainty if I ever will be able to publish my research in decent venues. I often have the impression that because research quality is subjective (which specially in the social sciences) it will obvious bias the status research towards the incumbent researchers with the best personal connections. I see myself as essentially part of the disposable infantry in the battle of ideas: trying to assault the heavily fortified ivory tower against almost impossible odds while the vast majority of my peers have already become casualties (i.e. dropped out). For example, one of the best researchers among PHD candidates in my program is an Iranian who got it hard right now due to the combination of harshness in research environment and Trump's terrorism against Iranians living in the US.

I pondered going to grad school to pursue a PhD in history. Since I was a little older than the typical grad (about 25) it occurred to me to check the employment and compensation for the path. I was aghast to learn the latest opening in the history department had something like 150 well qualified applicants from all over the country applying for a part time position that paid about as well as a Burger King manager.

I went into accounting and now just pursue history for fun. Am I happier? Who can say but it's likely. I'd side with #3 as the most correct choice.

Depressed people are more conscious and more likely to get the work done that gets them into graduate school.

Ignorance is bliss.

Maybe I'm just speculatin', but maybe grad students are cry babies.

Many PhD students initially intend on becoming academics when they finish (after Post Docs, fellowships etc.).

For most PhDs this obviously is not going to happen so there will be a lot of life replanning and that can be difficult, especially if some aspect of your identity or status or self worth is dependent on academic success (I suspect that's the case for many PhDs).

On top of that, there is a real risk that a PhD might spend a lot of time in grad school and leave with nothing. Combine that fact with the self doubt that most PhDs experience and you just might find yourself frequently reassessing who you are.

This, of course, all sounds childish and silly but status and identity are things most of us seek out, even if we wish we didn't care about them. A typical PhD will find these aspects of themselves constantly challenged and I suspect that could be a big factor.

The ratio of working professionals to annual issues of professional doctorates (for such things as law, veterinary medicine, optometry &c) tends to cluster around a median of 22.5. The ratio of working faculty members in academic disciplines and the arts to newly minted PhD's is about 17 to 1. Professors are engaged a mean of 70% time and about 1/2 are f/t, so the ratio of f/t positions to new PhD's is 8.8 to one. However, the number of positions in government and industry for natural scientists (around 330,000) dwarfs the number of academic positions. In economics, more are working outside of academe than in it.

Maybe some research university should have some grad students research this question?

PhD students are self-selected to be perfectionists. They want to improve the world because they take a negative view of the world. Negative views are depressive.

6: Women going to grad school are delaying marriage and childbirth as their fertility is dropping. Of course they're getting depressed.

The daughter of a friend just defended her PhD thesis, in the humanities. It has taken her many years. She's in her late 30s, unmarried. A few years ago, she had a position that was likely to be tenure-track after she finished her thesis, but the pressure of being a full time academic while finishing was too much, and the college may have been upset that she was slow finishing. Her parents are not rich (mother still in the work force at 70). so it's likely she has lots of student loan debt.

Nothing to be depressed about here. Not at all.

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