Episode 32 – How to look after your mental health with Psychiatrist Professor Sandra Radovini

For our final episode in Season Four, we wanted to talk about another major barrier many of us experience to being able to do the work we care about: good mental health. So we asked our colleague Professor Sandra Radovini if she would have a chat with us. Sandra is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Director of Mindful, the Victorian state-wide Child & Adolescent Mental Health teaching and training unit for professionals working with children, young people and their families. Mindful is part of the Department of Psychiatry at The University of Melbourne. Sandra has held a number of key leadership positions in Mental Health: she was the inaugural Chief Child Psychiatrist in the Office of the Chief Psychiatrist with the Victorian Department of Health from 2009 to 2011 and she was the inaugural Clinical Director of Headspace from 2012 to 2016.

You can learn more about Sandra’s work here:


Jen (00:00:20)
Hello and welcome to Let’s Talk SciComm, a podcast by the University of Melbourne Science Communication Teaching Team. I’m Associate Professor Jen Martin and my wonderful co-host is Dr Michael Wheeler and we believe that science isn’t finished until it’s communicated.

Jen (00:01:04)
Hello everybody, and a very, very warm welcome to another episode of Let’s Talk SciComm. I’m Jen and as ever, I’m thrilled to be joined by my friend and colleague Michael. Hello, Michael.

Michael (00:01:17)
Hey Jen, it’s a pleasure to be here, as always.

Jen (00:01:20)
Yeah well today I am really thrilled to introduce you and our listeners to our very special guest today. We are joined by Professor Sandra Radovini and Sandra is a consultant psychiatrist and the director of Mindful, which you may have heard of. It’s the Victorian Statewide Child and Adolescent Mental Health Training and Teaching Unit. And it’s part of the Department of Psychiatry here with us at the University of Melbourne in Australia. So welcome, Sandra.

Sandra (00:01:57)
Hi Jen, nice to be with you. Hi, Michael.

Jen (00:02:01)
So Sandra, I have to begin by telling our listeners how you and I know each other, ’cause I think it actually forms kind of an important part of the story really of why we want to chat with you today.
So back in 2019, Sandra and I were very fortunate to both be part of the faculty for Homeward Bound, which some of our listeners may have heard of. It’s a global leadership program for women in STEM and at least pre-COVID, part of Homeward bound was after a long online teaching programme to then go and spend three weeks in Antarctica together on a ship, exploring in a very immersive and isolated environment what it means to be a leader in STEM who wants to make change in the world.
And Sandra, you and I just both feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to be there. And for me, watching you do your role. So I was there as part of the visibility faculty teaching communication and and visibility and how that plays an important part in leadership.
But you were there as our onboard mental health clinician. And really you were there to look after the, the wellbeing of this incredible group of 100 women from all over the world. And it just strikes me as what an incredible responsibility as well as opportunity for you to, to fill that role. Tell us about what it felt like to be there.

Sandra (00:03:18)
Yeah, thanks Jen. I, I’m, I’m being transported back to Antarctica as you speak. And of course as a mental health clinician, I thought Hmm. How’s this gonna go? I haven’t done this… I haven’t done this before, supporting the wellbeing of this entire group. How will that work out?
So it was a little bit of let’s see, despite having talked to my colleague about this, really it was one of those times where you jump into something and you hope you’ve got what it takes to make it work.

Jen (00:03:53)
Well, I can say you absolutely had what it took, and what an integral part of that experience you were for everybody. But for me, watching you and speaking with you and really reflecting on my journey, I had this absolute revelation that how can any of us do good science or do good STEM if we don’t have a really solid sense of self and really good mental health and a, and a sense of wellbeing.
And so I remember speaking to you in Antarctica with this incredible vista around us and saying, “Sandra, do you, do you think you could come and speak with my students because I teach these incredible cohorts of research active students who struggle a lot with the many challenges involved with being a researcher. And it really strikes me that if they could hear your words of wisdom, it might really help them to, to do better in that role”. And you very generously said, “Yes, Jen, I could do that.”
And then of course that’s the end of 2019. And then oh my gosh, we were all bowled over by the fact that a global pandemic arrived. So when you first came to speak with our students, in fact the conversation was very much around Oh my gosh. How do I continue to care about my research when I’m just so anxious and frightened and worried and unsettled by this pandemic? And, and of course you know lockdowns and all of the rest.
And and I sort of feel like you know, research is hard and working in many different roles in STEM is hard because it’s such a competitive environment and we’re working in this system of metrics that often makes us feel very inadequate and a system where long-term job security can be really hard to come by.
And then you add to that uncertainty, everything that’s happened to us through Covid. And every season of the podcast, Michael and I have an episode around barriers to effective science communication, and it strikes me that mental health challenges are this fundamental barrier to being able to be our best selves in any situation, personally but also professionally.
So we’re just so grateful to you for making time to come and chat to us so, so that our listeners get to hear from an expert rather than Michael and I just chatting about our personal experiences and sharing our very unprofessional advice.

Sandra (00:06:00)
Yeah, you know, wellbeing is something we kind of take for granted until something happens, you know? And then we’re like, Oh, oh, what? What is this? What’s going on?
So being able to have a little bit of a think about your wellbeing, particularly in this case we’re talking about mental health wellbeing is super important, to be able to both think about what are the things that help you flourish and maintain that wellbeing, and how do you spot when things are going awry, I think are the the key things here.

Jen (00:06:40)
Yeah, absolutely Sandra. And there’s so much that we want to speak with you about, about the sort of challenges that our listeners might be experiencing.
But just before we go there, I would really like to start with you and your career journey.
Can you just tell us a little bit about the pathway that brought you to psychiatry and the work that you do now?

Sandra (00:06:59)
Sure Jen. I’ve had a very ambling kind of career that’s taken me in a lot of directions. I started off as an adult psychiatrist. And then whilst I was overseas, I realised that child and adolescent psychiatry was actually super interesting, working with children and young people, and that led me to eventually take up an academic opportunity at Melbourne Uni to be the director of Mindful and the director of Training.
As well as having been a clinician for a very long time. And from there, having also worked with in government in the Department of Health and being the what was then called Chief Child Psychiatrist and heading up Headspace. Some of you will know or have heard of headspace, you know, as the clinical director.
So I’ve gone in all kinds of directions and I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of opportunities present themselves and decide to give things a go because some of them have been really almost a you know, a 180 turn around from what is me as a clinician.

Michael (00:08:09)
Yeah, that’s, it is, it’s fantastic. And Sandra, by far our most popular episode of this podcast is actually being about the experience of feeling like an impostor, otherwise known as the impostor syndrome.
You know, that feeling that someone might come up and tap you on the shoulder and say, “Excuse me, don’t think you belong here. You really don’t know what you’re doing”.
I think and especially you know, working in science, comparing ourselves to other people. It’s very common I think to feel like you’re not smart enough and you know, it can be really debilitating. It really undermine confidence.
We’d love to hear your expert take on impostor syndrome Sandra. You know, what impact can it have and do you have any tips on how to tackle it?

Sandra (00:08:53)
Sure. First of all it’s common. And I think it’s about these times that stretch us beyond our comfort zone. And that where we’re really trying to do something we haven’t done before.
And so there should be a measure of if you like anxiety or a little bit of discomfort. Because by virtue of it, that’s what we’re doing. We’re doing something new. And I think it’s important to recognise that, to first of all to go Aha, yep, I’ve got this.
Before I knew the idea of impostor syndrome, I used to call it first day at the new school syndrome. You know, here I am again, a new job, a new activity, a new environment. How is this gonna go? And will I be good enough? And will other people think I’m OK at this?
And you’ve got to recognise it and then I guess take a bit of a a stocktake and go, Well hold on a minute. I’m here, I’ve got here for whatever skills, experience, whatever achievements that I already am building on.
So I think it’s normal. I don’t think people should get too worried about it and if they checked in, if you check in with your colleagues you realise, Oh yeah, other people feel this way as well. And as you get into something and as you involve yourself in an activity, you begin to realise, Oh no, I’ve got this. I can do this.

Jen (00:10:36)
I think the very fact that our episode, our podcast episode about the impostor syndrome has been listened to so many more times than any other episode shows just how common it is and that we all experience [it].
And I think one of the common things that we hear is people just saying, “Oh but you know, I don’t have any evidence that I’m really good at this.” As you said before, it’s just because it’s all been down to luck.
And I think we have to really challenge that thinking when we’re inclined to say, “Oh, I was just lucky.” I don’t let anyone around me say, “Oh, I was just lucky” ’cause it’s so, so rarely luck that plays a large role. It’s almost always hard work and perseverance and dedication and passion and all these other things that we can take credit for.

Sandra (00:11:14)
Sure. And of course, if you asked your best friend to comment, they wouldn’t say “Oh, it was just luck that got you there.” They’d be going “No, you know. I know you. I know what it’s taken to get you to XYZ.”
Exactly Jen. Perseverance, hard work, the studies that you’ve done, the hours and hours that you’ve put into something. That’s why you’re there, wherever there is.

Michael (00:11:40)
Yeah and it’s you know, scientists are so good at finding evidence. But when it comes to finding evidence for their own success, that can be a bit of a challenge sometimes.

Sandra (00:11:48)
Yeah and I think, Michael, this leads to something that is related, which is we compare ourselves. Then of course, if you come from a science background, you’ve had years and years and years and years of this competition and being ranked.
And so there is inherent in our careers this notion of you’re potentially never good enough or you’re never perfect and of course, you never are perfect ’cause there’s no such thing. But it, it’s that old saying, don’t let the perfect get in the way of the absolutely fabulously good.

Jen (00:12:21)
Or just don’t let perfectionism, or don’t let perfectionism get in the way of having something completed right?

Sandra (00:12:29)
Yeah. Oh, oh, that’s another one. The old procrastination, Jen.

Jen (00:12:34)
Well, that’s what I want to ask you about next Sandra, because you probably won’t be surprised to hear that our second most popular episode to date is the one in which we talked about procrastination.
And to me that’s often tied in quite closely with impostor syndrome. ’cause I think we get to the point of you know, If I, if I never get around to writing it. Then I can never be judged for having not written it very well.
You know, there’s this huge fear of failure. But I’m interested in your thoughts more generally about — we know everyone procrastinates, we know that it’s incredibly common. Particularly if you’ve got a thesis to write, you may well be listening to this episode as a way of procrastinating about not writing your thesis.
You know, we all do it. But what are your thoughts as a professional on procrastination and ways to tackle it and just how to understand it in the whole concept of I really want to do this thing, but I just don’t really want to do it right now, ’cause it feels hard.

Sandra (00:13:20)
Yeah, so there are lots of reasons. Of course, you’ve mentioned one, that idea of perfectionism. It is useful to have a think about what might be going on for you if you find yourself in a I should be doing this and I’m not. So sometimes it’s about being overwhelmed by a project. It’s a really really really big thing. And I’ve said yes and ooh, and now I have to do it. You know? Write this thesis, do this research, and it feels overwhelming.
Another reason that procrastination happens is when people are actually tired and out of energy, that they’re not recognising that there’s nothing left in the tank. It’s not really procrastination if you like. Well, it is procrastination, but the driver is I’ve got nothing right now. And of course, if you’re in that situation, or you recognise that, then really you need a break. You need to do what are the things that are going to recharge your batteries.
Another thing that is worth thinking about. Sometimes people are a bit ambivalent of Ahh, do I really want to do this? Yeah I’ve, I’ve gotten here. It is in front of me. But is this really the right thing for me? And that requires a bit of self reflection on what are my priorities or what is it that I want to do? Does this fit in with my values? ‘Cause every now and then you end up in the wrong spot.
Sometimes for the big things, it’s actually the getting started. How can I actually get started with a bit of this? And then you find that it sort of works out alright or seems to unravel in an OK way.

Michael (00:15:11)
I think a lot of people will describe themselves as a perfectionist. You know, that’s quite common, “I am a perfectionist.”
But how much of that is part of who you are versus something that we can change? Is perfectionism easy to change? How do we do that?

Jen (00:15:28)
Asking for a friend, of course.

Sandra (00:15:30)
Yeah, I’ve got a friend. Uhh, Michael… So sure, you know, there are people who are details people, but sometimes it’s actually part of the experience of our education, of that striving, striving, the competition they get.
You know, it can’t be 90%, it’s gotta be 95% or 98% or whatever. Or your grant proposal was fabulous but somebody else just pipped you at the post. Both things always are nature and nurture or, or you know, environment and biology.

Jen (00:16:12)
Yeah, absolutely. And I think we always have to come back to if perfectionism is preventing you from actually getting something done that you need to get done, then it’s worth taking a step back, getting some help, talking to people about it.
But Sandra, I really want to bring up Covid. Is it the elephant in the room? I’m not sure, but you and I’ve talked a lot over the last couple of years about the pandemic and the effect that it’s had on on people’s mental health.
And most people I talked to now, when you ask them how they are, if they’re giving you an honest answer, let’s say “Actually I’m just really exhausted. I feel very very fatigued”.
And I think that whole analogy of getting through a pandemic is absolutely a marathon and not a sprint, that, that really resonates with me. But what are your thoughts on how we do keep functioning when we feel maybe anxious about the state of the world or or just unsettled or just plain tired.
I mean, you sort of touched on this before. But if you work in a system where the deadlines keep coming, what are your thoughts on how we do keep pushing ourselves through this marathon?

Sandra (00:17:12)
Hmm, that’s a good question Jen. We’ve all been thinking about that over the last two years. How do we do this? We’ve been in an environment with so much change. And change is inherently stressful, even it’s when there is change that you want.
And of course, this is something nobody’s wanted, and it’s kept changing. And along with change goes uncertainty. And we’ve had so much uncertainty. That is very hard. That is mentally exhausting and threat.
So this pandemic hasn’t been something that’s been happening to somewhere, somewhere else, somebody somewhere else. It’s us. You know, in our communities we’ve had people very sick. So what do we do to take care of ourselves? What are the things that recharge our batteries? So do we need to rest or do we feel guilty if we stop, which is not uncommon? So is that friends? Is that family? Is that exercise? Is that hobbies?
And thinking about the pandemic, it did get to the point for some people of actually, I can’t watch the news every night. I don’t want to hear those figures. I know it’s bad. I need to take a little break from hearing that, if in fact it was making you stressed out to hear so much in inverted commas “Bad news”. Well, not, not that in inverted commas, it was bad news.

Michael (00:18:44)
Yeah, bad news. And also just the same news. There’s not much variety going on there.
Sandra, you mentioned stress as well.
The, the tricky thing that I find with that is that it’s on a spectrum, right? So got regular work stress. But how can you tell the difference between regular work stress and then OK, I’m actually burned out now.
I mean, how do you recognise those signs in yourself or maybe others around you as well?

Sandra (00:19:12)
Yeah, yeah. So stress is normal. Stress is, and stress is not necessarily a bad thing. That physiological response is gearing us up for a challenge. Bad stress is when we feel overwhelmed, when it is beyond our usual capacity to manage. And then we start to have things that impact on our physical and mental wellbeing.
So how do we recognise it? We do feel tired, we don’t sleep, we don’t eat or the other way around. We eat too much, we drink too much potentially, or we no longer experience kind of enjoyment in things. It feels like it’s such a drudge, you know? It’s so hard just to turn up.
From a mental perspective, we recognise perhaps changes in ourselves, in our mood. Are we more irritable? Are we angry? Are we feeling just constantly fed up with everything? And I guess our nearest and dearest might recognise that we are irritable and that idea of burnout which is a, a phrase that comes from first responders and and people in healthcare. It’s when you’re in a very high pressured environment, this is ongoing and you, there aren’t breaks. And you really have a very big sense of responsibility.
Another clue is sometimes people become quite cynical or develop a real, real Oh, what’s the point of this? Yeah, yeah, I used to think this was oh yeah. But you know, what’s the point of? It didn’t, it’s never gonna change. Nothing is going to be better. That negativity seeps in that wasn’t there before.

Jen (00:21:11)
I think Sandra, that really points to something that I’ve been thinking a lot about. And you know, most of the questions we’ve asked you today, we’ve really asked you to focus on, on what can I do? How can I look after myself better? How can I focus on my own well being better?
But it, it really this sort of widespread feeling of exhaustion and being burned out really points to the problems of the systems that many of us work in. You know, many of us work in systems that are very hierarchical, that they’re individualistic, they’re competitive. We’re, we’re really encouraged to compare ourselves with one another. They’re often not very inclusive. They may not even feel very safe. And as Michael said, these systems are relying on metrics that are good at actually making us feel quite inadequate. It can really, these systems can erode our self esteem.
So to finish today, I’m really interested in your thoughts on working in systems like that and systems where you might want to make a change, but actually you might not feel like you have the agency or the opportunity or the time or the energy to make those changes. You don’t want to leave the system. And I know a lot of people have been leaving academia and other research institutions during the pandemic.
But let’s imagine that you don’t want to leave. Do you think kind of self care and maintaining a positive sense of self and identifying your values and finding a group of like-minded people. You know, do you think all of that can be enough? If, if there are big systemic problems. Or do you think actually we’re kidding ourselves to think we can continue to thrive in difficult workplaces?

Sandra (00:22:31)
Hmm. Taking care of yourself is indeed the place to start, but then it’s, it’s what you’ve just said Jen, it’s find your tribe. Who are the other people who share similar values, who can support you and you support them? And so there is this change if you like from the bottom up.
But then when you are in a position of leadership, then I think it’s important to be able to think about how do you in a position of leadership look after the people who are part of your department or your team or or you know, your group. What can you do?
It can start off as really… It sounds almost too simple to first of all acknowledge that things are tricky, not pretend, not being La La Land that everything is, is fine when it isn’t. Are the expectations realistic or are they really not realistic? Are the time frames realistic? Is the workload realistic?
With technology, in theory we have 24 hours a day anywhere at all that we can work. And how’s that working for us? I don’t think that’s working so well really. But the you know, there is this the needing to corral in some way a working day from time for other things.
You know, a long long time ago. Our forebears fought hard to get the 8 hour working day. And the slogan was 8 hour for sleep, and 8 hours for what you will. Now, when was the last time anybody in academia had any kind of balance that looked remotely like that?
You know, there are moves now in big companies that you disconnect from your devices at a, a certain hour, or you will not reply to emails after hours in the middle of the night, on weekends, recognising that this is where we’ve headed without realising it.

Jen (00:24:38)
Setting boundaries seems to be absolutely crucial for all of us. Sandra we, we do have a couple of very last quick questions for you. But just before I hand over to Michael for those, I do just want to acknowledge that obviously today we’ve talked about a whole lot of experiences that are common to many people working in STEM, but there may be people listing who need additional support for mental health challenges that you’re experiencing, whether that’s anxiety or depression or something else that you’ve got going on.
So we just wanted to say please know that help is absolutely available to you. You can make an appointment with your GP. You can call Lifeline if you’re in Australia on 13 11 14. You can call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. These organisations also have text or online chat options if that works better for you. You can go online to headspace.org.au with lots of online information.
And of course, you may not be in Australia. But wherever you are, please do ask for help if you need it, and know that you’re not alone in your experiences. So reach out to your friends, or your family, or your colleagues.
If you’re a student, your supervisor is there to support you. And obviously seek help from a professional if you need it. And we are really grateful for you as a mental health professional Sandra for joining us today. But we can’t let you leave without a couple more questions. Over to you Michael.

Michael (00:25:55)
That’s right. We’ve asked you the big questions Sandra. And now it’s time for some little questions, fired rapidly. It is the rapid fire section. So lighthearted questions.
First one up is: Sandra, if you had to pick an alternative career to what you’re doing now, what would it be?

Sandra (00:26:26)
I’d be a beach bum.

Jen (00:26:28)
Oh, that’s the best answer yet, Sandra. Thank you.

Michael (00:26:31)
Sounds like a great career.

Jen (00:26:32)
I love it.
OK, next question. What is your proudest professional moment?

Sandra (00:26:37)
Most recently having my application for promotion be successful.
So that I am now a Professor at Melbourne Uni.
That has been a very, very proud moment.

Jen (00:26:49)
And I just as a, as a friend of Sandra, I do just have to interrupt with a little clap ’cause I’m so proud of Sandra for being promoted to full professor. You have every right to be extremely proud of that Sandra. Well done.

Michael (00:27:00)
Oh congratulations Sandra.
OK Sandra, Twitter or Instagram? And why?

Jen (00:27:08)
I know the answer.

Sandra (00:27:11)
Neither Michael.
Neither, I have too many other ways that people can get me that that I can’t keep track of those things.
So unfortunately it’s old school, it’s email or phone or in person.

Jen (00:27:25)
Well, we did just talk about boundaries Sandra, so that’s an excellent example of you setting boundaries.
Next question. What is your favourite science related joke or movie or book?

Sandra (00:27:36)
Oh, science related. My brain went to science fiction, which probably is not where you were going.

Jen (00:27:45)
Oh no no no. Absolutely. Science fiction is good.

Sandra (00:27:47)
Science fiction? Oh, I’m a Star Trek fan. So that’s me.
Over the lock down period in the pandemic, I got to watch everything, even some I’d seen before.

Michael (00:27:59)
Fantastic. One of the great benefits, I suppose. Or one of the few benefits maybe.
OK Sandra, last question. You’ve given us some great advice all around already. And for the last question, we’d love to know what your top tip for effective communication is.

Sandra (00:28:19)
I think my top tip would be really really good listening. There is no communication if there is no listening. Sometimes most of us talk a little too much and don’t listen enough really to what the other person is saying.

Michael (00:28:37)
Yeah, great advice.

Jen (00:28:39)
Very true. Sandra, thank you so much. It’s been an absolute delight speaking with you today. We’ve been chatting with Professor Sandra Radovini about how we can better look after our mental health.
And I hope everyone goes out today and just gives themselves a little bit more credit for all the wonderful things we already do without expecting ourselves to do any more than that.

Sandra (00:29:00)
Exactly. Thank you, Jen. It was a pleasure. Thank you, Michael. It’s been really, really, really good joining you and your listeners today.

Michael (00:29:09)
Thank you, Sandra.

Samantha (00:29:19)
Hello, my name’s Samantha Ward and I am a research scientist at Cesar Australia. Your research can take over your life if you let it. You can find you lose out on family time, exercise, healthy eating, or just time for yourself. During my PhD, I sometimes rolled home at 9 PM, grabbed a quick snack, worked on my laptop in bed, and finally fell into an interrupted sleep in the early hours of the morning to do it all over again the next day. This is not good. Ensuring you have a good work life balance is paramount to your mental health. And if you’re in a good frame of mind, you’ll likely see that you can work more efficiently.
So I’d recommend taking regular breaks, healthy eating, exercise, separating your workspace from your relaxing space, to work in the study, not in bed. And learn to say no if you’re overworked. This is so important because you want to stop it before you start burning out. And most importantly, have some you time, whether it’s reading a good book, going for a swim, walking the dog, or doing some arts and crafts. Enjoy and remember to take care of yourself.

Owen (00:30:22)
Hello, my name’s Owen and I’m a geosciences researcher at Museums Victoria. Today, I’ll be sharing some of my tips on managing your mental health during your research degree. It’s important to remember that even though you’re producing a big thesis with your name on it by the end of your degree, there’s still very much a team effort. You should never feel like you’re going it alone.
And on that note, I think it’s really important to keep doing things that you enjoy or develop new hobbies during your degree. It’s a bad idea just to focus entirely on your research ’cause then, if things start to go wrong, you feel like your life’s starting to get more difficult. But there’s more to life than just your research.
It’s also a great idea to talk with your family and with your friends regularly. And this also includes friends outside of the lab group as well, just so you know, keeping up with people that you’re already knew; And that’s a great way to make sure that you’re staying in contact with the wider world outside of the lab.
I’d encourage you to set up a regular chat with a supervisor, maybe fortnightly or even weekly, just to make sure that you’re all on the same page, and this is a great time to ask for help if you need it.
And then if you start feeling like things are getting more difficult, it’s important to feel that it’s perfectly fine to take a break. There’s no reason that you have to keep pushing through when deciding a struggle, just taking a step back for a day or two or longer if you need it is always important. Recognising when things are getting a bit harder and just being able to take that time can really help clear your mind a little bit and then you can come back in, feel refreshed and ready to keep on going.
I hope some of those tips help. It’s a, a complex issue, looking after your mental health. And it can be difficult if there are things in the lab are not going so well. But just remember that you know, you’re never alone in these sort of degrees. There’s always support available.

Grace (00:32:00)
Hi there, I’m Grace, a second year PhD student studying the evolutionary history of field mushrooms in Eastern Australasia. I was warned before I started my PhD to make sure I was in a really good mental health space before I started because it was pretty much guaranteed that my mental health was going to take a dip while studying. It’s completely normal and happens to everyone.
The tips I would recommend for managing your mental health while studying are firstly to have communities of people around you who you can talk to and get support from. That might mean a psychologist who’s familiar with university processes or how postgraduates studies work. It can also mean a lab group who’s really good at chatting to you and letting you let your hair down when you just need to complain about uni. Or it can mean friends and family.
Other than that, I would also recommend having a sense of self separate from your research, your studies, and your supervisor, because I can guarantee there will be times when your research is not going as well as planned and your supervisor is unhappy with you. And having a sense of self separate from those things really gives you the resilience to get through the tough times.
The last piece of advice I’d thoroughly recommend is claiming back your downtime, really making sure you set healthy boundaries about when you’re studying. You don’t want to be studying 24/7. You’ll burn yourself out. And you can absolutely take a mental health day when you need it. Take care of yourself, because you’ve got to live with yourself while you’re doing this and you will get through it.

Stephanie (00:33:54)
Hi, my name’s Stephanie Barnard. I’m a PhD student at the University of Melbourne in the School of Physics, working in Astrophysics and I have mental illness. I have severe depression and anxiety and I have had for several years now. And so when I was in my second year of PhD, that was when it really sort of started coming to the fore. I definitely had episodes before then that I got seen by a doctor for but never really got into proper treatment for. And now I wish I had. But in my second year of my PhD, I had some family issues. I was very very angry with various members of my family. And then after that I just felt like I lost a lot of energy. And I had no real desire to do any research. I didn’t really have any desire to solve other problems in my life either, so I’m just sort of walking around bit in a daze for months at a time.
And so what really helped was my supervisor and my other co-supervisors pulled me aside and said, “Hi Stephanie, something’s wrong with you. We can see it and we want to be able to help.” And so they were really great. They encouraged me to take some medical leave. And so as a PhD student, you do have an entitlement, just three months of medical leave that is paid out of your scholarship.
And so with that I started getting therapy. That didn’t entirely work. So I took more leave later and started on antidepression medication. And since then I’ve been back at uni sort of sporadically. I’ll do as much part time work as I can and then I might need to take leave for another few weeks or so.
And just getting everyone to work with me, with what I can do have been really important with me feeling like I’m still connected to the physics community and able to finish my PhD because I, I think if I had been in the state where I was a few years ago and everyone had said you’re not going to make it, you know you should drop out, I would have, I would have done that. And I would have just quit.
So having people who are really supportive around you is so important. And now I try to look after new people, keep an eye on them and make sure that they know that I’m available to talk at any time via face to face or whatever they prefer, ’cause. sometimes talking face to face is really hard and getting resources out there that we can all use.

Michael (00:36:08)
Thanks for listening and thanks also to our wonderful production team, Stephanie Wong and Steven Tang for making these episodes happen behind the scenes. And thanks also to you, our listeners for your support.
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Jen (00:36:26)
And that is our last episode for this season. So we hope you’ve enjoyed listening to season 4 as much as we’ve enjoyed making it, and we’ll be back in your feed next month. Until then, remember that science isn’t finished until it’s communicated.