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An Exploration of Graduate Student Mental Health: Faculty Advisors, Mental Health, and Social Media
Graduate students are a critical part of academia and the academic environment. However, literature suggests that graduate students, as a community, are also experiencing concerns with mental well-being.
Increasingly stressful life situations and academic rigor as well as a culture of celebrating overwork and the stress of academia, have been linked as contributors toward mental distress and a general decline in well-being for graduate students.
One of the biggest factors in determining the success and well-being of graduate students is their faculty adviser.
A supportive adviser that is well matched to a student's interests and working style can likely lead to the graduate students being more likely to graduate, to have increased scholarly output, and to find a job after graduation. It stands, then, that faculty advisers may also have an effect on the mental well-being of their students.
However, there is currently a lack of information about how students match with the mentoring and management styles of their advisors as well as how they may find surrogate support systems, such as social media, to persevere during their graduate program or what support gaps they might fill with online communities.
Therefore this study explored the needs of graduate students, how graduate students may turn to online communities as an means of support, and how faculty advisors can be better matched with graduate students to help guide them toward success in graduate school. The resulting knowledge from this study can provide insights for developing enhanced methods for 1) matching students and advisors based on management and mentoring styles, 2) understanding the evolution of graduate students needs over time, and 3) establishing more thoughtful admission metrics/processes for graduate schools. In addition, an investigation into social media platforms can help us better understand how graduate students use social media for support during their studies as well as identify some common graduate student challenges and helpful strategies to mitigate these challenges. Ultimately, establishing this knowledge can be one step toward generating a more supportive and collaborative academic community which can in turn support the well-being of graduate students
According to the results of this study, the data suggests that graduate students are experiencing stress resulting from differences in the styles of management and mentoring between them and their faculty advisors.
This stress can be linked to the pressures placed upon them related to scholarly output without clearly defined objectives for them.
Student participants also indicated that they doubted the quality of their graduate work and had the feeling they were not moving forward.
Some common challenges described by students via social media posts were linked to the limited guidance and/or mentorship received.
In regard to turning to social media for support, it seems as though graduate students tend to use social media platforms to either share negative experiences that they faced or milestones achieved within their graduate programs.
The findings suggest that the graduate students may use social media without expecting or receiving feedback on how to handle any challenges posted.
In addition, graduate student survey participants also indicated that their advisors used primarily a ``coaching" style, indicating a low level of advisor involvement, with a high level of student involvement.
While a majority of participants indicated that their advising style on the Student-Advisor Involvement Matrix was a “coaching” model, the managerial style responses were more varied.
This may indicate that students do not clearly know how to define their advisors management style, or that their rankings reflect emotional response to their advisor rather than the style itself.
That being said, the findings also suggests that there may be an opportunity to better investigate, align, and/or prepare for the management and advising styles between advisors and students.
While this study has limitations, the results can provide insight toward to creation of tools for matching prospective graduate students with faculty advisors based on interests as well as management and mentoring styles.
In addition the common challenges experienced by graduate student identified via the social media analysis as well as as the shared strategies for addressing these challenges can be used for developing potential interventions for supporting faculty advisor and graduate student relationships.
For example, the interventions can include additional management training for faculty advisors, increased mental health services for graduate students, support for understanding how graduate student needs change over time, graduate student planning tools, empathetic mentorship training, or improved graduate student handbooks.