Exploring the Mental Health of Biomedical Science Doctoral Students in the Context of Academic Capitalism

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0009-0001-2521-0237
Cempre, Nadia, Higher Education - School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
Inkelas, Karen, ED-EDLF, University of Virginia

In 2018, Evans et al. called on policymakers and academia to combat the growing concern for graduate students' mental health (Evans et al., 2018) with particular concern regarding biomedical graduate students. Reduced emotional and mental well-being can be impacted by financial status, relationship with one’s advisor, work-life balance, length of training period, and anxiety about navigating job opportunities outside of academia among other factors (Evans et al., 2018; Hyun et al., 2006; Mackie & Bates, 2019; Tsai & Muindi, 2016). This study aimed to uncover underlying connections between reduced well-being in biomedical science graduate students and the increasingly dominant paradigm of academic capitalism in higher education. By employing a constructivist grounded theory methodology, I developed theory connecting graduate student well-being and academic capitalism at a large flagship research university (LRU) in the mid-Atlantic region of the east coast. Data analyzed from interviews with students and recent graduates from biomedical science doctoral degree programs at LRU exposed salient concepts and phenomena. Three overarching categories comprise the findings: 1) contextual academic capitalism; 2) students’ hesitation to pursue careers in academia; and 3) their dualistic feelings about their doctoral advisors. I present a theory in which academic capitalism plays a role in leading LRU biomedical science doctoral student participants to avoid academic careers as a way of protecting their well-being, to maintain their positive well-being by engaging in scientific research, remaining connected to the application of their work to better the human condition, and maintaining work-life balance and social connections. The implications of this study uncover ways the institution and graduate program can influence self-reported states of well-being as they may relate to factors of academic capitalism.

EDD (Doctor of Education)
biomedical science, graduate students, doctoral students, well-being, mental health, academic capitalism, grounded theory
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