What is Paksh?
A mental health support group composed of academics living abroad, connected to each other by sharing experiences, learning from each other, supporting one another and while hopefully, forming lasting friendships.
Artwork credit: Soma Ghosh & Maryam Heba
What we do?
Paksh is an online platform that connects academics in a safe space to discuss their journeys through life in academia. This is a closed program with admissions through applications only. We conduct meet every two weeks by online calls (through Google Meet) with all the members for a four month period. Each meeting is scheduled for 1-1.5 hour for us to share experiences, stories and struggles of being in academia, curated by LS volunteers, led by Dr. Jaishree Subrahmaniam.
What it's about?
Focus of these meetings are centred around mental well-being and sharing coping strategies as an academic. Sharing experiences helps others realize they are not alone, and you practice courage & empowerment. We understand how uneasy it can be to admit to others your moments of struggles, failures and weaknesses. To open up in that way to others about your life requires courage, which requires practice. And you never know, you may find a friend to lean on, on the other side of the world!
Who am I?
When you introduce yourself to someone, you say, doctor, scientist, teacher, CEO etc. But have you ever sat and wondered why your work is the first (and sometimes the only) thing that we think of as defining factors? Although true for almost every profession, scientists, more often Early Career Researchers fall prey to this and associate their self-worth with the success and failures of their experiments! Appreciating your degree/job for what it is, not regretting what you did not achieve, unplugging from work, finding hobbies to do outside of academia: In short finding your identity outside THE BOX! This was the theme for our first session of Paksh! The next time someone asks you to talk about yourself, we hope you take a minute, reflect, and have the courage to define your own boxes.
Depression in Academia
Working in academia is a privilege. However, the mental health status of the academicians is a crisis that needs immediate attention. For our 2nd session, we discussed a topic which, although prevalent, is not talked about nearly as much among academics. Working in the culture of publish or perish, depression rates, especially among ECRs, are soaring year after year. Identifying the systemic problems that lead us feeling insufficient, saying it out loud, and acknowledging that we all may need help at some point was the underlying sense from our second session.
Life in academia can get pretty overwhelming sometimes, but the next time that happens, we hope you find the strength to take a step back and realize that your research is what you do, not who you are!
Early Career Researchers depend on their supervisors for showing them the path forward. They often look at themselves and find their scientific validation through these mentors. But often this relationship between a mentor and a mentee could become strained. It can push ECRs, who spend years training towards this one career path, out of academic careers! And what a loss that is for researchers, and even scientific research. No matter where we are from or what stage of career one is, we all have witnessed academic bullying, either first-hand or heard stories!! For our 3rd and 4th session, we discussed this toxic nature often witnessed in academia, the differences between bullying and harassment, and some good vs. bad habits to overcome victimized state of being.
“What am I doing here?”, “I’m not good enough”, “I feel like a fraud” – haven’t we all had times when these thoughts plagued our minds? The advice often received is just to ignore them and focus on your work, which is easier said than done. Everyone at some point in their academic life suffers from imposter syndrome. A ‘fake it until you make it’ approach might convey confidence to the outside world but doesn’t help in gaining lifelong confidence in oneself. For the 5th session, our CEO, Dr. Roopali Chaudhary, conducted a workshop on overcoming Imposter Syndrome, acknowledging and internalizing all that one is, academia and beyond. She also gave the participants a toolkit on how to move past this feeling and remind ourselves that we are so much beyond what we give ourselves credit for!
When facing bullying or harassment, ECRs often fail to speak up, because the hierarchical structure of academia and dependence on mentors ensures that bullies get away with it. Reasons vary from failing to recognize academic bullying to the fear of losing career prospects. It is therefore crucial that ECRs understand and set boundaries for themselves and set up expectations beforehand, and much of it comes down to self-advocacy and practicing assertiveness.
For our closing session, we discussed the importance of communicating directly, openly, and with honesty, while respecting the feelings, rights, and needs of each other. We also shared and discussed a toolkit on how to practice self-advocacy.
Next Round begins: May 2021