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Mental health and academia: Why Bangladeshi PhD students struggle

by tbhdesk

It is time to prioritize the well-being of our scholars and create a future where they can achieve their academic aspirations with resilience and confidence

A few days ago, I felt really upset upon hearing the news of the suicide of a young teacher from Dhaka University who was pursuing a PhD in the United States. I wondered why such incidents were happening and tried to gather information about suicide cases in recent years.

I noticed that there have been several suicide cases among Bangladeshi PhD students over the past few years. And, to my surprise, most of these cases are by people who were working as teachers at public universities in Bangladesh before starting their PhD. I won’t mention any names to maintain privacy. I’m not a mental health specialist; I am sharing some observations depending on my graduate school experience.

In general, there has been a concerning increase in mental health issues among PhD students, particularly those pursuing their studies in North America. However, multiple suicide cases by Bangladeshi faculties are genuinely alarming.

This issue demands immediate attention. In this article, I will explore some observations on the challenges experienced by Bangladeshi PhD students (faculties in public universities in Bangladesh) and propose potential improvements to the university recruitment process to alleviate these issues.

The need for a rethink in the public university hiring system

The Bangladeshi public university system must critically examine its current hiring practices for faculty positions. Unlike the practices in other countries, where PhDs and postdoctoral experience are prerequisites for faculty roles, Bangladesh still relies on undergraduate or master’s degree results for lecturer appointments.

This approach fosters an intense competition for positions right from the bachelor’s level, leading to a detrimental rat race that negatively impacts the well-being of aspiring academics.

The impact of delayed PhD pursuit

It is common for faculty members in Bangladeshi public universities to secure their positions before considering higher studies abroad. However, this delay in pursuing a PhD can be detrimental, creating significant age gaps between them and their international classmates.

This age difference might hamper socialization and academic support systems, which are crucial during the demanding PhD journey.

Fear of failure and social stigma

Bangladeshi PhD students face immense pressure to succeed academically, driven partly by the fear of facing social shame if they fail to meet graduate school requirements.

Moreover, the societal stigma around discussing mental health issues, particularly in men, adds to the burden of those struggling silently with their mental well-being.

This emotional burden can be exacerbated by the distance from their home country, creating feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Financial pressure and rushed completion

Financial constraints also play a significant role in the mental health challenges experienced by Bangladeshi PhD students.

The pressure to complete their doctoral studies quickly due to financial limitations can lead to additional stress and burnout. As students age, the fear of taking risks may increase, making it more challenging to cope with the demands of the PhD journey.

Proposed improvements to the university recruitment process

To address these issues and foster a healthier academic environment, the Bangladeshi public university system should reevaluate its approach to hiring faculty members. Encouraging aspiring academics interested in research to pursue higher studies first and placing emphasis on their passion for research and long-term academic careers can be beneficial.

By prioritizing research aptitude over immediate lecturing roles, the system can better support students’ mental health and overall academic growth.

The alarming increase in mental health challenges among Bangladeshi PhD students requires a concerted effort to create a more supportive and nurturing academic environment. By revisiting the university recruitment process and promoting open conversations about mental health, we can empower our students to thrive academically and emotionally both at home and abroad.

It is time to prioritize the well-being of our scholars and create a future where they can achieve their academic aspirations with resilience and confidence.

Aparna Howlader, PhD is an Environmental and Natural Resource Economist and Assistant Professor of Economics, Department of Business and Entrepreneurship, Chatham University, Pittsburgh, PA, United States.


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