Stress and Mental Health in Graduate School: How Student Empowerment Creates Lasting Change

Maral P.S. Mousavi, Zahra Sohrabpour, Evan L. Anderson, Amanda Stemig-Vindedahl, David Golden, Gary A Christenson, Katherine Lust, Philippe Bühlmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


This article describes an ongoing initiative of the Department of Chemistry (Chem. Dept.) at the University of Minnesota (UMN) to support the mental health of graduate students. With the increasing pressure on students to carry out novel research, publish articles, learn a broad range of skills, and look for career opportunities, the levels of stress, anxiety, and depression among graduate students are on the rise. For tackling these issues, the UMN Chem. Dept. has adopted an approach that heavily relies on the involvement of graduate students and student empowerment. This contribution describes the results of a collaboration between a student group (Community of Chemistry Graduate Students, CCGS), the director of graduate studies of the Chem. Dept., and mental health professionals at the UMN campus health service, to provide strategies for ensuring a welcoming and productive departmental climate. It describes the events that CCGS has hosted to help to improve the mental health of students, and raise awareness and stimulate open discussions about this topic. As an early intervention strategy, the UMN Chem. Dept. revised several policies to ensure that students receive frequent feedback from their advisors. Through the collaboration of the CCGS, UMN Chem. Dept., and UMN campus health service, a survey for the evaluation of mental health and stress factors in graduate studies was developed. Findings of the survey attest to the stigma associated with mental health, as more than 40% of the graduate students responded that they did not consider consulting with a therapist, counselor, or physician even when they felt that their health was affected by the level of stress in their lives. The results also show the importance of an open and friendly environment for students who struggle with stress and mental health, as they were most likely to approach a friend rather than advisor, counselor, or physician.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1939-1946
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Chemical Education
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 13 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge the Department of Chemistry at the University of Minnesota, Boynton Health, and Prof. Peter W. Carr for generously providing financial support for CCGS activities. We acknowledge Prof. William B. Tolman, former chair of the Department of Chemistry, University of Minnesota, for his continuous support and advice on student empowerment and community engagement. M.P.S.M. acknowledges the Gleysteen family for a Graham N. Gleysteen Excellence Fellowship and the University of Minnesota for a Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship. E.L.A. acknowledges a Lester C. and Joan M. Krogh Endowed Fellowship and an ACS Division of Analytical Chemistry and Eastman Summer Fellowship. We also thank Cody Roemhildt for his assistance in designing Figure 2.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 American Chemical Society and Division of Chemical Education, Inc.

Copyright 2018 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Collaborative/Cooperative Learning
  • Curriculum
  • Graduate Education/Research
  • Student-Centered Learning
  • Student/Career Counseling


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