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In this paper, we explore the mental health of science, engineering, and math (SEM) graduate students using quantitative analysis on the survey data provided by the Healthy Minds Network (HMN): Research on Adolescent and Young Adult Mental Health group, coined the Healthy Minds Study (HMS). The aim of the study is to answer the following research questions: (1) How has the mental health of SEM graduate students, measured by depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, and flourishing, changed over the past three academic years?
(2) What role, if any, does the climate of SEM programs, measured by the proxies of campus environment, encouraging dialogue, prioritizing mental health, and receptive administration, have on SEM graduate students’ self-reported mental health measures of depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, and flourishing, when accounting for students’ gender, race, international student status, degree, and discipline? Attention to the mental health of students in higher education has grown in recent years. Prior work has shown that several factors can influence an individuals’ mental health, including, but not limited to, a students’ demographics, social factors, available resources, values, motivation, and more. The purpose of this study, however, is to focus specifically on how the culture of SEM programs influences SEM graduate students’ mental health. In this context, mental health refers to one’s mental and emotional well-being. Therefore, this paper will leverage previous work that has indicated the role of academic disciplines’ cultures on mental health.
SEM graduate students are of interest because they are understudied in the literature despite being more likely to report mental health problems. In addition, graduate students have a variety of academic and personal experiences that are different from undergraduate students due to their roles as students, instructors, and researchers, resulting in a different acculturation process. In addition, this process can impact students of diverse backgrounds inequitably, with minoritized students facing more negative mental health consequences and feeling like they are less supported than their non-marginalized peers. This study explored measures of program climate to assess how students’ perceptions of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts impact SEM students’ self-reported mental health.
In this work, we performed a quantitative analysis on the Health Minds Network (HMN) data on SEM graduate students. We calculated bivariate statistics and developed regression models for each of the four outcome measures while accounting for relevant demographic measures. We first show that there have been changes in students’ self-reported mental health, with the general trend of increasing mental health problems. In terms of program climate, our regressions found that students’ beliefs about the climate had a statistically significant influence over their reported mental health measures, and that these experiences varied for different demographic groups.
The results from our work highlight areas of focus for future research. Furthermore, this work can help enable SEM graduate students, faculty, and staff to reflect on the changes in the past years and to use these results to promote change at individual, program, and systematic levels to improve SEM graduate students’ mental health.
Bork, S., & Mondisa, J., & Young, N. (2022, August), Exploring the Relationship Between Culture and Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Graduate Students’ Mental Health (Full Paper) Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. https://peer.asee.org/41183
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