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Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Graduate Student Mental Health: Insights from the Healthy Minds Network Dataset

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Graduate Student Writing and Communication

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

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Paper Authors


Sarah Jane Bork University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

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Sarah received her B.S. and M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the Ohio State University in 2017. She is now at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she is beginning her PhD in Engineering Education Research, with an emphasis on graduate engineering students' mental health.

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Joi-Lynn Mondisa University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

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Joi Mondisa is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Industrial & Operations Engineering at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor. Dr. Mondisa holds a PhD in Engineering Education, an MS in Industrial Engineering, an MBA, and a BS in General Engineering. She researches STEM mentoring experiences and mentoring intervention programs in higher education.

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This paper explores the mental health of science, engineering, and mathematics (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 this study is to answer the following research question: How does the presence of (a) self-sufficiency, (b) sense of belonging, and/or (c) social self-efficacy impact an SEM graduate student’s mental health?

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 academic discipline. The purpose of this study is to focus specifically on how social aspects can influence graduate students’ mental health, or mental and emotional well-being. Therefore, this paper will pull on past work that has found several factors that have improved students’ mental health in social contexts.

The current literature shows trends between a student’s need for both independence and ownership of their work while having some level of personal support. There have been multiple concepts used to explore this, including self-sufficiency, sense of belonging, and social self-efficacy. Social self-efficacy is defined as one’s confidence to employ social skills to initiate social contact and develop new friendships, whereas self-sufficiency refers to one’s ability to independently complete their day-to-day tasks. How connected one feels to their communities is represented by sense of belonging. This study will determine how, if at all, these concepts impact a student’s mental health, measured by proxy through depression and suicidal ideation.

The focus of this paper is specific to the graduate student population as the experiences and needs of students in graduate programs are different from those in associates or baccalaureate programs. Although current literature has been showing an increase in work surrounding mental health for students in higher education, there seems to be a lack of research specific to SEM graduate students’ mental health.

To do so, this paper presents the quantitative data analysis that was performed using data collected from 2007-2013 by the HMN. Of the 89,486 student responses from this timeframe, roughly 2,439 students responded as United States graduate students in the natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering, with 1,201 responses being complete. Using these 1,201 responses, descriptive and bi-variant statistics were performed and reported with regards to the research question.

The anticipated results included how, if at all, the three concepts of self-sufficiency, sense of belonging, and social self-efficacy vary among different graduate student demographics, and if these demographics have an impact on the prevalence of mental health problems. The hope is that SEM graduate students, faculty, and staff can use these results to influence individual and programmatic changes to improve SEM graduate student mental health.

Bork, S. J., & Mondisa, J. (2019, June), Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Graduate Student Mental Health: Insights from the Healthy Minds Network Dataset Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33255

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