Posted Aug. 1, 2012
Postgraduate education today compared with a few centuries ago is not the same. I am not referring to some of the more obvious changes, such as that we are no longer being taught that the sun revolves around the Earth! Something else that is much harder to put into words has changed, and this can be understood only by looking at the essential difference .
Then and now In Mediaeval universities, obtaining a master's degree or a doctorate could take up to 12 years, the amount of information students had to process wasn’t sufficient to “fill” an entire DVD, and consequently the number of people gaining postgraduate degrees was low. And even just a century ago it was rare to find a person with a doctorate. Nowadays, we have less time to finish our postgraduate studies, we have to be more efficient, the amount of information we process is millionfold, and it has become so common to have a postgraduate degree that earning a doctorate does not guarantee the safe future career wise.
Clearly, we are no longer living in a time when postgraduate students could carelessly sit around in the university gardens and their biggest disturbance was the apple falling on their head, inspiring the theory of gravity. The disturbances that today’s postgraduate students encounter don’t inspire the invention of the theory of gravity, but the appearance of psychological problems.
Psychological wellbeing The Association for University & College Counselling (AUCC) has reported that psychological wellbeing among UK university students is constantly decreasing, and more and more students are visiting psychotherapists each year. What are some of the possible “forces” behind this trend?
The UK-based Royal College of Psychiatrists suggests that financial pressures and academic concerns are to blame. Today’s postgraduate students at UK universities are pressured to work faster than ever – an average master’s course takes about 1 to 2 years and the PhD around 3 to 4 years – and yet students have to obtain the highest results because the competition for every job is fierce. Thus, students are falling under the burden of their self-expectations and external pressures.
Internal conflict However, a UK-based PhD student who is suffering from depression and wishes to remain anonymous has a different explanation behind the concerning trend. He claims that his depression appeared because he pursued his studies for the “wrong reason”. He decided to study because he always excelled at school so PhD felt like a logical progression rather than because he was internally motivated. Thus, he proposes that mental health problems in postgraduate students do not appear merely because of concerns regarding material safety, but because of deeper existential struggles. He advises all students who are considering undertaking a postgraduate course to first clarify with themselves whether this truly is a right path for them.
Despite the concerning trends about the wellbeing of postgraduate students, everything is not that black. UK universities are prepared to deal with students’ needs better than ever, and contemporary students can receive help from numerous sources. You can learn more about the support systems for students with psychological problems by clicking on this link.
The right path Although it seems that the world for us as postgraduate students is very different than before, essentially we are still living in an age when apples are falling on our heads in peaceful university gardens, but we don’t know how to cope with these apples because all the technology and fast life are taking our time for self-reflection. People before had many more problems than we do nowadays and their quality of life was much worse. However, because they could rarely make their own choices and their educational pathway was usually determined by their parents they weren’t falling under the burden of choosing the “right path” as we do.
We have the privilege to make our own choices, and we should be happy about it even if it sometimes makes us suffer. At least it shows that we have some free will.