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New study gives helpful tips for mentoring students with depression in undergraduate research

Logan Gin

Author: Logan Gin

Depression is one of the top mental health concerns for undergraduates and COVID-19 is likely heightening students’ feelings of depression. A new study co-authored by Biology and Society Ph.D. student Logan Gin explores the challenges for students struggling with depression in undergraduate research highlights what research mentors can do both inside and outside of the lab to help undergraduate researchers with depression.

Five concrete ways that research mentors can help students with depression:

1. Recognize that depression is a valid reason to take time off

Mental health is just as important as physical health, so research mentors should let students know that they can “call in sick” if they are having a bad mental health day. Some students may not be comfortable sharing that they are experiencing feelings of depression, so make sure students know it is OK to be general with their reasons for taking time off (e.g. “I am not feeling well today” or “I need to take a sick day”).

2. Create a positive lab environment

How the lab community feels is important for students with depression. Highly stressed or negative environments can increase their feelings of depression. Cultivating research communities both in person and online where people support each other, say hello when they greet each other, and are nice to each other can go a long way for helping undergraduate researchers with depression feel better.

3. Make research personal

Research is a collaborative exercise, but relationships in the lab can just be strictly professional. Taking the time to get to know undergraduates as people can help undergraduate researchers when they are struggling with depression because they can feel more comfortable sharing that they experience depression and may need time to get better. Asking them how they are doing or what they enjoy spending their time on outside of the lab on can help build this trust and relationship.

4. Help undergraduates understand that failure is a normal part of research

Although having an experiment fail is hard on everyone, it may be harder for students with depression to bounce back from a failed experiment. It is helpful to remind undergraduates that failing is a normal part of science that happens to everyone. In fact, talking about times that you personally have messed up or that projects that did not work can help drive home this idea.

5. Praise undergraduates for their work and accomplishments

Students with depression can be overly self-critical, so limiting harsh criticism and offering specific praise for what they are doing well can help counter negative self-perceptions. Students with depression explained that they are their harshest critic, so being praised when they are doing well helps them recalibrate how they view themselves.

For more information, please contact Logan Gin: