Altmetrics just published the list of the top 100 scientific articles of 2017, which attracted the most online attention. None of the articles in the top 100 is dealing with materials research. Nevertheless, already the second most spread article is concerning us as well: It is a study on mental health of PhD students. The paper was spread more than 7000 times by twitter, posted 117 times on facebook and quoted in more than 20 online-articles. And it is giving food for thought:

Every third PhD suffering seriously

According to the study “Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students”, published in Research Policy, May 2017, one out of three PhD-students is suffering from four or more symptoms of mental health issues. Every second student has two or more symptoms. Most common are depression and anxiety.

A PhD thesis is sometimes a long and stony walk….

Results based on big sample

The authors assessed the mental health of a representative sample of 3659 PhD students in Flanders, Belgium and compared them to other groups of highly educated professionals inside and outside of academia. The mental health problems were approximately twice as prevalent in the PhD population than in other groups of highly educated people.

Work-life balance impaired

In their conclusion the authors point out that students feel often not able to maintain a healthy work-life balance due to high expectations and workloads. The supervisor’s leadership style and the team decision-making culture can have big impacts on student’s well being and feeling of control. Also awareness of career options outside academia might help relieving pressure.

Good leadership style and team spirit can reduce unnecessary strain.


The authors write in their conclusion:

“..Our analyses suggest that universities will benefit in terms of PhD students’ mental health when they facilitate management of work-family balance and workload, design open decision-making procedures, and help PhD supervisors to adopt leadership styles that lead to satisfactory and constructive work relations. Our findings also suggest that universities might benefit from offering PhD students clear and full information on job expectations and career prospects, both in and outside academia.”


Footnote: Altmetrics is counting mentions in diverse social media, from twitter, blogs, Facebook, reddit, google+, videos or newsstories online.  Among the Altmetrics top 100 in 2017, are mostly research papers on health and life sciences. The top mentioned paper debunks the myth that fat is always bad for health.