Mental health and academia: Why Bangladeshi PhD students struggle
DOT Desk: A few days ago, I felt really upset upon hearing the news of the suicide of a young teacher from Dhaka University who was pursuing a PhD in the United States. I wondered why such incidents were happening and tried to gather information about suicide cases in recent years, reports Dhaka Tribune.
I noticed that there have been several suicide cases among Bangladeshi PhD students over the past few years. And, to my surprise, most of these cases are by people who were working as teachers at public universities in Bangladesh before starting their PhD. I won’t mention any names to maintain privacy. I’m not a mental health specialist; I am sharing some observations depending on my graduate school experience. In general, there has been a concerning increase in mental health issues among PhD students, particularly those pursuing their studies in North America. However, multiple suicide cases by Bangladeshi faculties are genuinely alarming.
This issue demands immediate attention. In this article, I will explore some observations on the challenges experienced by Bangladeshi PhD students (faculties in public universities in Bangladesh) and propose potential improvements to the university recruitment process to alleviate these issues.
The need for a rethink in the public university hiring system
The Bangladeshi public university system must critically examine its current hiring practices for faculty positions. Unlike the practices in other countries, where PhDs and postdoctoral experience are prerequisites for faculty roles, Bangladesh still relies on undergraduate or master’s degree results for lecturer appointments.
This approach fosters an intense competition for positions right from the bachelor’s level, leading to a detrimental rat race that negatively impacts the well-being of aspiring academics.
The impact of delayed PhD pursuit
It is common for faculty members in Bangladeshi public universities to secure their positions before considering higher studies abroad. However, this delay in pursuing a PhD can be detrimental, creating significant age gaps between them and their international classmates. This age difference might hamper socialization and academic support systems, which are crucial during the demanding PhD journey.
Fear of failure and social stigma
Bangladeshi PhD students face immense pressure to succeed academically, driven partly by the fear of facing social shame if they fail to meet graduate school requirements.
Moreover, the societal stigma around discussing mental health issues, particularly in men, adds to the burden of those struggling silently with their mental well-being.
This emotional burden can be exacerbated by the distance from their home country, creating feelings of isolation and loneliness.