Resilience Tips for Doctoral Students

By Jessica Harrington, Director of Student Life

Doctoral students face unique challenges while navigating the journey from first year student to doctoral scholar. My experience is that students often carry high expectations, both for themselves and their programs. Students are sometimes met with unexpected challenges which may threaten to derail their initial goals. My role is to remind them of their ability to meet challenges with resilience.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from stressful events. One comprehensive resource on this fascinating (and encouraging) subject suggests a model with three stages:

  1. Acknowledge the stressor. Examples of doctoral student stress may include strained relationships with faculty, research interest conflicts, pressure around publishing, and time management. Take a moment and ask, what is it that is actually stressing me out? It’s ok to admit everything isn’t fine.
  2. Orient toward a positive outcome. Consider the outcome you’re hoping for. Is it realistic? Despite this current stressor, is success still possible? What can be learned from this experience? Linda Graham, a therapist who focuses on resilience, offers an in-depth exercise on envisioning outcomes.
  3. Actively cope with the stressor through means of support. Disengagement and avoidance (cute kittens anyone?) may feel like the most comfortable responses. Sometimes, for the sake of one’s mental health, disengagement is necessary. Active coping includes taking a temporary break from focusing on the issue and then making a plan to respond. Engage with your support system as needed. In addition to family, peers, and mentors, please know that JHSAP and the Office of Student Life are here to help you actively cope.

 As a doctoral students, challenges are inevitable. However, remember you are resilient, and you have support!