CAREER: Addressing the undergraduate and graduate mental health crisis in biology: Identifying aspects of research that exacerbate student depression and developing interventions

Project: Research project

Project Details

Description

CAREER: Addressing the undergraduate and graduate mental health crisis in biology: Identifying aspects of research that exacerbate student depression and developing interventions CAREER: Addressing the undergraduate and graduate mental health crisis in biology: Identifying aspects of research that exacerbate student depression and developing interventions Overview Depression rates are higher among both undergraduate and graduate science students compared to the general population and they continue to rise. As such, depression has been declared one of the top mental health concerns among these student groups. Depression is known to negatively affect student experiences in academic settings, and disproportionately impacts those who are already underrepresented and underserved in science, including women, first generation college students, individuals from low socioeconomic backgrounds, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities. There has been an increase in calls to improve mental health among science students and to identify what aspects of academic experiences exacerbate mental health problems, because understanding how science education affects student mental health is integral to creating a more diverse and inclusive scientific community. Recent research from the PIs lab has found that research experiences can exacerbate depressive symptoms in biology undergraduate and graduate students. However, it is unknown what challenges in research are most common for biology students with depression, what moderates the relationship between research and depression, and whether specific aspects of research disproportionately affect depression in certain student groups (e.g. women, first generation college students). Moreover, there is a need for evidence-based interventions to help students cope with common challenging aspects of biology research and to help mentors create more inclusive research experiences. Finally, mental health is not often discussed in biology research environments, presumably because science is perceived to be objective and devoid of personal influence. As a result, undergraduate and graduate students with depression have reported feeling like they are the only ones struggling. Intellectual Merit To address these gaps in the literature, this CAREER proposal aims to use an exploratory sequential mixed-methods design to further examine the relationship between aspects of research and depression among biology undergraduate and graduate students. Namely, probing what moderates the relationship and what students perceive can be done to improve their experiences in research, given their depression. A national survey will then document at scale what aspects of research experiences affect depression among biology undergraduate and graduate students, whether specific aspects of research are disproportionately challenging for students with particular marginalized identities, and what students prioritize regarding efforts that can be made to create more inclusive research environments. These studies will inform the development of interventions to help students cope with common challenges in research and dissemination packages to help mentors create more inclusive research experiences. To integrate research and teaching with the intent to build a foundational body of research on the relationship between scientific research and depression, and to normalize mental health concerns among students, the PI will develop and teach biology education course-based undergraduate research experiences or CUREs that build upon the research in this CAREER proposal. These CUREs will be taught to students in Arizona State Universitys online life sciences B.S. degree program because only 3.5% of students in this program have participated in research. Further, the online program disproportionately serves students who identify as women, first-generation college going, low-income, and as primary caregivers. Broader Impacts Depression is estimated to affect 35% of undergraduate researchers and 55% of graduate researchers in biology and disproportionately impacts individuals who are underserved in the sciences. The PIs preliminary data suggest that despite undergraduate research being a powerful predictor of who pursues science careers, undergraduate and graduate research can exacerbate depression among biology students. As such, equipping students with the skills to cope with challenges in research and helping mentors to create more inclusive research experiences is an important step in creating a more diverse and inclusive scientific community. Further, involving online students in undergraduate research in the context of a CURE will triple the number of students in the program who currently are engaging in undergraduate research and will disproportionately impact women, first-generation college going, low-income, and as primary caregivers, while helping to destigmatize mental health concerns among science students.
StatusNot started
Effective start/end date7/1/226/30/27

Funding

  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $985,868.00

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