FBI PhD Students

Sharing experiences with peers is good for PhD Students’ well-being

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Well-being among PhD students is a hot topic these days. Global studies indicate that anxiety and depression rates among PhD students exceed those of the general population.

The scientific journal Nature did a survey in 2019 among 6,000 graduate students across the world, where as much as 36% had sought help for anxiety or depression related to their PhD. In 2021, well-being dialogues show that high stress levels among PhD students is also an issue at DTU.

Experiences from a recently finalised EU project – FBI: Multimodal, Functional Bio-photonics Imaging – indicate that being part of a network of peers where you can share your challenges can lead to a higher level of well-being and job satisfaction.

The FBI network consisted of 15 PhD students across Europe within the field of medical imaging using optical technologies and with the aim to kick-start the students’ careers and further the scientific field.

Read more about FBI: “We can catch disease faster and earlier”

"I was super happy that we had this network of PhD students."
Björn Meyer, FBI PhD Student

A PhD is a stressful experience

One of the 15 PhD students in the FBI project, Björn Meyer expresses, “A PhD always has a lot of ups and downs. A lot of extremes because you are pouring a lot of your heart into it.”

Researcher Dominik Marti agrees. He assisted in coordinating the project and was responsible for supervising PhD students and managing the dissemination in the project. Dominik Marti observes that PhD students today are very pressed, and in his opinion, this type of project establishes the importance of having a network where you can share your experiences with peers.

Bringing people together

In the FBI project, the students, who were based in different parts of Europe, met in person every six months, where they had a couple of days with professional development workshops and social events before they met with the rest of the consortium for the biannual meetings. Owing to the EU funding, the PhD students were offered workshops on different topics such as journal paper writing and entrepreneurship, which continuously brought them together.

“I was super happy that we had this network of PhD students. It was a great way to talk about things that did not go well to other people, who could understand what you were going through. They had similar problems, but they had different solutions and no strings or direct connection to my university – like that it was working great”, Björn Meyer states.

Researcher Dominik Marti continues, “I think the networking aspect of FBI meant the world for the PhD students, as they felt they were not alone. I think if instead PhDs have to actively seek out networks with other students, they are much less inclined to do so. Therefore, we should try to force them to get together with their peers; then, exchanging experiences will happen automatically. Sometimes it is not until they have been there that they realise they feel much better because they could talk to someone about their frustrations”.

Focus on PhD well-being at DTU Health Tech

DTU Health Tech is the department at DTU with the highest number of PhD students, and the well-being of this staff group is being taken very seriously. Of course, the overall experience of a three-year PhD degree depends on various factors, but the creation of a framework to support networks for PhD students across the department is a new initiative under establishment.

Senior Researcher Peter E. Andersen, who is Coordinator of the FBI project and also Head of the PhD School at DTU Health Tech says, “At DTU Health Tech wellbeing amongst the largest and very important group of employees, our PhD students, is of utmost importance. In agreement with statements above, we have created a new introduction course involving a retreat, where students across the entire department can form networks. Speaking to peers daily about everyday problems and topics empower people to better overcome difficulties. Secondly, following up on this we will conduct wellbeing workshops every year with follow-up sessions. In the end, we firmly believe that by focusing on and nurturing wellbeing at our department, our PhD students can excel and thrive in their research.”

FBI PhD Students

Caption: FBI PhD Students in the snow (Photo by Dominik Marti)
Caption: Top photo - FBI PhD Students (Photo by Dominik Marti)

About the FBI project

Title: Multimodal, Functional Bio-Photonic Imaging (FBI)

Partners: Technical University of Denmark (Coordinator), Technical University of Munich, Eindhoven University of Technology, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Medical University of Vienna, NKT Photonics, Philips, Ithera Medical, Ekspla, Imasonic, Carl Zeiss Meditec, Imtek, Academic Medical Center, and Smart Photonics

Funding: FBI received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 721766.

Website: https://fbi-itn.eu/

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