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GSC discusses isolation’s toll on grad students’ mental health

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“Graduate students are already isolated, but now it’s on steroids,” said Gabby Badica, a sixth-year languages and literature Ph.D. student.

She was reiterating the concerns of physics Ph.D. student Shangnan Aaland Zhou, who raised the issue of worsening graduate student mental health in the midst of social distancing, during Wednesday’s Graduate Student Council (GSC) meeting. 

“The longer it goes on the harder it gets. I agree with you that it’s a big problem,” Badica said. “Now students are not even seeing their advisor regularly, so it’s really easy to fall off the grid … That’s a dangerous situation.”

There was broad agreement among GSC representatives that more needed to be done for graduate student mental health, especially by increasing social connection.

“A whole lot of us would like to have more interaction with other grad students,” said Adam Keppler, a second-year computer science master’s student.

The GSC representatives discussed various initiatives to combat the social isolation of a period of increased social distancing. Keppler suggested that events over the videoconferencing platform Zoom should be centered around a specific activity instead of simply being unstructured socializing.

To that end, the GSC Social Committee is organizing a series of cooking classes to provide graduate students an opportunity to practice their culinary skills at home.

GSC co-chair and second-year law student Jasmine Shao proposed karaoke as an activity that might facilitate more bonding, with Shao saying music could help students bond.

GSC representatives also discussed ways for students to connect outside of Zoom during the pandemic. Fourth-year theater and performance studies Ph.D. student Kari Barclay proposed partnering students up with each other so they could check-in periodically.

Some sort of connection outside of web conferencing is important, according to fourth-year law and international policy student Julia Neusner. Neusner was concerned that students may experience “Zoom fatigue” and would not want to attend a social event if it were over Zoom.

“Let’s do Skype next time, then,” said GSC co-chair Yiqing Ding, a fourth-year mechanical engineering Ph.D. student, joking that the platform could be a good alternative.

Contact Ravi Smith at ravi22 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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