Overview of UMD Physics Grad Mental Health

Why is grad student mental health important? Supporting the mental health of graduate students makes them better scientists—more productive, collaborative, and creative—and happier people— better able to build relationships, recognize their own accomplishments, and realize their potential.

Compared to undergrad, grad school (1) isolates students more, (2) involves different kinds of work than students are used to, and (3) requires students to withdraw from familiar support structures while working at the forefront of their field. This combination results in a large risk for mental health challenges.

Most Common Mental Health Concerns at UMD Physics

Pie chat of impostor phenomenon scores among a sample of UMD physics graduate students.The Mental Health Task Force has administered several surveys to the UMD physics grad students and used the data to identify some common challenges.

Impostor Phenomenon (IP). IP is a psychological phenomenon in which a person believes they have tricked others into thinking they are smarter or more capable than they really are, and fears they will eventually be exposed as frauds. Some things to know about IP:

  • At UMD physics, 50-70% of survey respondents have reported “frequent” or “intense” feelings of IP over four survey years (as measured by the Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale). This is a higher level than even other academic populations.
  • People who suffer from IP are successful, competent people! But they misattribute their successes to external factors, and inappropriately focus on their failures, resulting in a negative self-image.
  • To reconcile others’ positive views of them with their own negative self-perceptions, people experiencing IP come to believe they have tricked others into believing in their competency.
  • Ameliorating IP involves countering the underlying self-doubts and negative narratives with statements about the student’s competence and honest, constructive feedback.

Challenges associated with identity. Consistently, grad students of underrepresented genders (e.g. female, nonbinary) in our department score worse than male grad students on most mental health metrics, including IP, depression, anxiety, stress, and departmental support metrics. Our surveys have not identified significant differences between the scores of domestic and international students. Students who have been in the program longer report higher levels of anxiety and depression.

What things do students say help them?

In our surveys, we often ask students what they feel helps their mental health. We get a wide variety of responses, including:

  • Friends, family, and loved ones. Relationships with others can provide a sense of life outside of work and a place to express emotions and distress. This includes regular opportunities to socialize with work colleagues.
  • Pride in academic accomplishments. Grad students particularly express pride in publishing their work and going to conferences to present and network.
  • Daily exercise. Many students find that daily walks, runs, biking, or going to the gym helps their mental health, an experience aligned with the consensus of medical studies.

What can faculty do?

We encourage faculty to consider the following:

  • Know the resources. When a student is having a mental health difficulty, the single most effective thing a faculty member can do is know what resources are available to help. This handout is meant to be an accessible list of resources for you and your students!
  • Be communicative. In the absence of guidance and communication from others, students will create their own narratives, and these won’t always be healthy or correct. Actively seek regular, honest, and healthy dialogue with your students.
  • Don’t feel like you need to be a therapist! While student mental health can seem like a daunting subject to discuss, please remember there are people trained to do discuss mental health with students.
  • Seek out more resources. Mental health awareness is a skill like any other, and we can always seek resources, training, and literature to improve our awareness of mental health issues.

Resources at UMD

UMD Mental Health Services   Second floor of the UMD Health Center; offers individual and group therapy.

UMD Counseling Center   Offers both counseling and academic coaching.

UMD Clinical Psychology Clinic    Offers discounted long-term therapy.

UMD Center for Healthy Families     Offers long-term individual, couples, and family therapy.

Campus Advocates Respond and Educate (CARE) to Stop Violence Provides crisis intervention, counseling, and advocacy for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, and sexual harassment affecting all genders.

Helping Students in Distress    Resources for instructors, curated by the UMD counseling center.

UMD LGBT+ Equity Center        Offers safe spaces for discussion, training, and advocacy.

Multicultural Involvement and Community Advocacy Offers advising for students and student organizations, training, and discussion spaces.

Accessibility and Disability Service    Offers support for accessibility considerations.

Learning Assistance Services Offers academic coaching and study help.

Office of Multi-ethnic Student Education    Offers tutoring, mentorship, and inclusivity events.

Center for Minorities in Science and Engineering Works to create a supportive environment for underrepresented minority pre-college, undergraduate, and graduate students in engineering through advising and scholarships.

Graduate Ombudsperson        Assists students with resolving conflicts with university officials.

UMD Crisis Fund         A fund for students experiencing acute financial hardship.

Contact Us

The Mental Health Task Force are happy to hear about any mental-health-related topics or questions from any and all members of the department! The easiest way to contact us is to email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..