Biomedical graduate students publish open letter alleging mental health crisis – The Vanderbilt Hustler

The letter was written by 47 students to the faculty affiliated with Biomedical Research Education and Training (BRET) and details four graduate student deaths in the past four years.

Graduate students in biomedical sciences Vanderbilt Division open books message to the Vanderbilt Community to advocate for more mental health support for graduate students. The letter was sent on March 22, the motive behind the letter was the self-murder of four Graduate students in the department for the last two years, at Tennessee Lookout.

As of print, the letter has 117 signatures. Senior Associate Dean for Biomedical Research Education and Training (Brit) Kathleen Gould sent an email on February 24 to BRET’s graduate student body addressing February 21 Whatch out The article detailing the four deaths and the need for more mental health care in Vanderbilt.

“We acknowledge and emphasize the continuing need to actively promote student well-being,” Gould’s email, obtained by The Hustler, said. “As a university, we are fully aware of the many challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and are working to expand our offerings and staff for mental health and wellbeing while actively encouraging our students to take advantage of these resources and support others when needed.”

The email details the steps the BRET office has taken to respond to student deaths, including BRET’s partnership with the University Counseling Center (Union Carbide Corporation), incorporating the themes of Health, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) into first-year curricula and a policy that allows students to change research groups to ensure positive teacher-learner relationships.

Forty-seven biomedical graduate students met shortly after Gould’s letter was sent and wrote their letter in response to the administration’s alleged silence about the four deaths prior to the Lookout article. The letter states that the student’s first death occurred in January 2020.

“In my view, the things in our program that could be addressed to make the cause actually better were not addressed,” University of British Columbia graduate student Blake Balemi said of the letter. “The purpose of writing the open letter was to identify changes that students would need, and the hope was that it would change some of the root causes of what is happening culturally that contribute to harming mental health and the program.”

According to the letter, much of the stress of BRET students comes from allegedly excessive work expectations in their labs. The testimonials in the letter refer to the students’ experience Demand or pressure from the principal investigator [principal investigator] to work outside the 40-hour workweek,” which can leave them exhausted and stressed.

The letter also cites the financial pressure on UB students due to inflation and a lack of college wages at the time of writing the thesis, as well as a lack of vision and dental care under their supervision. insurance plan. Hustler was unable to independently verify the changes, or the lack of wage changes, for BRET students. According to Bredenbach, faculty at the Brit Institute for Students were told they had full access to dental care, leaving them unaware of their students’ needs and no longer providing funding for the coverage.

“The most important thing is [Office of Biomedical Research and Training] What can be done to support the mental health of graduate students is to pay a wage commensurate with the rate of this area and reflecting a minimum wage of $15 per hour for a more realistic estimate of 60 hours worked per week, or $46,800 per year,” the testimony in the letter reads.

Gould wrote in an email to The Hustler that she “does not set salary levels nor discourage students from advocating for higher salaries.” She said she discussed Graduate student salary levels with Dean of Basic Sciences Lawrence Marnett, resulting in UB students earning $35,000 annually effective July 1, compared to $32,500 annually in 2020.

Furthermore, the letter addresses the alleged lack of readily available UCC assignments For BRIT students. According to the letter’s testimonies, many students were unable to receive care from the UCC despite it being considered “a comprehensive factor of students’ mental health needs”.

“We mentioned that the UCC was inadequate for students’ needs and how difficult it was to get mental health care was more of a point for management, ‘If that’s your solution, it’s not good enough.'” “There is more work to do,” Balemi said.

Lindsey Bredenbach, a sophomore at Breton University, co-authored the letter and said she wanted more people to know the frustration students feel when dealing with the centres.

“Sure, there is no fixed cover [of appointments]but it can definitely feel that way when you suddenly can’t book another appointment with your therapist or if they force you to book a month after something traumatic happened to you,” Bredenbach said. The letter also states that faculty members should help students by matching their salaries With inflation, checking in regularly with students, maintaining an open dialogue with students surrounding administrative decisions and making sure that work on days off is not required unless absolutely necessary.

“It seems that although some of the faculty here have been able to supplement their salaries with reasonable amounts because we are being left behind by inflation. Gould is trying her best to stifle that kind of violence,” Bredenbach said. .”

According to Bredenbach, she has never met Gould face to face, but feels that her encounters with Gould were “hostile,” and she has heard examples of Gould discussing her and her actions with other faculty members.

“I’ll let you know that Gould is very hostile to me now, even though I haven’t spoken to her personally,” Bredenbach said in an interview with The Hustler. “I find this very unfortunate. She is handling the whole situation in a very immature manner, and I have personally insulted the other faculty members who are behind my back despite not speaking to me once.”

In response to these observations, Gould told The Hustler that a member of her team engaged Breidenbach to gain a clearer understanding of her concerns and to discuss initiatives that management had taken to better improve the graduate student program.

“I see Ms Bredenbach’s advocacy efforts as arising from a deep and sincere interest in her fellow students, and it is a concern I share,” Gould said in an email to The Hustler. “We are fully committed to providing support and resources to our graduate and postdoctoral students.”

On May 9, Deputy Dean of Higher Education Andre Christie-Meiselle sent a message E-mail To graduate students while highlighting the various improvements to the Graduate Student Program. These changes include the aforementioned salary increases, grant proposal training and additional support mechanisms with the Student Welfare Network.