Post Academic

Can Being a Lowly Grad Student Kill You?

Posted in Surviving Grad School by postacademic on August 2, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionOr at least make you sick? I probably reference the fact that grad school made me puke too much. But it did. I never went to the doctor (or the ER, for that matter) more in my life. At the time, I thought it was all my fault, or at least the fault of dubious sushi.

Then again, maybe the fact I was a grad student was to blame. Jonah Lehrer, author of the terrific Proust Was a Neuroscientist, has an article on the devastating effects of stress in this month’s Wired. We all know stress can lead to heart meltdowns and the like, but Lehrer discusses the research of Michael Marmot, who studied the impact of stress on workers within the British civil service:

After tracking thousands of civil servants for decades, Marmot was able to demonstrate that between the ages of 40 and 64, workers at the bottom of the hierarchy had a mortality rate four times higher than that of people at the top. Even after accounting for genetic risks and behaviors like smoking and binge drinking, civil servants at the bottom of the pecking order still had nearly double the mortality rate of those at the top.

… In fact, we’re so sensitive to the effects of status that getting promoted from the lowest level in the British civil service reduced the probability of heart disease by up to 13 percentage points. Climbing the social ladder makes us live longer.

Even if you have good work conditions (which was a factor in the study), what really hurts is the lack of power. And who has less power than a graduate student?

More after the jump! Plate II from Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. From Chapter VII: LOW SPIRITS, ANXIETY, GRIEF, DEJECTION, DESPAIR. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.