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How to maintain mental well-being in the high performing research environment

A conversation with Stephanie Gauttier

Published onMay 20, 2022
How to maintain mental well-being in the high performing research environment

Stephanie Gauttier is an Assistant Professor at the Grenoble School of Management (GEM) doing research at the intersection of information systems, human-computer interaction, and ethics. She is the Vice-Chair of the COST Action CA 19117 Researcher Mental Health Observatory and is active in initiatives related to supporting researchers’ mental health. For the Marie Curie Alumni Association, Stephanie co-created a peer-to-peer mental health mentoring network.

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Stephanie defended her PhD in management information systems in 2017. She has a Masters in Political Sciences and a Masters in Communication Sciences, and over five years of experience in the marketing industry. As a result, her research crosses disciplines and was applied to consumers (PhD), learners (EDUWORKS), and more recently to the healthcare domain (Responsible-Industry and GLASNOST). During her Postdoc she focused on Philosophy and Ethics.

In 2018, Stephanie was awarded an individual Marie Curie fellowship, was nominated on the list of 400 women in the NL across all industries in the “bright mind” category in 2018, and received the Brenner award for her work in Q-methodology and phenomenology in 2019.

Photo credit: Stephanie Gauttier – “The fun life of being a postdoc – visiting time in Copenhague before the pandemic”

ORCID iD: 0000-0003-3285-9189


Twitter:  @gauttiersteph 

Linkedin: /in/stephaniegauttier/ 


From our conversation

What is your definition/understanding of ‘mental health’? Personally and or professionally.

A state of mind where people can realize their abilities and cope with the normal stresses of life, can be productive and fruitful and are able to make a contribution to the community. That’s close to the WHO definition.

Is there a difference between mental health and mental well-being? These are related concepts: you have good mental health when you are in a state of wellbeing 

What are stressors in academia that can cause mental health issues? In people’s minds, usually, it’s the supervisor. Often, the supervisor is just a personification of the system. 

Systemic issues: what my peers call the culture of excellence, publication driven; the reward system; the contract system, and lack of opportunities in the job market

Cultural issues: the culture of working long hours in academia, working at weekends, not taking holidays. Difficult to reconcile the fact that it is not a 9 to 5 job and that at the same time it does not mean one has to work 70 hours a week either. The way things are done does not make it easy to find a balance.

Institutional issues: lack of clarity of what is expected from a Ph.D. student, duties and rights, what is necessary for the Ph.D. for an academic career after/for a non-academic career after it 

And also sometimes it boils down to how anxious or vulnerable a person is in the first place, and all these academic issues can exacerbate one’s anxiety. Here we need support systems to help individuals find and keep their balance.

What led you to work on mental health? How did you get engaged in the topic? I saw around me and in my network things that I thought should not happen, like some supervisors losing 7 PhD students in a few years but the institution would not investigate, or people pushed away from their doctoral program for lack of progress when they never could benefit from any supervision meetings. I thought this simply should not be the case. 

As a supervisor myself, I think it is necessary to be very supportive and challenging at the same time. The space of the supervisory meeting is like a greenhouse for ideas. However, it is hard to always think of the wellbeing of the PhD student: if I ask for something to be done on Monday, am I a bad person for suggesting the student may have to work over the weekend? Isn’t it acceptable sometimes? If the student has personal issues, to what extent do I factor it in? 

So we need to do more as a community to learn how to deal with these things, systemically and individually

How can we as researchers maintain mental well-being despite the high-stress level? Or in other words: How can we ease the stress in the academic working environment?
Difficult question. Need to factor personal time in the agenda from the beginning: sports, time with friends, whatever it is you like that allows you to regain a state of calm. Follow a topic you are passionate about, so it is easier to make the necessary sacrifices. Accept that this is a challenging process and that you can make it. Then a lot comes from the communication with the supervisor, and the style of the supervisor. I still believe the supervisor is not all that is wrong in academia, but as it is the person who should help you to navigate the system, if you can’t establish proper communication, then your phd life will be difficult.

Please tell us about your work at ReMO: At ReMO, we aim at gathering evidence about the prevalence of mental health issues in academia and associated solutions, so as to inform policy-makers, institutions, and individuals about what they could do to increase well-being. To that end we have several activities: the creation of an evidence hub, the launch of a survey, the development of an ambassador program for individuals to become mental health advocates. More about our goals can be found in the manifesto we published on Zenodo. We encourage researchers to develop their own studies and support them with visiting grants.

Anyone can join through the COST system.


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